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So you have got your web site up and running. It is all looking great, nice and shiny; and it is Search Engine Optimized- so it appears in top results on search engine queries.

What Now?

The next step is to allow the patients, who are already on your website to book their appointments online, immediately and in real time, 24/7, 7 days a week and even when the practice is closed. The patient is on the website because they have a pain or a problem, or they saw and liked your marketing campaign. Now is the time to convert the traffic on the website to real appointments. They want to book appointments, so let them do it easily and quickly, through an Online Appointments Booking System.

A top class online appointment management system should comprise of following features.

• Real-time and Integrated with the Practice Management Systems:

In the age of hyper connectivity, an Online Appointment Booking System should allow your patients to manage (book, cancel, re-arrange) their appointments online in Real Time.

Online booking system should be fully back end integrated, to allow automatic upgrading in the back end Practice Management System. If it is not fully integrated; then the receptionist has to face the nightmare of pooled up appointment requests in the morning ,submitted via emails or website forms, look for the available slots and if these slots are already booked then call the patients to choose alternative times. Same goes for the stand alone online appointments booking systems. These types of approaches increase work and are less than optimal. Whereas a Real-time integrated system will only show the available appointments to patients and the booked appointment slots will be filled in automatically in the management system.

• Control and Governance:

Practice should always have full control of their appointment books, so an online system should allow the controls; such as which patient schemes and treatments should be online book able, how many appointments patients can have at any time. Which dentist is seeing which patient type at which times of the week/month and most importantly the system should allow a Charge to be placed for certain missed and cancelled appointments. System should also have reporting capabilities, insights into demand at different times of year, different days of the week and different time of the day.

• Ease of use:

A paramount for any good system is that it is Easy to Use for its audience. There is a variety of patients from different computer literacy and computer usage skills. System should be easy to navigate and should allow features such as finding an earliest appointment, allow an appointment on a specific time or date and patients should be able to book the appointment with their own dentist or any dentist. System should also provide information on of practice direction via maps and other relevant features such as parking facilities etc.

Security and reliability:

Obviously it should be secure, encrypted, reliable and fast system designed to take away the work load from reception staff so they can focus more on the patients in the practice.

• Advanced features: New Registrations, Family Booking, Patient and Schemes matching

A good Online Appointment Booking System would allow the ability to do family bookings, allow new patient registrations to be done online -this is especially useful when opening a new practice, where thousands of patients can be registered online- reducing issues of understanding handwriting and the typing mistakes, not to mention coping with the initial stressful period for staff. As part of the service, the Online Appointment Booking System should provide the patients with sufficient information about the practice, about the clinicians, especially if it is the patients’ first time coming to the practice. These could include bios and experience of the clinicians and staff, videos of the reception area, surgery and sterilization room etc.

• Notifications and communication:

System should provide information and confirmation on every step of appointment booking to avoid any confusion for patients and to make the whole process seamless. Along with the visual notifications that desired request has been successfully completed, system should have the capability to send Email and SMS notifications to patients whenever an appointment is booked, cancelled and re- arranged.

Online payments:

Other useful features in the Online Appointment Booking System would include allowing patients to pay their outstanding dues (or advance payments for certain cosmetic treatments) by credit card. A bonus feature would be to have the ability to charge for missed appointments or late cancellations.

• Business Case and ROI:

Finally, there should be a good business case for the return on investment (ROI) for Online Appointment booking system. There are two parts to this concept: first, the patient population should be able to access and use this system. They should be able to benefit from implementation of this technology. Second, the price of the system should be affordable, and you should be able to see a justifiable return on the investment in a reasonable amount of time. ROI could be as hard cash e.g. resulting in increased bookings due to 24x7 booking operations or getting new patient registrations, reducing work load from receptionists and not needing additional staff to cope. The ROI could also be a strategic advantage and Unique Selling Proposition (USP), for example, our practice allows patients to do Online Booking as an ultimate convenience. An Online Appointment Booking system should balance the preferences of patients with requirements of Clinicians i.e. be a 'Patient Focussed, Clinician Driven' system. Over all, by implementing, you can achieve a number of key benefits for the practice, staff and provision of exceptional care for your patients.

List of Characteristics of a Good Online Appointments Management System

• Real time:

Allows online booking in real-time (so the receptionist does not have to maintain different sets of appointment books, talk to and fro to try and get a suitable appointment booked…. Let the patients check real-time availability and book it (which gets updated automatically in the back end database system)

• Browser independent and Cross platform:

Can use Mozilla, Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, or any other browser that follows standards laid down by standards issuing bodies (such as W3C). Works on Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris etc.

• Device independent:

Works with any of the digital devices PC, laptop, Netbook, Smart phone, mobile phone, Digital TV, and even non-digital devices like landline telephone.
• Allows easy patient registration:

Register all of them, or individual patients, allows scheme based registrations (such as private only, or DenPlan only etc.

• Allows full communications (notifications, registration, appointment booking / cancellation)

• Seamless (same interface as yours, allows patients to feel they are still dealing with your practice.

• Creates a platform, Allows extendibility (allows web designers to build it in their packages)

• Upload treatments… allow matching of treatments offered to the types of patients (such as Private, NHS etc.)

• Match treatment/appointment being booked with the speciality of the Clinicians, e.g. Senior doctors can do more complex treatments such as implants, juniors or nurses can do the initial treatments.

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