There are never any queues online – why you should offer your patients online appointment scheduling

COVID has led to dramatic changes in the way healthcare is accessed and delivered. In order for your practice to succeed and thrive, you need to move with the changes and innovate!

What are the advantages to your private practice of an online booking system?

  1. This gives people an easy way to book an appointment with you. The modern patient expects and demands ease, access and convenience!
  2. Prospective patients can book a consultation wherever they are and whatever the time of day (or night!). They can do their scheduling when it suits them, without the frustration and delay of needing to call your team during your office hours, which may not always fit in with their lifestyle and commitments. Believe me, if they can’t contact your practice to book their appointment, patients will go elsewhere.
  3. Patients like to be able to make their own choice of appointments from your availability. They like to be able to see this for themselves rather than be told verbally by your receptionist or medical secretary of what appointment date and time they can have.
  4. No-shows should be reduced. If the patient has selected his or her own appointment, they are more likely to attend – more on this below.
  5. Your office phone isn’t tied up during the appointment-making process, preventing other callers from getting through, and the system can handle more than one person at a time.
  6. Practice management software can automate the entire online booking process – and this can all happen without input from your practice staff who can be getting on with other things. You can automate your response to send:-
  • A welcome message and an appointment confirmation to the patient by text or E-mail.
  • An online registration form which can be completed by the patient in his or her own time and returned prior to the appointment and the patient can be registered to your practice management system before they attend. This will save time on arrival, enabling your team to give a warm welcome without a questionnaire, pen and clipboard in sight!

In addition:-

  • The patient can pay for the consultation at the time of booking – and if the patient has paid up front, he or she will be so much more likely to keep the appointment.
  • The patient can also receive a text or E-mail appointment reminder at a point which you determine prior to their visit.

So … an online appointment scheduling system can book the consultation, take the payment, and remind the patient to attend! Win Win!

What are the disadvantages?

I can only think of one and that’s inappropriate consultations. If the patient speaks to a real person in your practice when arranging the appointment, the patient can explain the nature of their problem and your staff can either proceed to arrange the appointment or direct the patient to another practitioner, if this is something which you don’t treat.

You do need to ward off such “misbookings” and avoid patients booking in with conditions you can’t help them with. But how can you do this?

Well, you need to be very clear – on your website and in any places where you show up online – about what conditions you can see and treat so that there can be no doubt what you can and can’t help with.

Actually, I can think of one more thing which you will need to bear in mind.

By scheduling their own appointment without speaking to someone on your practice team, if the patient has already had tests performed elsewhere the results of which would be useful to have when you see the patient, it would be easy to miss this. My suggestion for getting around this is to:-

  • Include a sentence within the welcome message/appointment confirmation which asks the patient to flag this up so that your practice team can follow up on this and obtain any investigation results which they know you would find helpful to refer to in the consultation.
  • Provide space for crucial information like this on your registration questionnaire – but your team must be trained to look for this and act accordingly.

Final words:-

Some private hospital groups are offering some consultants the opportunity to try out giving patients the opportunity to book their appointments online. My local BMI hospitals in Birmingham are offering this, but only if consultants have their appointments run through the BMI Healthcare patient management system. Similarly one of my local Spire hospitals has introduced a “book now button”, but again the consultant must have his or her appointments run via the hospital’s in-house appointment system. There are certain criteria that the consultant must meet, but both hospital groups are offering this free of charge, and I’ve certainly encouraged my consultants to give this a go.

Sue Wilcox is an AMSPAR qualified medical secretary. She has worked as a medical secretary in the NHS and private sectors for more than 40 years. She is the Director of The Medical Secretariat Limited which provides medical secretarial and administrative services to consultants in private practice. You can contact Sue by phone on 0121-242 3299 or 07954 433201 or via E-mail at

I would like to thank Tom Hunt at PPM and Gary Parker at Midex Pro for allowing me to pick their brains about how cloud-based practice management systems can work with an online appointment booking system.

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