The Limitations of Online Scheduling for Healthcare

3 min read

There are a variety of patient self-scheduling tools on the market, many of which plug directly into your EHR. At the most basic level, these platforms allow patients to select an appointment slot from available times/dates online or via a patient portal. Then, the appointment appears on the practice’s calendar. Advanced versions may include functionalities such as integrated pre-authorization work (to be filled in and uploaded by the patient), wait lists, secured messaging and reminders, billing integration, or even the ability to sync with practice management systems and filter patients by approval status. Some of these technologies’ abilities are impressive; it’s easy to see why as many as 88% of healthcare leaders consider them a key investment…

But they aren’t without serious limitations.

One of the most overlooked aspects of implementing a self-service scheduling system is that it still requires staff to operate it. This means hefty implementations, internal process changes, and ongoing training. Many platforms require staff to manually approve patient appointments, such as those that boast filtering by authorization status. In many cases, this adds a new step to the scheduling process and ultimately only serves to remove any human interaction—

Functioning as a patient appointment “request” system rather than a true scheduler.

On this same note, any data entered by the patient must be checked and verified, or if the scheduling system doesn’t require pre-authorization information, then it can prolong check-in and shift the burden from the phone to the front desk. Additionally, these do not fully remove the necessity for phone booking, which means successful calendar syncing for manual schedulers and the online system is essential to preventing over or double-booking. If syncing fails, even temporarily, it can create a huge workload, requiring staff to review, contact, and reschedule patients manually.

1 in 5 organizations struggle with physician buy-in for self-service scheduling systems.

One of the biggest complaints about online scheduling systems is that they take away a lot of the physician’s control. Most of these platforms allow patients to book any kind of appointment, with any specialty, at any time. They are inflexible to scenarios that are not pre-defined in the system, so it’s difficult to automate physicians’ individual preferences, like differing appointment lengths, blocks for appointment types, or leaving open availability for urgent needs. Additionally, online scheduling puts all the responsibility on the patient to know when and how often they need to be seen, as well as where they should be seen and by whom— most concerningly, these systems remove the interaction patients would have with staff that could determine if they were having an emergent issue.

They can create new barriers to access.

Online scheduling systems require a certain degree of internet savvy from users to be effective, not to mention internet access. This can create new barriers for rural and aging patient populations. Furthermore, the need for patients to have up-to-date personal technologies is amplified with the increased functionality of the platform; for example, an online pre-registration process that includes uploading an insurance card requires the patient to have access to a scanner. Additionally, many patients are weary of transmitting sensitive health data via the internet, and it’s not unfounded; breaches have increased year over year for the healthcare sector. From 2020 to 2022, healthcare lost over $25 billion to cyber-attacks. Patients who do not have a reliable, secure internet connection risk exposing sensitive personal information, putting themselves and possibly their provider at risk.

Negative impact on the patient experience…

Aside from barriers to access, online scheduling systems can create headaches for patients if the user experience is bad. A recent survey revealed various disturbing statistics surrounding patients' experiences with online scheduling tools, from 63% stating their providers' digital tools fell short of their expectations to identifying as many as 61% who had delayed care because scheduling was too complicated. One of the primary benefits cited for implementing online scheduling is the convenience it offers patients; however, as many as 70% claimed to have attempted to schedule online and only to be directed to a call center to complete their request. Considering this, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that 8 in 10 providers see less than a 20% engagement with their online self-scheduling systems. Some surveys indicate that when given the option…

Less than 3% of patients will choose online scheduling.

The compounding list of challenges self-scheduling systems can create means that providers exploring these technologies must enter these investments with a firm grasp on their limitations. While they may lift administrative burdens in some areas, they often create them in others. The effort expenditure for implementation and training must be weighed with the cost and potential benefit, alongside the patient experience and an understanding that certain aspects of care culture (like human-to-human connection) cannot be replicated— and how that may impact patient relationships and health outcomes.

There is an alternative. Envera Health offers fully customized patient access solutions that provide the right combination of people and technology to ease the burden on internal teams without sacrificing patient service. Learn more.