By Andrew J. Neukirch, OD
New patients—who build your practice over time–are three times more likely to use online booking than existing patients. Easy-to-use programs make online booking a snap for all.
IMPLEMENT AN ONLINE APPOINTMENT BOOKING SYSTEM. Choose an automated system such as Demandforce that makes online booking easy for your staff.
TRAIN STAFF. Work with staff to ensure they can efficiently use the system.
TRACK YOUR NUMBERS TO MAKE SURE IT IS WORKING. Monitor number of appointments on your calendar to make sure the new system is helping rather than hurting.
I’ve found in my practice that online appointment booking gives patients and prospective patients an easy way to make an appointment–without even having to pick up the phone. My practice has found this convenience is a great way of generating new patients. The cost is minimal thanks to online appointment booking systems, and the gain to the practice in additional patients in the exam chair, is significant. Many of these software services also come with appointment reminder functions that can reduce no-shows, and also will automatically solicit patient feedback after appointments.
In today’s digital world, the more affluent patient population is going to continue to make more doctor’s appointments, dinner reservations, and even social appointments, online. In order to serve this population, a modern practice absolutely must offer these types of services.
The screen patients see when they go online on the site of Carillon Vision to book an appointment.
Enhanced Convenience Generates Exams
I began using online appointment booking within three months of purchasing my established practice in early 2011. As a busy professional, I quickly recognized the extent that I utilize it in my own life. Whether it is scheduling a dentist appointment or a dinner reservation, if online booking is available, the convenience of a few simple clicks wins every time over picking up the phone. From a provider standpoint, I appreciate that the service will not only confirm those online scheduled appointments, and essentially eliminate no-shows, but it will solicit feedback afterwards, as well. It streamlines the process for both parties.
Return on Investment in New Patients
While only around 10 percent of our established patients book online, nearly 30 percent of new patients book online. It makes sense that new patients would be more likely to go to our web site and read about the business, and thus, make an appointment while they are there.
The online appointment booking system we use, Demandforce, is around $300 per month, and the online appointment booking function is included, along with pre-appointment reminder e-mail and texts and post-appointment feedback automated text and e-mail messaging.
The number one advantage that Demandforce has over its competitors is that the information in the public reviews patients provide show up in Google search results improving the practice’s SEO.
If price is a concern, Websystems3 is now owned by CooperVision and many practices (including my own) qualify for reduced or even free pricing if they do a significant amount of business with CooperVision. It is also the only major online appointment booking company specifically tailored to optometry.
Create Backend Routines; Train Staff
The backend system of Demandforce is slightly time consuming, but only at first. The one-time setup goes quickly, but it takes a few hours to really learn the system, setup e-mail formats, and tweak communication settings. When a patient makes an appointment, we receive an e-mail requiring the staff to confirm the appointment and enter the data into Officemate. Demandforce integrates with some scheduling systems, and they have informed me they are working on integrating with Officemate, but are unable to provide any specific timeline or guarantee as to if and when this will occur.
The booking is self explanatory and training takes just a few minutes. All front-end staff members check our e-mail regularly. The automated appointment confirmations that go out over e-mail and text save our staff members from making ten to 20 phone calls every day. Well over 50 percent of our patients have opted in to receiving these communications, and that number grows every day.
All patients are asked their e-mail address on our intake forms. Any patients who have booked an appointment online have already provided us this information and it is auto-populated into our database. Our staff then manually enters each appointment into our Officemate scheduling system, but the scheduler synchronizes with Demandforce every evening and all reminders from then on become automated. I would estimate that our staff members each spend one hour per week on entering patient e-mail addresses into Demandforce. More importantly, I would estimate that Demandforce saves 10-15 hours worth of staff time each week, removing the need for appointment confirmation phone calls.
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