Study: Patient scheduling technology may reduce practice inefficiencies

In what’s likely a pretty self-serving study, ZocDoc found that the average wait time for new patients using an online medical scheduling system was almost eight days to schedule an appointment compared to the national 24-day average. Additionally, this specific research seems to indicate that 11 percent of new patient appointments are booked on the same calendar day, and nearly 40 percent are booked within the next three calendar days.

The research indicates nearly 80 percent of searches found at least one available time slot in the following three days from when a patient first attempts to schedule.

The ZocDoc technology allows patients to review when doctors have open appointment times then patients can schedule the appointment directly. So, this news is likely nothing more than a commercial break for ZocDoc, but perhaps there’s a shred of evidence that might suggest a bigger piece of news.

Going back to the era-gone-by of patient engagement efforts, the ease-of-use offered through scheduling one’s own visits seems to resemble the joy found when selecting your own seat on an airplane. There’s an emotional engagement here, seemingly, that might prove to empower patients and improve their overall experience.  

In a similar study published by Merritt Hawkins earlier this year, Healthcare Dive notes that ZocDoc's study was conducted primarily to see if its numbers were better than the national average, which, if true, and vetted to be appropriate, seem to suggest that technology can actually play a role in reducing physician appointment wait times.

The Merritt Hawkins report found the average wait time for a physician appointment in 15 different large markets was 24 days. That's a 30 percent increase over the 2014 average. Physician appointment times were the longest since Merritt Hawkins started conducting the survey. Boston had the longest wait times, averaging 52 days,” the authors of Healthcare Dive point out. Zocdoc’s study suggests its average Boston area appointment wait time was almost 14 days. 

Longer patient wait times (not those of patients waiting in the office, but to get an appointment) is not necessarily because there are more patients or because of millions more patients entering the market because of coverage through federal insurance coverage. Nope. For example, you might think the longer physician appointment wait times are because of the Affordable Care Act is likely the blame, but apparently that’s not the case.

“Many physicians control their schedules, often resulting in ineffective office scheduling and high rates of patient no-shows,” wrote study author Emily Gudbranson and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

Perhaps these folks should implement some sort of patient scheduling technology to improve these inefficiencies. 

Scott Rupp's picture

Scott Rupp


Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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