You may remember reading that I have never seen a health system website that seemed to reflect an understanding, even at a very basic level, of consumerism; never seen a website that let people schedule appointments—I’ve never seen my pancreas either, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
There are a small number of health systems whose websites suggest people can schedule appointments. There will be a link titled, “Schedule and Appointment.” But when you click on the link you will be sent to a page that has a phone number and has instructions to call between 8 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday. Or there will be a text box in which you can request an appointment.
I wrote about a Philadelphia health system whose gala I am attending this Saturday night, whose advertisement on the local television channels instructs viewers to go their website to schedule an appointment. Went there, did that. The words schedule an appointment was not to be found.
At 3 PM yesterday, I still held firm to my belief that online patient scheduling was my gossamer ideal. I was tilting at windmills. By 3:15, my opinion had changed. I was speaking with the Chief Experience Officer of St. Thomas Health in Nashville, Dawn Rudolph.
I was midway through my disquisition, droning on about how I wished I could find a single organization that was doing anything resembling consumerism. “We’re doing that,” she said after I mentioned online scheduling.
I’m doing my best not to say, “Sure you are.” I’m picturing a link to a phone number, or perhaps an empty text box. Perhaps she sensed my doubt. Maybe that is why she spelled out the letters of the system’s URL, and told me where to navigate on the page to find the scheduling link—it’s about halfway down the page. (https://www.sths.com/Pages/Home.aspx)
Click, click. And staring back at me were physician’s faces, available appointment types, appointment dates, appointment times, and a big blue button, CHECK IN.
For those of you familiar with the OpenTable website that provides real-time restaurant reservations, it is the same concept. Is it the be-all end-all of how I envision consumerism? No, it’s not. But it’s a good start—sort of like the answer to the question, “What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”
Appointment scheduling is a science like getting a human to Mars, and after 40 years working in healthcare, I still don’t understand it. But I totally agree with the importance to the consumer! And, of course, the patient’s ability to make comments about the service provided after the fact so that the next person has an inkling of what to expect, if they do go, is really the next step.
It is very important to note that the Federal survey for physician practices (CGCAHPS) which effect reimbursement amounts, has several questions about access to care, and all systems should work to improve the patient’s ease of scheduling, or else thy will suffer financial consequences.