3 Critical Ways Your Health System is Being Hurt by Online Booking Platforms (and You’re Paying Them to Do It)

19 January, 2017

The “Book & Hook” Model | A 5 Minute Read

Experts have predicted it, multitudes of patients have been clamoring for it, and the colossal healthcare ship has been slowly but surely changing its tack to adopt it.

Online appointment booking in healthcare is becoming a reality, but the question is: are health systems choosing the right platform in the rush to implement?

At ImConnect, we have been advocating for this tactical improvement to patient experience for some time. In most consumer industries, robust online search and appointment booking experiences are mere prerequisites for a seat at the table and experts have been treating healthcare’s ultimate adoption as a foregone conclusion. In 2014, Accenture predicted that 66% of all physician appointments in 2019 will be booked digitally. Their bold assertion appears to be holding up, and may even seem conservative by the time 2019 arrives. This (still large, but closing) gap in the market offers an immense opportunity to early adopters now.

Let us begin with a kudos to the forward-thinking innovators who are implementing online appointment booking, but this article is primarily a call for caution to health systems.

The predominant Online/Offsite Patient Booking Platforms (OOPBPs), the Zocdocs of the world, employ a business model that is not beneficial to health systems. Whereas a great patient experience is seamlessly owned and curated by a single, trusted provider, this model not only leads patients through a fractured experience, but it may end in patients being poached into a competing health system’s patient experience altogether.

There are three massive reasons why this model, which we will affectionately refer to as the “book & hook,” might be doing significant damage to your patient experience.

1. You’re paying them to potentially TAKE YOUR PATIENTS away from you

Imagine you own a specialty outdoor equipment store with an archaic check-out process. You have resisted implementing a credit card machine far too long, and while your quality fishing pole selection has made up for your cash-only system until now, your competitors are implementing credit card machines and you know it’s time to follow suit. A representative in a royal blue button-down shirt walks in one day and tells you his company has an easy and intuitive credit-card system, with only one catch: your customers will have to check out at his store, which happens to be called Walmart. Sure, they can shop at your store, but they’ll have to actually purchase your fishing pole at the Walmart check-out desk right next to their decent selection of fishing poles, as well as countless other products. It won’t be long before your customers put two and two together and just start shopping at Walmart.

This analogy is obviously silly and no retail owner would agree to such a ludicrous deal, right? The problem is that many health systems are unwittingly signing up for the book & hook, making themselves vulnerable to exactly that kind of poaching.

In the example of OOPBPs, when patients click on the “schedule an appointment” button on a health system website, the link actually transports them to OOPBP's website. Patients and care-seekers will finish the booking process with the OOPBP, a website that promotes millions of doctor profiles from competing practices, hospitals, and health systems. OOPBPs are very transparent in their marketing that they want to be the one-stop shop for your patients’ medical and healthcare needs. With this model, it wouldn’t be long before your patients just start shopping at the OOPBP. Once patients of OOPBP's clients book on their site, these patients are added to OOPBP’s list of customers, and if you were the OOPBP, would you hesitate to market to those patients?

“If you can’t beat them, join them” may be smart in some cases, but there is usually a reason why the competition was competition in the first place. Health systems are paying these book & hook platforms to redirect traffic away from themselves and potentially poach their patients. There has to be a better way.


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2. You’re paying them A LOT OF MONEY to potentially take your patients away from you

Poaching patients would be bad enough, but it would be (almost) understandable if the price was right. The typical book & hook pricing structure is based on the number of physicians, and the cost is a flat rate, usually $3,000 per physician, per year. That doesn’t sound cheap because it isn’t, but for an individual physician or a small practice, it could be argued that the price is in the realm of reason. This is not the case for hospitals or health systems.

This article is specifically cautioning health systems, so let’s scale that pricing structure more accurately. A medium-sized health system may have, for example, 200 salaried physicians. These platforms do not offer sufficient discounts for larger pools of physicians. There are no bundled deals. At 200 physicians, that health system is paying a whopping $600,000. Not only is the price exorbitant, but that same health system will have to stroke that check again the following year, and the year after that, and... you get the point.

There are a lot of things a health system can do with half-a-million dollars every year, but sending its patients to other vendors would hopefully not be one of them.

3. You’re paying them a lot of money UP FRONT to potentially take your patients away from you

This may seem like a simple nuance, but paying up front for any marketing or website platform should be questioned. With a pricing structure like this, these book & hook platforms don’t have to prove their effectiveness to any doctor, practice, or health system. Health systems need to find a platform that charges only when it succeeds. Online appointment booking systems are essentially marketing platforms with the primary purpose of driving traffic and increasing revenue, all the while improving patient experience. Even marketing juggernauts like Facebook and Google only charge when a lead is driven (per click or per impression). Why should your online appointment booking system be any different?

This begs the question: how do the OOPBPs of the world measure success?

Do they promise to increase traffic, number of appointments, or revenue? How do they measure ROI? Does their digital experience align with yours? The answers to these questions are elusive because success for the OOPBPs is probably not the same as success for your health system.

Conclusion: Implement online appointment booking, but the “book & hook” model is not the answer

Even from the perspective of the patient, being driven away from a health system’s website is undesirable. A GE study on the state of patient experience concluded that patients, not unlike customers in other industries, desire a one-stop brand experience they can trust and can continue to return to. Online appointment booking is a great opportunity to build that long-term relationship with your patients. Find a partner that prizes your health system’s success and can help you improve patient experience.

Because let’s be honest: your fishing pole selection and expertise are too good to send your customers to any other outdoor store.

Read the second part in this series, Are you paying an online booking platform to lose your patients to competitors?


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