Dr. Ronald Barg

Meeting patient demand through online appointment scheduling

October 14, 2016
By Dr. Ronald Barg

In order to improve patient access, it’s important to bridge the gap between patients and the optimal care provider through intelligent online appointment scheduling. This can be accomplished through accurate patient navigation, based on provider scheduling protocols that are specific to operational and clinical workflows, expanded and digitized access, and availability for the modern patient through websites that they use and trust and through the utilization of an analytics platform that enables deep insights for optimizing operational processes in real time, in order to better align the care delivery to patient demand.

A few years ago, Penn Medicine sought a way to better connect their physicians to the modern patient. In coordination with Clinical Care Associates, Penn Medicine’s employed primary and specialty care physician group, the health system saw the immediate need to improve patient access, attract new patients and increase patient retention.

Penn Medicine made its EMR implementation and utilization a top priority by utilizing a scheduling module for existing patients. While this solution sufficed for existing patients through its portal, MyPennMedicine, DocASAP provided the organization with a tool to draw in new patients, reach patients from diverse digital pathways (health plans or health care content sites) and manage intake for specialists or ancillary services.

“We decided to pursue an add-on online appointment scheduling platform as a strategy aimed at welcoming new patients,” said Steven Bisha, director of operations at Penn Medicine’s Clinical Care Associates. “We knew there was an opportunity to further align our current processes with new technology.” Implementing the online appointment scheduling solution has allowed Penn Medicine to change some of the factors in how it attracts, engages and retains patients. With a multi-modal approach to booking an appointment, patients can search for a physician or location and book directly on Google, book from the Penn Medicine website or use the MyPennMedicine portal if they are existing patients.

In utilizing the big data analytics platform behind the online appointment scheduling system, the operations team at Penn Medicine is able to measure patient behavior (demand), such as patients’ reasons for seeking visits, and when they require appointments. They can then match these with physician availability (supply), such as where schedules are blocked and/or showing limited availability.

The robust analytics platform identifies mismatches between supply and demand, as well as lost opportunities, such as when patients were unable to schedule because the physician was booked, or because online booking was not offered. This comprehensive analytics tool has allowed the number of bookings to increase by at least 160 percent annually, because the appointment per physician rate more than doubles each year.

Key performance metrics include:
Thirty-four percent of appointments were booked after hours, adding additional appointments and incremental revenue that the health system would have not realized without the online appointment scheduling system.
Sixty-five percent of patients were new patients brought to the health system through the online appointment scheduling system. Penn Medicine responded to the modern “consumer-patient” by expanding online availability across more access points and more providers, better capturing patient demand.

Patient behavior and demographics include:
Patients want near-term appointments. More than one-third of bookings are made within the same week.
More than two-thirds of bookings are made within two weeks.
Physical exams, which tend to have a high reimbursement rate, account for one-third of appointments. In addition, this visit reason improves patient retention because patients tend to reuse the health system for ancillary services such as specialists.
Fifty percent of appointments are booked within a week, which helps fill the empty time slots and indicates that patients seek near-term appointments.
Since availability is shown three months out and patients are booking within a week, it shows that patients are opting for appointment times that may not be ideal, but that they are adapting to limited availability to get an appointment that week. In making this holistic view into available time slots in real time for the patient, appointment times are filled that would not otherwise be.
Approximately one-third of bookings come from patients over the age of 40.
Twenty percent of these bookings come from patients 50 years or older. This is an age group that did not grow up with technology in the same way as younger generations, but still prefer the online booking process.
More than 80 percent of patients are from commercially insured populations, resulting in high reimbursement rates.

About the author: Ronald Barg, M.D., FACP, is the executive director of Clinical Care Associates of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Dr. Barg is board certified in internal medicine, practicing in suburban Philadelphia for 12 years prior to joining Penn.