mHealth: Online scheduling saves time
CHICAGO—The requirements for Community Health Network’s online scheduling application were simple: It had to be easy to use, convenient and quick. “The main point of this was to eliminate the wait times of customers,” said Adrian Payne, manager of new media and web design at the Indianapolis-based not-for-profit health system, speaking at the mHealth Initiative Conference, which was held March 30 and 31.

The applications, which come in online/browser and mobile versions, are available for Community Health Network’s six MedCheck nonurgent care sites. “It has to work across all popular current browsers,” including some legacy browsers, Payne said.

Patients can schedule appointments 72 hours in advance in any Medcheck site. All that's required is the patient's name and email address. Community Health Network wanted to make it possible for customers to preregister online. "Anything we can do online for the customer, we’re going to make that available," he said. “I’m hoping that the industry as a whole takes a step back and looks at what does the customer want. I think we do a great job of telling people what to do, but how many are saying ‘what do you want? How can we make your experience better?’”

For example, many patients now use social media: “They don’t go to the doctor to ask the question first, they go on Facebook, they go on Twitter. The answers are coming from their friends, and that may not be the best place to get an answer, but that’s where it’s happening.” Community Health had to figure out how to engage its patients in that space, he said.

Patients can access the appointment app to find the location closest to them and find available times. Patients can also log into their MyCommunity personal health record (PHR) account and have data pre-populated. “Once you’ve entered information and the appointment has been scheduled, you’re shown a map to find the quickest route to a facility."

Registration information is required, but you only have to do it once and it’s saved, said Payne. “We tried to keep it as simple and as easy as possible,” he said.

“Our mobile [phone] strategy is completely different. Very important decisions needed to be made up-front," such as how to write the app, said Payne. “There’s the native app; you write it for the specific device. There are web apps that are essentially writing a mobile web site that a smartphone will log into. If you can do a good hybrid, you’re going to be successful."

“People are communicating with thumbs or fingers, so you have to make this as easy as you can,” Payne said. "[We’re trying to] keep typing to a minimum."

“Another part of this process with creating an online appointment is the social element. We get it daily. If they schedule an appointment and they’ve been there 15 minutes, there better be somebody communicating with that patient or we’ll get negative feedback. You have to admit it when you’ve made a mistake—and most people will be reasonable.”

As a result of implementing the online scheduling application, patients are seen within three minutes of their scheduled arrival times, according to Payne. In contrast, walk-in wait times are an hour and a half. In addition, the no-show rate is zero among online appointment schedulers, and early feedback has been positive, he said.

Community Health is now working to “normalize” clinicians’ days: “Once people see they can pick any time of the day, they’re not going to try to rush in during the morning or at lunch," Payne said. "Weekends are the busiest, we’re trying to get the message out that you can come in any time, not just weekends; our hours are expanding."

So is knowledge of the online scheduling option. "When we launched, we went from zero through the end of January to over 250 online appointments—with zero marketing," Payne claims. "When we [went] live, we had an appointment online within 30 minutes. With no advertising, it’s been very successful just by word of mouth on social media."