Use of patient self-scheduling tools is low, even as consumerism grows
Many healthcare organizations expect to widely implement scheduling technology, but face physician resistance, says research from the Center for Connected Medicine.
While healthcare organizations see the prevailing trend of increasing patient consumerism, the ability to give patients opportunities to schedule their own appointments is lagging. Many organizations have adopted some capabilities for self-scheduling, according to new research from the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM), yet the use of these tools remains low.
Findings from CCM’s report on self-scheduling, released on June 8, suggest that gaining physician buy-in is the top challenge for implementing patient self-scheduling tools. The report, , “Self-Scheduling Solutions: The Technology Priority for Improving Patient Access at Health Systems,” also cites concerns that scheduling solutions lack the right algorithms and that organizations lack standardized scheduling templates across appointment types.
Enabling patients to manage their own appointments is considered by many experts as a crucial step toward enabling the shift toward empowering patients to become more involved in their healthcare. Consumers have experienced scheduling capabilities in multiple industries, so lacking this capacity in healthcare encounters is seen as a roadblock to patient engagement.
Findings for the report, which was produced in partnership with KLAS Research, are based on an online survey conducted in December of 51 respondents from 47 hospitals, health systems or other provider organizations. CCM and KLAS sought responses from chief information officers, chief medical information officers and other executives, directors and managers.
In its “Top of Mind for Top Health Systems 2022” report, the CCM found improving access was the challenge health system leaders said could best be solved with technology.
The Center for Connected Medicine is a resource for information and events focused on the future of science and technology in healthcare, and it is supported by UPMC and Nokia.
Most healthcare organization understand the need, and 88 percent of organizations surveyed for the CCM report indicate that they plan to invest in self-scheduling solutions within the next year. By contrast, other top patient engagement investments include patient portals (mentioned by 79 percent of organizations); surveys and patient-reported outcomes measurement (71 percent); and provider search capabilities (69 percent).
Despite this emphasis, most respondents said their health systems have not implemented self-scheduling tools widely. In fact, more than eight in 10 respondents reported that 20 percent or fewer of their appointments are booked online directly by patients.
“While most health systems have adopted some tools, very few have these tools available for patient use across many care settings," the CCM report notes. "Often, self-scheduling tools are used in pockets of the organization, especially by physicians or departments with more standardized appointment types. Most health systems say less than one-third of appointments are made through self-scheduling tools; in other research, KLAS found 37 percent of responding patients have used self-scheduling.”
“Many physicians believe that by allowing patients to self-schedule appointments, they are giving up control of their own calendars.”
According to the report, most respondents say their organizations plan to fully implement their self-scheduling roadmap within two years. Only 3 percent of respondents said their solution is fully implemented, with nearly half (45 percent) estimating that it will take one to two years to get the technology in place.
Scheduling solutions do face some technical challenges, such as interacting with systems in a wide range of clinical settings, and enabling consumers to interact with systems that have traditionally been tightly controlled internally.
But there are also non-technical issues, and the CCM report suggests that the top challenge hampering the rollout of scheduling solutions is a lack of buy-in from physicians and other staff. That impediment was cited by 38 percent of respondents.
Indeed, clinician reluctance to lose control of their ability to control their schedules has been cited anecdotal research on enabling patient self-scheduling.
“Many physicians believe that by allowing patients to self-schedule appointments, they are giving up control of their own calendars,” said Joon S. Lee, MD, executive vice president of UPMC. “Self-scheduling is a big part of improving patients’ access to care. It is up to organizational leaders to work with physicians to find solutions that address their concerns while still meeting the demands and expectations of our patients.”
Many organizations see addressing concerns about templates used in scheduling and enhancing physician adoption as the necessary next steps in advancing self-scheduling for broader use. The report, which can be downloaded from the CCM website, is the latest research initiative building on the center’s yearlong focus on patient access, which is a key priority for health systems. In its “Top of Mind for Top Health Systems 2022” report, the CCM found improving access was the challenge health system leaders said could best be solved with technology.