A project named the Open Access Initiative helped lower wait times to see physicians, and made it simpler for patients to book an appointment with a provider.
Scheduling appointments hasn’t always been an efficient, user-friendly experience at CoxHealth, a Cerner ITWorks℠ client in Springfield, Missouri.
Until recently, patients who were new to the health system could only schedule appointments over the phone or at the registration desk, and they often saw several months of wait time before the first available opening. Existing patients had the ability to book appointments via an online portal, but few providers participated. As a result, patients faced limited options on the type of visits they could schedule.
Secret shoppers, people who research consumer experiences, discovered patients could schedule appointments with the competition quicker, resulting in poor satisfaction and patients choosing to leave the CoxHealth system.
These challenges led CoxHealth to launch a project named the Open Access Initiative. The effort combined technology and culture change to improve scheduling and overall patient experience, and led to improved scheduling of thousands of appointments.
“Being a family’s health care provider is a privilege,” said Steve Edwards, president and CEO of CoxHealth. “We always want our patients to be satisfied by their care with us, and for us, easy access is a priority because it’s part of the overall experience.”
Determining the issue
CoxHealth has long had a central phone number for new patients to call for assistance when establishing care. However, few providers would actually allow representatives to schedule appointments for new patients.
Additionally, CoxHealth schedulers did not have a centralized view of first-available appointments across the 32 physicians’ calendars to which they had access. Since schedulers couldn’t see the most up-to-date availability, a new patient could wait as long as three to seven months for their first appointment.
To address this issue, employees redesigned scheduling templates in Cerner Practice Management and created a centralized scheduling system, so schedulers would have immediate access to clinicians’ availability.
CoxHealth also encouraged a culture change within the clinics to focus on patient experience and accessibility, resulting in an additional 88 physicians opening their calendars for patients. Now new patients can book same-day appointments. Seventy-seven percent of primary care clinics are offering access within one week, something that wasn’t possible before.1
“I saw a gentleman who hadn’t seen a doctor in several years because it was just too much of a hassle to find a clinic, call during clinic hours and make the appointment,” said Louis Krenn, MD, medical director of ambulatory clinical efficiency. “But he woke up, decided to see the clinician, went online, and within two hours had an appointment and was in my clinic.”
On the online side, CoxHealth implemented self-scheduling functionality in the patient portal. This change gave patients the ability to schedule various types of appointments on their own.
“Our patients are driving improved scheduling,” said Brock Shamel, administrative director of clinics. “They want the authority to schedule appointments on their own, and this technology allows them to do that when it’s convenient for them.”
Results are already obvious: In just 13 months, patients scheduled more than 6,000 appointments online. This figure stands in stark contrast to the previous 13 months, when patients only made approximately 330 appointments.2
Shamel said the streamlined approach to appointment scheduling makes patients happier.
“One of the differences physicians have seen from the Open Access Initiative is patient attitude,” he said. “If they are able to get the information quickly and get in to see a clinician, they have a much more positive outlook going into the appointment, rather than if they had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get the care they need.”
CoxHealth staff and the ITWorks team plan to continue improving the project. They will conduct several more secret shopper surveys and encourage additional patients to use their patient portal to schedule an appointment.
1 Averaging data from March, May and July 2019.
2 6,028 appointments scheduled from March 2018 - March 2019. 332 appointments booked from February 2017- February 2018.