Patient Self-Scheduling: What Does the Data Say?

Online self-scheduling is increasingly a key component of every health system and medical group’s digital playbook. In fact, a recent Accenture study on patient engagement reported that by the end of this year, 66% of all U.S. health systems, and 100% of the top 100 health systems, will use some form of online scheduling. 

Intuitively, there are substantial benefits to offering patients the ability to schedule appointments by themselves: self-scheduling empowers patients to select the exact appointment slot they want, it satisfies overarching consumer demands for convenience and accessibility, and it allows providers to realize economies of scale. But what does the data say?

We studied thousands of self-scheduled appointments to provide some answers for you. Some facts will confirm what you suspected while others can be insightful as your evaluate or reevaluate your digital strategy. 

Online Scheduling Drives New Patient Acquisition

We found that 60% of appointments booked online were from new patients. Why is this important? Employing online patient scheduling is one decisive way to open your digital front door to attract new patients. It allows you to capture market share from competing providers as well as patients who are new to the market or looking for specialty care for the first time. Accenture found that “77 percent of patients think that the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online is important.” A few years ago, online scheduling was a competitive differentiator, but we expect it to be at the baseline of expected services within four years. 

Online Scheduling Helps Your Access Center

The data around when patients make their appointments online is fascinating. Our findings indicated that peak hours for scheduling typically parallel the hours of highest call volume at call centers: there’s a small trickle early in the morning, a huge uptick in the late morning around 10am or 11am, another uptick right after lunch, and then a steady fall into the night. For new patients, this is curious because it can be interpreted as one of the following: it could be that patients psychologically chose to schedule appointments during business hours because of years of training. Or, it could be that patients turn to online scheduling after starting the process of calling for an appointment.

The Monday Blues

We found that 24% of all appointments booked online are scheduled on Mondays. Why do patients wait till Monday to schedule an appointment when they could have done so on the weekend? We’re not quite sure, but here are two thoughts: first, it could be that something about Mondays makes patients want to see their doctors. Second, it could be that patients expect the contact center to be closed during the weekend so they call on Monday, find the wait time to be long, and try online. Even still, what we can see clearly is that utilizing online scheduling alleviates call center hold and handle times; it frees up phone lines for patients who’d rather book their appointment via phone, and for those patients who need to speak with someone for a more complicated issue. 

Same Day or Same Week Appointments

Based on our data we find that 33% of the appointments scheduled online take place within four days. This has two implications for providers - on the one hand, it means that online scheduling can help providers fill empty spots. On the other hand, it means that in order to capture volume from online appointments, they must keep near-term inventory available. The really good news about this, however, is that the link between advanced booking and no-show risk seems to be of little concern here since appointments are scheduled to take place so soon after they are scheduled. In our data, we find no-show rates for online schedules on average to be 3%. 

Lastly, we were interested to see that 6% of self-scheduled appointments were booked same-day. To increase patient access, we advise clients to leave open time slots to better accommodate those last-minute, much-needed appointments, or to relax scheduling restrictions for patients seeking same-day care. 

Considerations of Insurance 

We found that within the online scheduling process, asking for insurance information turned away about 20% of patients. On one hand, you might be tempted to not ask for this information so you can capture this volume. On the other hand, around 86% of patients scheduling online are covered by commercial insurance, which means that this barrier might be helping you improve your payer mix. Consequently, it may be worthwhile to look at your strategy and the impact different barriers have on the patient panel you create.

Concluding Thoughts

Accenture estimates that the 986 million appointments self-scheduled this year will equate to $3.2 billion in value across U.S. health systems. For health systems and medical groups the question isn’t just how much of the additional value they will capture, it’s also how much of that value will be captured from them if they can’t keep up with the trends towards consumerism.  Read more about DASHself, our patient self-scheduling tool, here.