Prior to the digital age, finding and receiving medical care could prove to be quite the challenge. To find a reputable, trustworthy practice, patients typically relied on either word of mouth or white pages, then having to check insurance compatibility and potentially wait weeks for an available appointment. Today, technology has simplified this process, providing ways to seek medical advice, locate doctors and schedule appointments all from a single device.
Economy experts estimate both parents work in nearly half of all two-parent households, with many reporting overtime.1 These families must follow strict schedules to keep up with their busy lifestyles, and having to call a practice in order to schedule an unplanned appointment can involve being put on hold and waiting for lengthy amounts of time. Due to the demands of daily life, not everyone has the time to wait to speak to a representative. Therefore, online scheduling has seen much success over the past few years.
One company in particular, Zocdoc, has taken online health management and patient scheduling to the next level. Their application allows physicians and specialists to list their practices online and for patients to seek their services by specialty and rating in the surrounding area. Such technology eliminates the need to spend endless amounts of time searching for a medical professional, making the search process completable in as little as a matter of minutes.
"Zocdoc is a reputation-management software tool used by patients to discover doctors," explained Drew Stevens, PhD, a practice management consultant with 10 books and 800 articles that help doctors operate their practices with more efficiency. "Listing on Zocdoc aids practice development by 62% because 84% of patients are using these services to discover new doctors daily."
As more physicians switch to this method of online scheduling, they will in-turn see their patient enrollment rates increase. A growing trend among healthcare facilities, the willingness of physicians and patients to schedule medical appointments online has demonstrated a convenience that the medical field previously lacked.
"Since implementing Zocdoc, Boston Medical Center (BMC) has seen an increase in patient volume to the providers on the platform and in the percentage of commercially insured patients, which is important for BMC as the region's largest safety net hospital," explained Jenny Eriksen Leary, manager of media relations at BMC in Boston, Mass. "Participating in Zocdoc was advantageous not only because BMC could move to online scheduling without investing in new IT infrastructure, but also because patients could find physicians without having to already be on BMC.org searching for doctors."
As Zocdoc expands its services to more cities across the United States, it will continue making it easier for clients and customers to locate quality services. Becoming the new standard for patient scheduling, this application will challenge providers to offer similar services in order to retain their existing patients.
"We are increasingly the center of care, where patients come for so many of their healthcare needs - finding and booking in-network, neighborhood doctors, reading reviews, filling out forms just once, receiving reminders for important checkups and more. We imagine a future where patients can come to us as one trusted source for all the moments they're not in the exam room," commented Oliver Kharraz, CEO and founder of Zocdoc.
While locating healthcare professionals through technology aids in a patient's ability to attain necessary services, other Internet-based platforms are also contributing to treatment options. Another application brings the doctor to the patient via video chat, coming in handy for some emergency room visits as well as regularly scheduled appointments.
"A patient doesn't need to [come in] if they feel really cruddy and they shouldn't be driving and their spouse is working; they don't need to figure out how to get to the doctor, let the doctor come to them," said Judd Hollander MD, professor of emergency medicine and associate dean for strategic health initiatives at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, which rolled out its JeffConnect app in June. "Those people who have diarrhea or are vomiting, I can see them over the phone. I pretty much know what's wrong with them because there's an outbreak of an infectious disease, and I can initiate treatment by sending in scripts to their pharmacy."
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This will also help illnesses from spreading through patient contact in a waiting room. More than 700,000 flu-like illnesses are diagnosed each year in children under the age of 6 within two weeks of a well-visit to their pediatrician's office, according to a study published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.2
Another advantage is the hours, since several virtual providers, including JeffConnect, offer round-the-clock care, 365 days of the year. Typical physician office hours, meanwhile, often follow a traditional 9-to-5 work day, which can be difficult for people who work nontraditional hours.
"I took a phone call the other day: it was 4:47 in the morning," recalled Hollander. "It was that person's lunch hour. It's not the middle of their night; it's the middle of their day."
When patients schedule their appointments, they get a confirmation email with a link to download the app so they can begin the video appointment at home or on their break at work. This convenience doubles as an additional layer of insight for physicians on their patient's health they wouldn't get if they saw them in an office setting.
"If I see you on video, I see what your house looks like," explained Hollander. "I see if you have six bags of potato chips or two cartons of McDonald's behind you, what your rugs look like, and whether you're likely to trip and fall when you're walking across the room. I see information that doctors never ask patients about but now because it jumps out and hits me in the face, I have the opportunity to make recommendations regarding it."
Hollander, who started working on JeffConnect nearly two years ago, has seen the app become popular among 20-50-year-olds who are already comfortable using their smartphone. An additional feature however, called Virtual Rounds, benefits older patients as well.
"It's our belief that the more we can engage the families of the patients who want them engaged, the better we can make sure the transition home is smooth," noted Hollander, explaining that the app video conferences family members and lets them remotely participate in a conversation with their loved one's physician. "It's really helping to bridge the gap between the things that happen in the hospital and the things that the families either want to know but the patient can't give them specifics, or things that the family members may want to help the patient with."
Most telehealth services are currently not reimbursed. When they are, it's usually for Medicare-defined extenuating circumstances like when the patient lives in a Health Professional Shortage Area or in a county that is outside of any Metropolitan Statistical Area.
With these advancements in technology it has become much easier to locate, contact and visit a doctor regarding the majority of conditions. Healthcare providers like Hollander and others foresee insurance companies having to play catch-up to this new technology in the near future, because of its successes and potential as more people start to embrace these online services.3
Chelsea Lacey-Mabe and Lindsey Nolen are former ADVANCE staff members
1. Catalyst. Working Parents. http://goo.gl/9195Jq
2. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Well-child visits linked to more than 700,000 subsequent flu-like illnesses. 2014. http://bit.ly/21Kh3VG
3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What are the reimbursement issues for telehealth? http://goo.gl/JMuadJ