Thanks to readers who weighed in on my last post (That’s none of your damn business!). Your comments suggest it’s high time we stop asking patients The Question. A suggestion from Steven Lewis serves as a great segue to the topic of making appointments online:
“…come to think of it, we book plane and theatre tickets and buy all sorts of goods on-line. A friend of mine moved to Copenhagen, found and enrolled in a clinic, and made an initial appointment on line. Why not offer that to the 90% of people who would likely use that option, and include an option questionnaire that would become part of the EHR as well as a primer for the visit?”
I knew my GP offered online booking, but I’d never looked at the form too closely. Here it is:
Frankly, I’ve always been kinda skeptical about booking doctor appointments online. I’m not sure why that is. I use the web to book appointments with my massage therapist, and that system works great.
Maybe my reluctance has something to do with the fact that when I’m booking to see my GP, I usually want to get in as quick as I can. And, for whatever reason, I figure I’ll get in faster if I talk to a real live person – even if I do have to answer that pesky question.
I got back on the phone to my own doctor’s office, to ask a few questions about their online booking. Here’s what I found out:
- They harvest online requests once a day. Office staff deal with requests in the order they come in.
- They receive anywhere from 6 online requests, on a slow day, to more than 20. Typically, about 10 to 15 requests come in over the weekend.
- The day after you log a request, they call back to let you know whether you can see your doctor on the day you asked for; if that date isn’t available they offer you a second option.
- They follow a “one strike and you’re out” rule. If you don’t answer when they call back, they won’t leave you a message, and your request gets deleted.
- According to the receptionist I talked to, you’re either a “regular” (which get a 15-minute slot) or a “physical” (which gets booked for 30 minutes).
Okay. So I can avoid The Question; I get to choose how much or how little detail I provide about my health issue. But there’s no mechanism for tailoring the appointment length to my specific needs. And the ball’s in my court if I miss their call.
Better, I guess. But still. What if I miss that call? I’m not sure how realistic that one strike rule is for most people.
When I originally canvassed my colleagues here at HQC, one of them shared an observation similar to Steven’s – that it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for health care to borrow a page from another personal service, when it comes to making appointments:
“My hairdresser has online booking on her website, and she has a list of services with an indication of how much time they take. You book yourself for what you need, and it automatically schedules you for the correct amount of time. (Plus sends a reminder update.) Along with your booking request, you can also insert a note for her. Really, how hard is that?!”
Standard time blocks for standard types of services? Check. Eliminating the need to ask The Question? Check.
How hard, indeed.