This article was originally posted at Meddkit.com. Meddkit helps private healthcare businesses get more consistent appointments, improve their web presence, and reduce technology stress.
Setting Up Patient Self-Scheduling
If you allow patients to self-schedule appointments, how will these appointments get on your calendar? How do you prevent overbookings? How can you be sure that the dates and times that the patient sees are actually open?
If your EHR offers scheduling through a patient portal, it should handle the conflict checking with your main schedule automatically.
For self-scheduled appointments outside of the patient portal, conflict checking is more difficult. You need some way to make sure that a requested appointment time is available and that it gets on to your main schedule.
There are at least three approaches to conflict checking self-scheduled appointments outside of the patient portal. They are 1) staff oversight, 2) an EHR integration or 3) an intermediary calendar.
1) Staff Oversight of Self-Scheduled Appointments
Start simple. Unless you know what you are doing, do not invest a lot of resources into a highly technical workflow. Complicated workflows often break, disrupt staff, or become unwieldy.
Instead, set up a simple self-scheduling page on your website. Your staff can confirm appointment requests made online by patients as they come in. You will need less technical help here.
There are three low-complexity approaches to self-scheduling. They are not too difficult to set up but they require some staff involvement. You can either 1) confirm appointments as they are requested, 2) define hours for instant self-scheduling booking, or 3) maintain a separate self-scheduling calendar.
The first two approaches offer more work-life balance and flexibility for providers, while still giving patients convenience. Unbooked self-schedule hours can allow the team to go home early. The third approach is better for busy practices who have very full schedules and want to grow.
In each case, encrypt all data after entry. Do not store unencrypted appointment information on your server. Contact meddkit to set up a point-of-service self-scheduler for your website.
Confirm Appointments as They Are Requested
First, you can confirm each appointment request as it is made. This approach allows patients to request any date and time that your office is open. Within a few hours of the request, your staff should call or text the patient to confirm a specific time.
The advantage of this approach is that it offers easy appointment requests to all patients. Your patients do not need to remember to create a username or password. Additionally, they have a wide assortment of dates and times to pick from.
The disadvantage is that your staff must contact every patient. They must also be quick to respond to confirm the time. If not, patients will abandon their appointment request and go elsewhere.
Define Hours for Instant Self-Scheduling Booking
Second, you may block off general self-schedule hours to allow for instant booking. Release these blocks automatically 24-72 hours before the day of the appointment, depending on your specialty. Self-scheduled patients will always have availability slots. If the slots are not booked, fill them from a wait list.
Blocking off self-schedule hours limits how often your staff have to contact patients who request appointments online. Patients can also rest assured that their selected time has been booked, unless they hear otherwise.
Your staff will need to still add these appointments to the main schedule. They will need to contact patients if the requested time was already booked by another self-schedule patient. Additionally, they will need to work to fill these blocks from your existing patients.
Maintain a Separate Self-Scheduling Calendar
Finally, you can maintain and synchronize a self-scheduling calendar with your main schedule. Every morning your staff should ensure that the availability on the two calendars is consistent. Patients that self-scheduled appointments in the evening should be added to the main schedule.
Whenever a patient makes an appointment with your staff, it must also be blocked on the self-schedule calendar. Alternatively, you can use an intermediary calendar to serve as a source of truth depending on your EHR/PMS. Contact the meddkit team for technical help here.
Your staff will not need to confirm or reschedule many self-schedule appointments. Plus, patients will not need to wait for you to contact them. Less patients will abandon their appointment requests. However, your team must work readily to keep the two calendars in sync.
2) EHR Integration With Your Self-Scheduling Application
For multi-location providers, a direct EHR integration with your self-scheduling application may make sense. Your patient self-scheduling application or website would read your availability from your EHR.
Your self-scheduling application’s server would need to call the server that hosts your EHR. This request would need to return your schedule’s availability. The self-scheduling application can then update its availability from your EHR’s schedule.
Setting up this type of integration requires three things. First, your EHR must have an API open to its customers. Second, your EHR’s API must be able to return appointment availability or free/busy information. Finally, you will need a developer to connect your self-scheduling application and your EHR.
Before building an integration, check with your EHR rep if there are self-scheduling vendors that have pre-built integrations. If not, ask your rep for access to your EHR’s API.
3) Third-Party Intermediary Calendar
Your EHR may not have a robust API that is open to its customers. It may not offer an integration to a reliable self-scheduling tool. Or, you may not want to deal with another vendor and its associated costs for this one use case.
Many EHRs offer native integrations with Google Calendar or Outlook. These calendars do have robust APIs that your self-scheduling app can reference. Syncing your EHR’s schedule with one of these calendars will allow you check availability without direct access via an API.
Your website would offer patients open times and dates to book. It will pull free/busy information from this Google or Outlook calendar. This calendar is updated by your EHR’s schedule.
Patients will only be able to see your open times. Once they book an appointment, their name and contact information is stored in the secure Google or Outlook calendar via an API.
First, ask your EHR representative how to sync the EHR schedule with Google Calendar or Outlook. Some vendors, like DrChrono, explain this process clearly online.
Second, make sure that you have a BAA on file with Google or Microsoft. Do not store patient information, for example, in a personal “free” Google calendar.
Finally, have a developer build a datepicker on your website and connect it to an API. You can find Google Calendar’s API here or Microsoft Outlook’s API for Office365 here. Or, have the meddkit team do this for you.
Your EHR may only offer one-way-sync to Google Calendar or Outlook. If so, your staff will need to copy appointments to your EHR’s schedule once they are self-scheduled. Still, copying over appointments is much quicker than confirming times with patients.
You will still need help from a developer. But, setting up an intermediary calendar may be easier than convincing your EHR to build an API.
Choosing the Best Option for Your Practice
If your practice is new or small, you should start with staff oversight of self-schedule appointments. You will need to follow up with each patient but you will have more flexibility to fit patients into your calendar. Look into additional efficiencies for self-scheduling after you prove its utility for you and your patients.
Does your practice have a few full time providers? Are they each booked for at least forty hours per week? If your EHR has an API or vendor for direct scheduling or self-scheduling, set it up. Otherwise, reserved self-schedule hours or a calendar integration will be most efficient for your business.
If none of these options work for your practice, contact the meddkit team for help setting up convenient patient self-scheduling.
Read on to learn about how to make patient self-scheduling easy.