In this Telehealth Feature Series, we’re going to cover the long list of potential telehealth features available today. As you’re considering your own approach to telehealth, we will provide you a look at all the possible features telehealth companies are offering on the market. Plus, we’ll offer our insight into the nuances of each feature so you can select the right telehealth company or companies you use. Not all telehealth is created equal, so taking the time to understand all the possible features and options is worth the effort.
The next feature we’re going to cover is Appointment Scheduling and Self-Scheduling.
Appointment scheduling is a really interesting telehealth feature and I think telehealth companies are still trying to figure out how they should handle this feature. The reality is that every healthcare organization already has a scheduling tool. In most cases this is stored in the medical practice’s Practice Management System. Given this fact, is it good for the telehealth tool to handle appointment scheduling as well?
The obvious answer here is that healthcare organizations are going to want to have their schedule all in one place. I believe that most will opt for that place to be their Practice Management System. So, telehealth vendors are going to have to take this into consideration. It’s very unlikely that a doctor is going to schedule in person visits in their practice management system and virtual visits in their telehealth system. So, unless the telehealth only medical practice really takes off, telehealth vendors are going to have to make sure they have the right practice management scheduling strategy.
The good news is that a lot of Practice Management Systems have exports and APIs for telehealth vendors to integrate their solution into the healthcare organization’s existing PM system. This seems like the most likely scenario for most telehealth vendors when it comes to scheduling visits. This also means that telehealth vendors are going to need to deeply integrate their telehealth offering with the practice’s PM scheduling system for things like notifications and alerts to patients about how to connect, but that’s a feature for another day.
The downside to all of this is that most PM scheduling tools are pretty poor and don’t take into account the differences between an in person and telehealth visit. That’s a problem that’s going to rear it’s ugly head as practices try to optimize their various patient workflows. If PM systems had embraced a full API earlier, this problem would be less of an issue. Telehealth companies could just integrate with the PM API and create a new scheduling experience. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet and integration options are all over the place. So, we’re going to see a number of telehealth companies try to compete with PM systems to own the patient scheduling space and then likely realize that PM integration is available, but it’s not everything they need to truly redesign the scheduling experience.
What makes this feature even more interesting is patient self-scheduling. This is a feature that was growing well before COVID-19, but certainly was met with a lot of resistance by many organizations who wanted to “control” their schedule. In some ways telehealth is going to make this easier since it will standardize which appointments make sense on telehealth which makes scheduling easier. However, in other ways it becomes more difficult since now the self scheduling tool needs to know if it should be scheduling a telehealth or in person visit for the patient.
Needless to say, we’re still early in figuring out the optimal way to handle scheduling and patient self-scheduling as we add in telehealth visits. However, I think this area does present an opportunity for a telehealth vendor to differentiate itself from another vendor. Making sure you get the workflow right for scheduling is going to be really important and I’m confident that many telehealth companies are going to fall short in this regard.