The patient scheduling market is surprisingly complex for such a straightforward application. Most vendors offer some degree of medical appointment functionality, resulting in a fragmented market with hundreds of options for just about every medical specialty and size of organization. We have written this guide to help buyers understand the medical scheduling software market and know where to begin their research.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What Is Patient Scheduling Software?
“If I had a nickel for every missed appointment, I’d be a millionaire,” say most doctors. Computerized patient scheduling systems are designed to help alleviate the burden of no-shows and last-minute calls to reschedule. These systems help practices manage the process of setting patient appointments and follow-ups. At the individual level, systems help schedulers enter patient contact information and demographics, appointment times, reasons for visits and chief complaints and billing or insurance information. The primary goals are to help practices automate the appointment process, maximize the number of patient visits and minimize no-shows and cancellations.
Appointments dashboard screenshot in NueMD
More advanced medical scheduling systems will integrate with electronic medical records (EMR) or billing systems, provide automated phone, email or text message reminders to patients and allow patients to request appointment times and enter some intake information online.
Medical appointment scheduling software buyers will have the option to purchase a standalone system or a full suite of integrated scheduling, billing or EMR modules. The right deployment option will depend on the buyers' requirements and budget. In general, most companies that offer medical appointment software require buyers to purchase multiple modules in a suite.
However, standalone medical scheduling systems can be more affordable than complete suites. Patient appointment scheduling vendors such as NueMD and Practice Management ULTRA offering standalone modules.
Another viable strategy for buyers looking for an affordable deployment option is to consider software as a service (SaaS), or online patient scheduling software. In addition to being a cost-effective way to get a medical appointment scheduling system up and running, Web-based solutions can be easier to host and maintain because the system is installed off-premise and supported by the vendor rather than internal IT staff. PrognoCIS by Bizmatics is just one of many Web-based practice management vendors with online medical appointment scheduling applications.
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Before you can evaluate systems, you’ll want to know what buyer category you belong to. We believe at least 90 percent of buyers fall into one of these categories:
Standalone buyers. These buyers are looking for a straightforward solution without lots of bells and whistles, but something robust enough to support their primary needs.
Complete suite buyers. These buyers work for practices that are looking for appointment functionality integrated with EMR and/or billing modules. We are hearing from lots of these buyers due to the HITECH Act requiring most physician practices to adopt EMRs.
Cost-conscious buyers. These buyers have the most basic needs and are typically looking for an affordable option. They may be open to a Web-based system, but due to their budget they will likely implement an on-premise system.
Multi-location buyers. These buyers work for practices who need to access schedule data from multiple locations, including satellite offices, hospitals or home. They often prefer Web-based deployment due to ease of implementation and sharing of data.
Benefits and Potential Issues
A scheduling tool should benefit providers, front office staff and back office staff. Buyers should expect to realize the following benefits when implementing online medical scheduling systems:
- Organization and efficiency: With formal scheduling tools, office staff should be able to see quickly when providers are available. They should be able to gather patient information and finish the call quickly, allowing them to focus on other tasks or receive more calls.
- Improved provider-patient communication: By receiving automated appointment reminders via phone, text message and email, patients are much more likely to confirm and show up for their scheduled appointment times.
- Improved patient experience: By streamlining the appointment making process, patients face fewer of the annoyances they can face when calling to schedule appointments—long hold times, back-and-forth determination of suitable appointments and lengthy explanations of chief complaints and contact information.
- Reduced no-shows: One of the biggest challenges for outpatient health care providers is reducing the number of patients that simply fail to show up for their appointments. This results in wasted time and money. Automated electronic scheduling software can help office staff track and analyze no-show trends within their practice. In addition, the system can assist in determining the most effective method for managing and sending appointment reminders.
- Same-day appointments: Online medical appointment scheduling software could also permit doctors to offer same-day appointments. While this would require additional staff support to continuously monitor and evaluate appointments, no-shows and waitlisted patients, it could lead to greater patient satisfaction and revenue.
The primary concern we hear from most buyers is data security. Buyers will want to ensure that the selected system is HIPAA compliant, and should be aware the most formal medical scheduling programs will meet HIPAA requirements. Many affordable options such as Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar are not HIPAA compliant. Surprisingly, we occasionally hear from practices using these systems.
Market Trends to Understand
SaaS. SaaS solutions have become very popular and comprise a large portion of scheduling system implementations. Web-based deployment makes it easy for smaller practices to implement a system without IT staff, and it also helps large practices share data across multiple locations.
Patient portal. More and more vendors are offering patient portals that allow patients to request appointment times online. These portals are typically integrated with systems that offer electronic medical records and/or billing.
Online services. Although a nascent concept and not available yet nationwide, start-up services such as ZocDoc.com could become large source of new patients for providers in the future. Buyers might want to consider ensuring that their selected vendor offers an open system that can integrate with ZocDoc.com and other similar services.
The Vendor Landscape
While the landscape is very saturated and may appear confusing, the available options can be segmented by their suitability to the different buyer and company types.
|This type of buyer...||Should evaluate these systems|
|Standalone system buyers||AdvancedMD, NueMD, MedLedger|
|Complete suite buyers||eClinicalWorks, Allscripts, NextGen EHR|
|Cost-conscious buyers||Microsoft Outlook, ScheduleView|
|Multi-location buyers||LeonardoMD, AdvancedMD|