Are you paying an online booking platform to lose your patients to competitors?

30 March, 2017

We’ve received a significant response to our article alerting health systems about the Online/Offsite Patient Booking Platforms (OOPBPs) some companies offer. Many were unaware, but others resounded our points from experience.

Our original piece warned, in short, that when a health system signs the dotted line to implement one of these online booking platforms, it is making itself vulnerable to a loss of its patients, which could potentially put a large dent in its bottom line. On top of all that, these platforms are expensive and must be paid-for all up front.

This article flips that flashing warning light back on, but hopes to focus its ray, with greater brilliance, on a specific problem with these OOPBPs’ model: health systems are paying (big money) to potentially lose patients to competitors.

In the example of Zocdoc’s OOPBP, when patients click to “schedule an appointment” on a physician’s profile, the link actually transports them to Zocdoc’s website. The customer then completes the booking with Zocdoc, not the health system. Often, agreement with the system provider does not protect the relationship between the customer and health care provider. This process is what we have referred to as the “book & hook.” While there is the (hopefully) obvious detriment of sending one’s customers to a direct competitor to complete the checkout process, there are also deeper problems at play.

It’s important to understand how online search and booking fits into the larger patient experience journey, a health system’s patient engagement strategy, and ultimately, its bottom line. When viewed in its correct strategic context, the “book & hook” model is very beneficial for only one side of the deal, likely leaving health systems vulnerable.

Patient acquisition is great, but only when it isn’t immediately followed by patient leakage

Customer acquisition is difficult and expensive, but it is what makes the health system engine go. It is also largely an online experience, and that is only going to increase. Patients perform significant online research before booking with a physician, typically spanning two weeks and covering more than two hospital websites. Consider that alongside Accenture’s prediction that by 2019, 64% of appointments will be booked digitally, and the importance of a health system’s online presence cannot be underscored enough.

If during a patient’s exhaustive online research, he or she lands on a health system’s site, this becomes that health system’s “moment of truth” (MOT). This is one of the moments that former Procter & Gamble CEO, A.G. Lafley, described as a key moment when a customer is encountering a brand’s product. The MOT will probably mean the difference between a purchase or not, revenue or not.

Enter online booking, a feature that screams ease and convenience to the consumer at the MOT, and also provides physicians a potential solution to those empty blocks in their schedule that might otherwise provide significant revenue.

If a patient is ready to book on their site, the moment of truth was successful! The patient has declared an end to his or her research and chosen that health system and provider over all others. Glasses should be clinking. Award acceptance speeches should be getting written. Patient acquired, right?

Not necessarily. In fact, if not structured correctly, the landscape for that customer may change dramatically as the MOT approaches. If when that patient clicks the ever important healthcare version of “add to cart,” they are taken off-site, that’s strike one. If that other site happens to be a competitor that offers physicians from thousands of other providers, that’s strike two and three. Even if that patient follows through and books his or her appointment, patient leakage is a strong likelihood. The patient journey has been disrupted and, in the case of OOPBPs, other providers are now able to market to that patient via their larger find-a-doctor website.

Never send your fishing pole customers to check out at Walmart

Our original warning piece used a simple metaphor about fishing poles that deserves a deeper look. A specialty outdoor store owner should celebrate every time a customer selects a fishing pole for purchase in his or her store. This means the MOT, all the sales and marketing efforts, was a complete success.

Imagine that owner greeting the excited fishing pole customer at the counter with a smile, and an outstretched arm pointing towards the door, and cordially explaining that the customer needs to head next door to Walmart to complete the checkout process. Not only is this a completely fractured customer experience, but what does that owner think will happen when this newly acquired customer walks through that massive one-stop shop and sees the fishing poles selection, and all the other available products and brands? What’s to stop the customer from thinking of Walmart the next time he or she needs outdoor equipment? Even more urgently, what’s to stop that customer from putting the fishing pole down and abandoning the initial transaction completely?

On top of this, imagine that the outdoor store owner paid Walmart a large sum of money to allow him to send customers to check out at Walmart. Now stop thinking about it to avoid fainting.

Online search and booking is the (crucial) first step in the patient experience

After all this doom and gloom, what part should the online search and booking process be playing?

The patient experience journey begins much earlier than when a patient walks into a doctor’s office, and lasts much longer than when a patient leaves. When we say longer, we mean like as long as a circle goes round and round. The beginning to that journey needs to be a strong patient experience.

In a ground-breaking Deloitte study, patients were asked to rank patient experience factors by importance. Different aspects of the scheduling process showed up three times in the top-6 factors, including “ease of scheduling.” Patients care deeply about the first step in the patient experience, namely, online search and booking. (See our example patient journey below to see exactly what that entails)

No doubt, many of the aforementioned platforms offer a sleek booking experience at first glance. This cautionary article is meant to remind us all that the devil is often in the details and to ensure we don’t allow the sizzle obfuscate the more important asset providers have – their customers. The details of the “book & hook” model actually fracture the patient journey, and open the window for health systems to lose their patients to another provider’s booking experience entirely.

What does an alternative to the “book & hook” nightmare look like?

Health systems need an online booking platform that offers the patient a smooth beginning to the patient experience, and provides a boon to the health system’s bottom line. Health systems shouldn’t settle for anything less; in fact, that win-win model should just be the beginning...

  • Health systems should only have to pay if a patient is actually acquired (e.g., a pay for performance model), as opposed to a hefty lump sum up-front that doesn’t guarantee the platform’s effectiveness.
  • The online search and booking process should keep customers on the health system’s site, as opposed to redirecting, nurturing an engaged and loyal relationship with the health system brand.
  • The platform should kick back crucial user data that helps the health system constantly innovate and improve its engagement and marketing strategies.
  • A robust online search and scheduling platform should not only dramatically increase acquisition, but set up the health system for an increase in customer retention, a much cheaper way to increase revenue.

If that sounds like a pipe dream, you’ve been in the nightmare too long. It’s time to wake up or renegotiate your contract to protect the relationships you have with your customers.

ImConnect is a robust online search & scheduling platform with your best interests in mind. Watch a Demo