How the pandemic changed the self-scheduling plans of St. Luke’s Hospital
In early 2019, St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, began seeking out online self-scheduling technology for two reasons.
The first reason was retention of existing patients seeking greater and more convenient access to certain healthcare services across the health system, and the second was acquisition of new patients who had not yet had an experience with the St. Luke’s network of care.
St. Luke’s had a prior relationship with IT vendor Stericycle Communication Solutions, using the vendor’s Intelligent Scheduling product powered by InQuicker.
“We selected the solution because they were offering patients at the Des Peres Hospital ED the ability to request a projected treatment time to be seen,” said Greg Hudson, network chief strategy officer at St. Luke’s Hospital. “Seeing good results with that service line, St. Luke’s added multiple urgent care sites, an after-hours children’s clinic, mammography screening and massage therapy.”
When the pandemic hit, St. Luke’s needed a way to conveniently schedule virtual visits and testing. St. Luke’s worked with Stericycle in April 2020 to use InQuicker to initiate its COVID-19 testing center and use the platform to reopen safely by appropriately socially distancing patients in various care-delivery sites. Virtual care visits at the urgent care sites also were scheduled through the platform.
St. Luke’s completed an extensive analysis in 2019 to identify the optimal online self-scheduling technology solution to meet its needs. It wanted to offer digital patient engagement strategies to leverage technology to bring patients into the health system. After months of careful research and internal discussions, St. Luke’s opted again to go with Stericycle to use its Intelligent Scheduling solution.
"Deciding factors for St Luke’s when selecting a solution were the ability to provide a post-visit patient experience feedback survey, the opportunity for bidirectional integration with its electronic medical record, and robust reporting."
Greg Hudson, St. Luke’s Hospital
For patient care services that would be the early adopters of online self-scheduling, St. Luke’s focused on service lines that already had substantial patient loyalty and additional capacity for growth.
“Deciding factors for St Luke’s when selecting a solution were the ability to provide a post-visit patient experience feedback survey, a mature search engine optimization, pay-per-click managed digital services expertise, the opportunity for bidirectional integration with its electronic medical record, [the] ability to be scaled enterprise-wide, high patient conversion rates, and robust reporting,” Hudson explained.
After the technology was selected, the kickoff, design, digital review/planning, training and go-live only took five weeks. The technology was easy to implement, and the vendor team gathered all the data needed and completed the design and build during a two-day rapid go-live meeting, Hudson reported.
There are various online self-scheduling systems on the market. Some of the vendors of these systems include AppointmentPlus, Medfusion, Odoro, Relatient, SCI Solutions, Solutionreach, Stericycle Communication Solutions and WELL Health.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
The platform was initially implemented in the St. Luke’s Des Peres Hospital Emergency Department, at all St. Luke’s Urgent Care Centers and for screening mammography services. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Luke’s has used the online self-scheduling platform to set up COVID-19 testing, to begin to safely reopen by appropriately socially distancing patients using its urgent care centers and mammography services, and to initiate scheduling for massage therapy services.
Links to use the platform are available on St. Luke’s website home page.
“Healthcare providers need options to redesign care delivery due to the pandemic,” Hudson said. “Virtual visits are one way that patients can be seen at any of our eight Urgent Care Centers sites without coming in person to the facility. Additionally, virtual waiting rooms, which may have been a simple vehicle to patient satisfaction, are now a necessity.”
To digitally communicate with patients that it is safe to return to St. Luke’s facilities for care, and to encourage them not to delay treatment, St. Luke’s also has used a Stericycle automated outreach product called the Message Broadcast Campaign Solution.
“Both in terms of quantitative and qualitative results, St. Luke’s has seen varying levels of success, which were impacted for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hudson said. “With the gradual reopening of St. Luke’s services in June 2020, the utilization of the online self-scheduling application for those services using the platform has now grown beyond pre-COVID-19 levels.”
In addition to modest increases in new patient acquisition, the self-scheduling platform has helped St. Luke’s navigate the COVID-19 pandemic during its peak.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“Healthcare-based online self-scheduling platforms have been on the market for many years now and will continue to evolve and grow in importance in the healthcare industry,” Hudson said. “We encourage online scheduling adopters to consider aligning their current strategy with the appropriate use of any digital solution.”
For example, he advised, identify one to three services that will be early adopters, and then learn from these experiences, in order to understand how to scale the digital solution to more services across the organization. Another key element in this evaluation is how the tool will interact with legacy scheduling systems, he added.
“Choosing a vendor that specializes in online scheduling is important as well,” he concluded. “Remember why you are partnering with the scheduling vendor in the first place. Not all online scheduling solutions will help you drive new patient acquisition, for example. Know your goals, and select accordingly.”