In the United States, the public still puts more trust in nurses and doctors than in any other two professions. But the patience of patients trying to get an appointment is wearing thin. We all know the feeling of relief upon hearing the words, “the doctor will see you now” but thought leader, physician and author Eric Topol stood those familiar words on their head in the title of his recently published book in order to make his point. The Patient Will See You Now, is a book he wrote to shed light on how the doctor-patient relationship is getting better for everyone involved, thanks to…smartphones.
Dr. Topol believes that mobile technology puts patients in the driver’s seat and can both save lives and dramatically improve lifestyles. As a physician he also knows that updating their way of doing business is very good for practice management and patient satisfaction.
There are many apps to enhance chronic care. Physician ratings sites are available at the tip of a finger. Telehealth has arrived too, bringing the exam itself right into the palm of your hand. Scheduling is joining the category and has much to contribute.
In The Patient Will See You Now, Dr. Topol acknowledges that scheduling appointments is one of many categories where a patient has long been expected to accommodate the needs and norms of a busy doctor and his or her office. Consider the original 1847 Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association, which Dr. Topol quotes from in the book’s first chapter:
“[p]atients should .. avoid calling on their medical adviser unnecessarily during the hours devoted to meals or sleep. They should always be in readiness to receive the visits of their physician, as the detention of a few minutes is often serious inconvenience for him.”
There is a growing consensus that getting a convenient appointment simply has to be made easier, given the computing and communication power most of us are holding in one hand. Serious studies including a June 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine are placing the blame for delays in access to care on scheduling systems that benefit providers more than they do patients.
Study after study about smartphones shows that almost everyone has one, and we almost always have them by our side. And smartphones may be the first technology to truly cross the digital divide, reaching equally high levels of penetration in traditionally underserved communities.
Why not tackle the challenge of scheduling appointments via smartphone if we are already using this technology to improve efficiency in so many other parts of our lives?
If you are developing a smartphone scheduling innovation agenda for your practice, clinic or institution, here are three things to think about while you finish Dr. Topol’s thoughtful book:
- Don’t just put an appointment booking tool on your website (even if it has a mobile format option). After all, that merely carries the same old relationship and dynamic over to the internet and fails to turn the new technology into an opportunity for real improvement.
- Think about allowing a patient to indicate the times she or he is available, and let your office respond rather than doing it the other way around? If the result is you are seeing more patients and seeing them at times more closely tied to the needs of their health, everyone is going to be pretty happy.
- Don’t go it alone. There are discussions emerging among all of your professional groups about how to tackle the future of scheduling. Get connected to the conversation.
There are many new terms for this kind of thinking. Participatory care and patient-centric care are two you will see increasingly. Find the language that works for you and make it a part of your practice. Maybe you like the nice ring that Dr. Topol’s turn of phrase has: “the patient will see you now.”