How Ascension got 100,000 additional visits this year with help from online scheduling

The health system has seen a 779% increase in primary care online visits scheduled and a 72.5% increase in urgent care online visits scheduled. It's all part of a larger online vision.
By Bill Siwicki
11:33 AM

The average consumer likely does not remember when they had their last physical, or when they are due for their next mammogram, or if their provider offers important preventative options.

Ascension, a St. Louis, Missouri-based health system that operates in 21 states and the District of Columbia, prioritized click-to-schedule as part of its commitment to consumer access, convenience and brand experience.

"Consumers expect an online experience when making healthcare choices that is easy and intuitive, the same as they have with other purchasing decisions," said Nick Ragone, executive vice president and chief marketing and communications officer at Ascension. "Click-to-schedule is just one part of an integrated online approach that Ascension is striving to create for a seamless end-to-end consumer experience for all those we serve."

The health system contracted with vendor Stericycle Communications Solutions to use its InQuicker product and did a national rollout of the tool to support online patient scheduling. Since then, the technology has gone live with 2,500 providers and 1,000 locations. InQuicker is integrated with the Athenahealth, Epic and Cerner EHRs across the organization.

There are many vendors of patient appointment scheduling software, including 4PatientCare, AdvancedMD, Atlas Business Solutions,, CLIN1 Scheduling, DrChrono, Eppointments, i-Scheduling for Appointments and Kareo.

Ascension is seeing success with click-to-schedule for primary care, urgent care and specialty appointments.

"For emergency care, we even have online check-in so patients can let us know when they are on their way to the ER," Ragone explained. "We are seeing record numbers of appointments scheduled online. However, the functionality of click-to-schedule is simply a technology capability for Ascension – the value proposition is the satisfaction of ease of scheduling for the patient, access to same-day appointments, and the ability to self-navigate care options."

As a result, the health system is seeing more new patient appointments, and it is seeing the value in returning patients, he added.

"In May alone, more than 23,000 appointments were scheduled online, matching the activity level achieved in December with cold and flu season."

Nick Ragone, Ascension

And there is a larger online vision – mobile-friendly website, GPS, online scheduling – that, again, is all about accessibility, convenience and more, Ragone said.

"We are driven by consumer experience and consumer choice," he said. "Technology enables that but it's really about ensuring ease of access to care, availability of appointments and a scheduling experience that lifts the burden of navigation, the convenience of knowing you can talk to a doctor anytime, anywhere, around the clock."

Ascension's chief digital officer is helping the organization to integrate across platforms and applications to meet that consumer expectation and experience, he explained.

"For online scheduling, we are integrating with our website and consumer front door for selection of appointments," he said. "Ascension launched a major public awareness campaign to promote online scheduling availability and differentiation for Ascension across our local markets – this drove to campaign landing pages focused on an omni-channel approach to access to care."

That experience is closely integrated with the health system's find a doctor functionality and its call tracking capability for campaign performance that is bringing in new patients, he added.

Since the rollout, Ascension has seen the following ROI: 779% increase in primary care online visits scheduled; 72.5% increase in urgent care online visits scheduled; and approximately 100,000 additional visits this fiscal year over last.

"Month over month, we're hitting new records – and our total number of appointments have doubled over the past year," Ragone said. "In May alone, more than 23,000 appointments were scheduled online, matching the activity level achieved in December with cold and flu season – and it exceeds our fall performance by more than 20%."

Online self-scheduling has contributed to primary care growth in May that matched the health system's record performance in January, he added. And now the organization has Ascension Online Care that complements its online scheduling options with 24/7 access to online care appointments when an online appointment for an in-person visit is not available.

"Consumers are making choices about healthcare providers based on brand, access and convenience – rather than other more traditional differentiators for healthcare delivery," Ragone advised. "That's why Ascension promises compassionate, personalized care that starts with listening to understand. A compassionate, personalized experience is more than quality outcomes and bedside manner – it's providing access to care when, where and how it works best for all those we serve."

It means prioritizing availability so the organization is meeting consumers on their schedule, rather than forcing them to find time on the provider's schedule, he added.

"It means understanding consumer needs and helping navigate so we're providing care that's right for the individual," he said. "It means investing in the right technology to make it easier to find a location, schedule a ride, and pay a bill. And it means customer service that is grateful and gracious so we're not just providing care today, but meeting all the needs of each family we serve."


Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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