By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
For as long as call centers have been answering calls for doctors, there have been requests to handle appointments, be it to set, cancel, or change an appointment. Although the doctors were serious about these requests and the call centers anxious to assist, the result was, at best, less than desirable and at worse, a complete failure. Problems with double booking, tracking cancellations, and coordinating openings were rampant, often overshadowing the benefits. The root cause of this was the lack of a centralized and common scheduling resource. Even after the advent of computers allowed schedules to be accessible electronically, connecting to a remote database was slow, cumbersome, and unreliable. Fortunately, the Internet has solved this last dilemma.
When powerful appointment scheduling software is married to the ubiquitousness of the Internet, the result is an up-to-date schedule, available to both the medical practice and the call center. This allows both medical staff and call center agents to fill, cancel, or change an appointment at any time, without the concerns of double booking or appointment overlap. With the Internet, accounts can also be easily dispersed throughout a multi-location practice or call center.
These programs can address a medical practice’s appointment-taking needs, while providing the option for remote access by supervisors, managers, and even doctors as they plan their day. Many of these scheduling setting programs are hosted software. This means that the call center does not need to purchase, install, maintain, or upgrade any software, but rather accesses it via the Internet. Fees vary from flat rate to usage sensitive. Some packages can alternately be purchased by the call center for in-house installation. This allows call centers to use the hosted version as they get started, with the option to purchase the software later, if it becomes cost effective to do so.
For all of this power and flexibility, these programs tend to be intuitive and easy to learn. The learning curve for agents is quick; they often comprehend the basics after just a couple of appointments and master the details within an hour.
Also, there is often a web component available, which can be extended to the patient or referring partners for self-scheduling. This can serve to increase visits and maximize doctor’s schedules. Common features include:
- Multiple schedules (such as separate doctor and nurse schedules)
- Multiple event or appointment types
- Various length appointments
- Ability to perform database lookups (to pre-populate fields with patient information)
- Provision of drop down menus (to enforce database consistency)
Booking a full day’s worth of appointments, however, is just the first step. Unfortunately, it is all too common for appointments to be missed, either through neglect, forgetfulness, or patients who are simply too overloaded to remember. As such, reminding patients of their scheduled time, a day or two prior, is a needed task. Therefore, most appointment setting software also includes a means of confirming or reminding patients of their scheduled time. This can be completely automated and technology assisted, and often includes multiple contact methods, such as a phone call, email, or fax. Here are appointment scheduling vendors to consider:
1Call, a division of Amtelco: 1Call’s Web-based scripting product, eCreator, includes an appointment-taking application that can be customized to meet each scheduling need. Most of the scripting work is already done, making set-up fast. A customizable SQL database is included to provide speed and scalability.
Callers can be reminded of their appointments by email, fax, or on a website. The script walks agents through the call process, reducing training time. The data collected can be required and validated, reducing agent errors. The main features include:
- Flexible script flow and customized screens
- Web-based script, which allows for end-user access
- Scalability to unlimited schedules, resources, and appointment lengths
- Delivery of appointment data according to client needs, including Web access
Linx Appointment: Linx Appointment, from Szeto Technologies, is an appointment setting software package that can be purchased by call center and installed in their facility. It is one of the optional integrated functions offered in their Call Linx TAS System.
Although it is installed in the call center, the call center may in turn host the appointment service to their clients via their website. No third party involvement is necessary.
[From the June/July 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]