How consumerism is driving orthopedic groups to improve patient access

Becker’s Orthopedic Review, June 15, 2017 – Sanju Pratap –

Consumerism is creating demand for self-service in healthcare.

Patients are intuitively seeking ways to engage online when and where it best suits them. The growth of this trend can largely be attributed to the fact that most other industries are already a step ahead of healthcare and self-service is what consumers have come to expect.

In healthcare, we’re playing catch up. Patients want to book appointments online without making phone calls and do it at their own convenience.

Enabling online self-scheduling is a prime example of how to meet consumer needs. Orthopedic groups in particular can greatly benefit from this type of technology enhancement. But it must be implemented in a way that ensures patients see the right provider. If your knee hurts then you don’t want to see the doctor that specializes in podiatry!

To meet the needs of orthopedic groups, an online scheduling solution must be able to automate business rules that allow providers to maintain control over their schedules while also offering decision support to guide patients to the right provider.

To illustrate this, let’s look at an example of someone with tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is a common injury, and usually caused by overuse of the forearm muscles, affecting the outside elbow and resulting in pain that can be worse when shaking hands or squeezing objects. For tennis fans playing an intense match on a Saturday, a throbbing elbow and unbearable pain in the evening will likely need medical attention.

The current process involves a patient waiting until they have time to call, reaching the office during business hours and working with a scheduler. The scheduler must look up providers by elbow specialty in their system and apply scheduling rules, typically from a binder, around the type of injury or condition that an individual physician will accept. The patient on the phone will have to wait, coordinating with their calendar and confirming by phone. This process is clearly long and tedious.

For the patient with the bad elbow, lying on the couch with their phone after dinner on Saturday night, they remember an orthopedic group recommendation from a friend. The group lets patients schedule visits online. Upon first visiting their website, the ability to self-book is prominently displayed. The patient is asked a series of questions about what’s hurting, what type of care they need, their location, and so on. Using this decision support capability, the patient can easily find the right provider for their need with the earliest availability. In the background, the scheduling tool is loaded with a business rules engine that takes the old-fashioned binder of rules used by the staff scheduler and automates it in a consumer-friendly experience. Important questions can be answered in this process, such as, what insurance the patient has, which limits appointment results to only those providers that accept that type of insurance. In this way, the orthopedic group is controlling what appointment inventory they are making available.

After the right doctors have been located, the integration functionality takes the patient directly into the practice management system and brings the available appointment inventory for doctors specializing in tennis elbow treatment direct to the patient’s fingertips. The patient then selects the slot they want, with email confirmation sent directly to their phone and into their calendar. Job done! The appointment is booked and the patient can take some ibuprofen and rest easy knowing that they will soon be receiving the care they need to treat their injury. There will be no waiting to speak to a scheduler until business hours, no long phone calls, and no being placed on hold while the scheduler fumbles through notebooks or uses their search box to locate a physician.

Perhaps this process sounds too good to be true? Well, it’s not. Orthopedic groups like Vanderbilt Bone and Joint are offering self-scheduling services like this today. By matching patients to their physicians based on their condition and the expert’s availability, patients can self-schedule their appointment online and at their convenience.

Additionally, patients can see real-time appointment availability because the solution is integrated with Vanderbilt’s Epic platform. For patients seeking convenience, flexibility and value, this self-scheduling solution offers control over their medical appointments and, importantly, the choice to select an expert qualified in a particular field of treatment and care. Likewise, providers are protected by this type of solution which ensures that their calendars will only be booked with valid appointments and reduces the need to reschedule because the initial booking was a bad match.

Specialist areas of treatment like orthopedics are helping to drive forward technology improvements within the healthcare industry. With consumerism creating demand for self-service, consumers will expect and want the control to choose which doctors they see and when. But meeting consumer demand is only half of the equation, self-service technology solutions also must protect the providers they are meant to help. When it comes to self-scheduling, that means providers must be able to maintain full control over their calendars by automating scheduling protocols with business rules. In this way, the benefits will flow to patients and providers alike and will help healthcare focus on what’s important, taking care of patients.

See the original article on Becker’s Orthopedic Review.

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