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Online scheduling for clinics can reduce costs

TORONTO – Family physicians may appear well-paid for their work, but their primary care clinics are often in the red or struggling to hit break-even. So says Keith Chung, CEO of Veribook, which has created a solution that’s currently being used to improve the financial position of dozens of clinics across Canada.

“Many clinics are in bad shape, and some are even running at a loss,” said Chung. “Their costs are rising, and fees have been reduced.”

One of the sore spots for primary care clinics is the cost of scheduling appointments, as patients can tie up the receptionist’s time with phone calls about new appointments, changes and cancellations.

In the aggregate, scheduling an appointment by phone costs between $1 and $5 each. In total, they typically amount to 25 percent of the cost of running a clinic.

And that’s where Veribook comes in, with its online appointment scheduling system that can quickly cut these costs by 70 percent, says Chung.

At the two-site Magenta Health clinics in Toronto, which have implemented Veribook, patient adoption of the online system has reached 95 percent.

“That fixes the losses,” said Chung.

As a result, the Magenta Health clinics are in the black, and they actually run without dedicated receptionists. Staff at the clinics take phone calls when needed and help assist patients over the phone, but those calls are relatively few.

“Staff are doing much more value-added work,” said Chung. When they’re on the phones, he noted, “They’re spending more time on follow-ups and referrals.”

For its work in re-engineering the clinics’ workflow and producing cost-savings, Magenta Health was given a first-place award in 2017 in the Canada Health Infoway ImageNation Leading Practice Challenge.

The award was also given in recognition of the benefits for patients. By using the online system, patients can schedule appointments at times that are most convenient.

“They don’t have to wait to call the clinic during business hours,” commented Ben Shah, Director of Business Development for Veribook. “A parent may have a sick child at 2 in the morning, and might be thinking about visiting an ER – where they’ll wait for the next five hours to see a doctor.

“But the parent can log onto her local clinic’s scheduling system at 2 am, and see that there’s an appointment available at 9 am. It’s worth waiting for that.”

Shah, who is also a physician by training, observed that most of the patients using Veribook do so outside regular business hours.
Moreover, appointments can be made from any platform – desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.

And automated reminders are sent to patients, so they don’t forget about their appointments.

Of course, online scheduling isn’t new for medical clinics. However, Veribook has experience in online scheduling in many other industries and started applying its expertise to physician clinics in 2014. What is new is the intelligence it has brought to the process.

The system knows the work-habits and preferences of the various doctors working in a clinic. For example, some physicians like to reserve time slots for urgent medical matters, so the system will take this into account. Similarly, for pediatric appointments where a nurse is needed, the online system will automatically spread these appointments out throughout the day to reduce delays.

The rules-based system can also be programmed, for example, to intelligently include catch up time, to minimize wait times for patients and to reduce physician stress.

It’s all customizable, said Chung. “It maps onto a physician’s organizational workflow,” he said. “A system shouldn’t be one size fits all.”

Added Shah: “Not every physician offers the same services, and different services can be available at different times. The system recognizes this.”

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