Blog Call Back Later? No thanks. Patients prefer Providers who let them Book Appointments Online

Call Back Later? No thanks. Patients prefer Providers who let them Book Appointments Online

It’s high time convenience from digital lifestyle services came to healthcare.

According to Accenture’s 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey for Singapore, patients of all ages are increasingly likely to choose medical providers that offer appointment booking capabilities online.

Aside from offering convenience to patients, such automation eases the administrative burdens of clinic assistants and nursestwo healthcare professions in severe shortage within Singapore.


More of Singapore’s elderly are going online

Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) annual survey on infocomm usage in households and by individuals reveals that age isn’t stopping Singapore’s senior citizens from learning how to use the internet. The proportion of internet users among those aged 50 years and above rose from 2016 to 2018 (shown below).

For the eldery, connecting online isn’t done solely through the desktop computer. From 2016 to 2018, 20% more of those aged from 50 to 59 years, and 26% more of those aged 60 years and beyond used portable equipment, including smartphones and laptops, to connect wirelessly to the internet.


Young and old favor digital booking capabilities from medical providers

Today, the average consumer will schedule transportation services through popular ride-sharing apps, book movie tickets online, and shop on digital retail platforms. This capacity to effortlessly book services and make purchases online has raised consumers’ expectations of healthcare providers.

In Accenture’s 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey, 39% of older consumers (born in the years from 1982 to 1964) and 37% of younger consumers (born in 1965 and onward) responded “much more likely” to choose a medical provider that allows them to book, change, or cancel appointments online.

Tech has become ubiquitous in daily life, but Singapore’s medical providers remain behind: most clinics require patients to either walk in and wait to see the doctor, or telephone the clinic during operational hours for an appointment.

Patients and medical staff get frustrated when they are restricted by analog appointment booking systems, or deprived of the digital alternative. With more consumers and healthcare employees embracing technology, each is better prepared to coordinate with the other using online appointment booking.


24-hour access: easily book your medical appointments online anytime, anywhere

Visit a popular GP clinic in Singapore and your wait time can stretch up to an hour during peak periods. For clinics offering telephone appointment bookings, trying to get through a busy phone line is challenging.

In Serangoon, a particular popular GP clinic sees a queue forming outside its door before opening time. The one-doctor solo practice accepts telephone bookings for medical appointments. However, securing a time slot isn’t always a walk in the park.

“Some clinics are more efficient than others in responding to appointment requests via the traditional telephone system,” says 63-year-old Singaporean Polly Wong, who is a returning patient at this family clinic.

“I had to make a trip down to the clinic to get an appointment number, only to discover that my allocated time slot was way behind a long queue of patients. It was the late afternoon by the time my number was called.”

For patients feeling particularly unwell, the task of waiting to get through a clinic’s busy telephone line or waiting for hours at a doctor’s office can be excruciating.

30-year-old architect Cheryl Anne Sim recalls her agonising experience while down with a bad flu and cough.

“I was sneezing throughout class but had to stay on until it ended at 6pm. There are few clinics open at this time in the evening, so it was a painful process searching for available clinics nearby. The moment I left class, I telephoned the nearest available clinic, but no one picked up.”

“When I eventually arrived at the clinic at 630pm, I received a queue number. The clinic staff informed me that the wait time would be at least an hour… I ended up sitting in the clinic for 2.5 hours.”

“It was a terrible experience. The clinic had no system to notify me of when my turn was approaching, so I was obliged to wait in-person. My stomach was growling since it was dinner time. I was so peeved!”

“On the upside, the doctor was very nice and apologised for the long wait time. Nonetheless, I will never return to that clinic again.”

For anyone who has had a similar experience, being able to rest at home and drop by the clinic at a pre-agreed time for your appointment is priceless.

In some instances, a hybrid system is adopted to ease appointment booking traffic over duo channels. National Healthcare Polyclinics allow bookings over the phone and online; the latter is made using your Singpass details. This comprises a username and password that allows Singaporeans to connect and transact with government agencies through a two-step verification process.

On the other hand, if you’re a private GP that allows his or her patients to make appointment bookings online through Plato, the procedure is more straightforward. You can determine what information your patient has to provide for the booking, though more often than not, an email address and a contact number will suffice.


Greater efficiency for medical providers in the face of a major skills shortage

Digital bookings, internal and external, not only free up phone lines, but also enable clinics to operate with a smaller staff count.

After the SingHealth Group introduced online appointment bookings to its nine polyclinics, internal appointment traffic dropped by roughly 60%. Staff didn’t need to devote time over the phonewhere an attempt to reach organisations such as the Singapore General Hospital could take as long as 30 minutesto secure medical appointments for polyclinic patients. The time saved is passed on to patients, who no longer have to wait for their appointment confirmations at polyclinics.

This automation of appointment scheduling enables clinics to operate with a smaller administrative headcount, which involves in-demand qualified clinic assistants and nurses, whose time is freed up to manage more pressing duties.

By 2026, Singapore is expected to become a super-aged society, where one in five citizens will be 65 years and older. The expansion of medical services to support a graying nation has more hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes vying for an already limited pool of qualified personnel, including trained clinic assistants and nurses who oversee administrative duties.

To aid the manpower shortage, Singapore’s Ministry of Health has invested S$24 million to fill 9,000 positions in healthcare, comprising non-clinical roles such as administrative positions in medical centers.

With a challenging hiring landscape ahead in Singapore’s healthcare sector and mounting consumer expectations from technological conveniences, online medical appointment booking is for any doctor who doesn’t want to be left behind.

– Wong Yoon Sann

August 23, 2019