Should the patient be allowed to make an appointment on their own?

We always try to make our life more convenient and comfortable. Companies and corporations are doing the same, but with a slightly different focus. Their aim is to make it as easy and quick as possible for you to pay using card data, NFC phones, or immediate payment through chats on social networks.

The ideal is not achievable and there is always room for improvement in every industry.  Of course, each sphere distinguishes and dentistry is no exception. We are now talking about specialists’ time management in particular.

In this case, convenient schedule maintenance is meant, that lets both, the patient and the doctor, see free time, make an appointment or cancel it. As well as the administrator must be able to note the important dates, from business trips to vacations. All this must be avaliable at any place and any time. 

Perhaps the question does not seem so obvious to you now, however, it still exists. Previously we have already discussed this issue in more detail in the article on dental clinics’ efficiency (Link), however, right now let’s dwell upon one of its aspects.

Let's take a look at the situation by filling out the doctor's schedule. Roughly we have at least 3 participants who constantly interact and must quickly adapt and know about any changes: patient, administrator, doctor.

The patient's expectations on the schedule are pretty simple: to see on the website or app a convenient time to visit and place, and book it. When talking of convenience, we mean ONLY patients. Predicting your objections, you’ll probably say: phone or social network communication is much faster. Yes, true! However, a significant percentage of people try to minimize interpersonal communication. In other words, they are prone to introversion.

The main function of the administrator is to make sure that there are no empty spaces in the doctor's schedule and all patients get to the clinic. So, that means, that calls and records are the only means of reaching the goal.

At the same time, the doctor needs to see the number, correct time, and types of patient admissions. 

Ok,  we are done with the schedule expectations of each of the participants. Now shall we deal with the answer to our main question: so finally, is it really worth giving the patient the opportunity to independently book the time of the visit?

Most clinics are using specialized software, but despite this, when changes occur, we often see the following chain of events. The doctor gives the info upon changes to a manager, who is in charge of the schedules. After that information reaches the responsible administrators and, as a rule, the website is updated last. In this situation, there is a great chance that the patient will sign up online for the time that the doctor has already canceled. In addition, the very process of transmitting information is a waste of the most valuable business resource - time.

Now let's consider the situation from the other side. The patient enters the website, makes an appointment for the treatment, and chooses 30 minutes, as he is sure that this should be enough because the last time it was about the same. During a visit it turns out that it takes not less than an hour. 

This discrepancy causes an immediate domino effect - the treatment of the next patient is delayed and so happens with all the rest.  As a result, everyone blames the administrators: after all, it was them who missed calculating the time. The problem would not occur if the online booking service was implemented in this case. The patient is not a doctor and is unable to plan the length of the visit.

 Well, are we to cancel than online booking? No, but 2 conditions need to be met.

1) It is necessary to use a system that online updates both the doctor's working hours and the booked time. So that all users simultaneously see the changes, including on websites and on social networks.

2) Responsibility for managing your time must not be delegated to the patient. Except for such safe tasks as first consultation, removal of stitches, whitening sessions, or standardized work.

Summing up,  a combined recording system must be used. Open online appointments to simple and fixed time procedures. Close to the rest. With such work organization, the administrator will receive unloading from small routine tasks and save time for things, that require more attention.