More people are seeking out therapy than ever before, and this means therapists are busier than ever before. In order to make the best use of time and resources, many professionals in all sectors of healthcare are turning to secure, HIPAA-compliant online scheduling software, which has some significant benefits - as well as a few disadvantages. No matter the size of the medical practice - if it’s a solo therapist or a group of practitioners, online appointment scheduling can significantly reduce the time and manpower required for things like scheduling and appointment reminders. And in this post-pandemic world of virtual health care, online scheduling can be an essential tool for synchronizing calendars and appointments across a number of locations.
There are many advantages to using an online booking program for a healthcare provider. All of these benefits boil down to three main takeaways: Streamlining day-to-day tasks, reducing no-shows and filling empty appointment slots, and giving more control over the time and location of sessions.
Whether a therapist is in solo or group practice, an appointment scheduling software can be an effective way to stream all of the day-to-day nuts and bolts that must take place before clients can actually be seen. When that software is combined with other electronic office essentials, such as electronic notes, automated session reminders, and a client portal, then overall practice management can take significantly less time and effort for both therapists and any office staff.
For instance, if a client signs up with a new practice’s booking system, they can be given a login to the client portal. This portal will allow the client to have access to intake forms - an essential time saver to have completed ahead of the first session - as well as a scheduling calendar. By having access to the scheduling calendar, a client has access to all potentially available appointment times and can choose a session time and date that works best for them. Having clients choose their own appointments takes care of two challenges: first, the client is more likely to choose a time most convenient for them, reducing no-shows or reschedules. Beyond that, many clients simply prefer online versus having to speak to someone over the phone, either just out of preference or in an attempt to maintain a sense of privacy. Second, it saves the therapist or office staff from having to go back and forth via phone or email trying to find a session time that works for everyone. This is especially true for family or couple’s counseling, when multiple calendars and schedules are at play. The couple can coordinate and schedule online as needed.
Aside from the forms and access to scheduling, the client can also cancel and reschedule via the patient portal, freeing up significant time from phone calls and emails regarding sessions. They can make appointments and changes outside of regular business hours. Some software even allows patients to make session fees or co-pay payments online. If note-taking is added, the therapist can take session notes and add them to the patient's online file, giving immediate access to them during the next session.
Electronic scheduling can be an effective tool for reducing the number of cancellations and no-shows. Giving the client personal access to the calendar makes it easier for them to choose a session time and date that is most convenient for them, without having to go back and forth on the phone or via email. It also gives them the power to reschedule as soon as a conflict arises, which can have a significant impact on the number of no-shows. As an added benefit, by utilizing an electronic schedule, changes made on the client’s end take immediate effect allowing someone else to take the now vacant session without significant effort on the part of staff to try and fill last-minute vacancies. This will have a dramatic overall effect on minimizing the number of empty sessions - which bring in no revenue.
In this post-pandemic world, many therapists either work completely remotely or in a hybrid practice. Electronic scheduling allows for ease of calendar coordination. By allowing for remote access, therapists can answer questions regarding scheduling, view upcoming patient appointments, and synchronize their sessions easily between multiple locations. If the utilized program is all-encompassing, access to patient files, notes, and medical histories is also available in one place, and can be utilized wherever the therapist happens to be providing service. This is especially helpful for a therapist who travels between multiple offices or provides service from home at least part-time.
As with any software program, there are always going to be at least one or two disadvantages, and an electronic appointment scheduling system is no exception. For therapists, one of the main advantages - giving clients the ability to schedule sessions for themselves - can also be one of the biggest pitfalls. Being able to schedule online requires a computer or smartphone and access to the internet. For some clients, beyond just having access to technology, there is also the hurdle of being able to navigate the software. In these cases, additional support may need to be provided by the therapist or office staff in order to teach the client how to use the electronic scheduling system - negating at least some of the potential time savings.
Besides the technological access and know-how required for an electronic appointment system and client portals, there is also the potential for the process to feel impersonal or too corporate. This is certainly a double-edged sword for mental health professionals; some clients will prefer to schedule themselves and avoid using phone calls as a method for making appointments. But for others, the need to log in and schedule appointments themselves potentially leaves them feeling less supported by the office, and they might prefer to interact with employees. The best way to deal with this is to offer multiple ways for clients to schedule: they can schedule online if that works for them and they are able, but they should also have the option to simply call the office for scheduling needs.
As discussed earlier, beyond just scheduling an upcoming appointment, there are a significant number of benefits that should be taken into account. Once the appointment time is scheduled, most software can send out automated reminders via a number of delivery methods. Phone calls, text messages, and email are the most popular and widely used. Text messaging has the benefit of allowing the client to respond instantly or when convenient for them, and they can confirm or cancel very easily without having to call the office - which they may or may not do.
Session notes, medical histories, and co-pay / insurance information is also potentially housed in the same program, making it a one-stop shop for professionals in many different medical fields, not just mental health. Of course, any software used must be HIPAA compliant, and prices will vary depending on features and subscriptions. As a general rule, however, most programs will pay for themselves simply by limiting the number of missed or empty session times. For example, if the program in question costs $500 per year, and a therapist has a $250 session fee, then by avoiding two last-minute cancellations, the program has paid for itself.
While monetary considerations are extremely important when a therapist is attempting to run a successful business, it’s not the only thing to think about. Synchronized calendars across multiple locations, as well as being able to view calendars at a glance, can help the busy therapist or therapy office to maximize their time for appointments, paperwork, and even self-care. Allowing adequate time for breaks, lunch, or just avoiding overscheduling in general can make all the difference in preventing the dreaded burnout.
When considering adding electronic scheduling software to a repertoire of tools, therapists need to take into account a multitude of factors. Is the software secure and HIPAA compliant? Will the software be financially feasible? And will the chosen program complete all the necessary tasks to make a practice run efficiently? When all of these questions are answered in the affirmative, adding online scheduling software can be a boon to practices large and small. Synchronizing calendars across locations, making appointment scheduling available 24 hours for clients, the ability to send out automated reminders - all of this can assist the modern therapist in maximizing their efforts towards helping their clients and minimize stress and frustrations in the practicalities of actually running a successful practice.
When it comes to finding the appropriate resources to assist the operation of your therapy practice, look no further than Advekit. We are here to help with a wide variety of topics and issues, such as how to effectively run an online therapy practice, finding available tax deductions for therapists, what a certified financial therapist is and how to become one, how to deal with self-doubt as a therapist, and much more.