Ascension on Monday kicked off a national campaign to promote online scheduling for primary and urgent care and emergency room visits. The service will be available nationwide and officials at the largest Catholic health system in the country said they'll soon expand the offering to specialty care and diagnostic and imaging services.
Since online scheduling kicked off last fall, Ascension has seen about 20,000 patients every month make appointments either through the web or patient portals. About a third of those patients are new to Ascension.
"Online scheduling has become a differentiator when it comes to patient accessibility and a great consumer experience," said Ascension's chief marketing officer, Nick Ragone. "We're aggressively marketing it across our entire system with the idea of winning at the point of engagement, which increasingly is taking place on small devices such as phones and Ipads."
Online scheduling allows for last-minute appointments, decreases appointment cancellations and offers same-day scheduling, which research shows patients prefer, Ascension said in a press release.
Some regional systems such as Edwards-Elmhurst Health in Illinois and North Carolina-based Novant Health also have been offering online scheduling but Ascension claims to be the first to offer it nationwide. It operates in 22 states and the District of Columbia. "Consumers are already online looking for care options near them. Providing an easy way to immediately schedule appointments strengthens consumer relationships," Ragone said.
According to a recent survey by Accenture, 77% of patients consider it important to be able to book, change, or cancel appointments online, especially when the average time it takes to book an appointment over the phone is estimated to take 8 minutes, on average.
But the firm also found that only about a fifth of appointments were self-scheduled in 2016. That was up from 9% in 2015, but still far from widespread.
"Most of us use technology daily to simplify our lives, and the process of getting the care we need, when and where we need it, should be no different," said Dr. Joseph Cacchione, president of Ascension Medical Group in the press release. "Online scheduling allows consumers to view available appointments at their preferred location and select a time that fits their busy schedules."
Many patients already have access to on-demand appointment scheduling. Every month, 6 million patients book using the online scheduling service Zocdoc, which launched in 2007.
As Ragone mentioned and Ascension President and CEO Anthony Tersigni has commented in recent months, Ascension is increasingly looking for ways to make healthcare more convenient, including expanded access to telemedicine. Ascension in March also announced plans to hire a chief digital officer—a first for the system—to help standardize its clinical and payment data in an effort to reduce variation and increase efficiencies.
"As we work to improve access to compassionate, personalized care, we must also ensure we are letting consumers know about the new and innovative ways in which we are making the healthcare delivery process easier for them," Cacchione said.
Tersigni also said Ascension would be working to improve on one of its weaknesses—price transparency. That's something patients are demanding as they take over greater control of their healthcare choices and look for value in those services.