The digital age presents new challenges for therapists trying to incorporate advances in technology into their private practice while maintaining the privacy of the people they treat. Choosing whether to offer online scheduling, for example, may be a dilemma for many therapists. Many of your clients may prefer the convenience and simplicity of online scheduling, but if you’re concerned about privacy and potential HIPAA violations, you may hesitate to offer this tool.
As long as the scheduling software you choose is secure and HIPAA-compliant, online scheduling can have many advantages. Online scheduling tools allow people to schedule therapy sessions online. Depending on the type of software used, they may also be able to fill out forms and pay for sessions online. This may make the choice to go to therapy—which can be difficult or even stressful—that much easier.
A 2017 review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research looked at the benefits and barriers of incorporating online scheduling. It found practices that used online appointment scheduling often had more satisfied patients and fewer patients who didn’t show up for appointments. According to this review, more and more practices are beginning to use internet scheduling software.
Online scheduling isn’t just convenient for your clients. It can offer a wealth of benefits to you and help your private practice succeed.
1. Provides a Good Return on Investment
Quality appointment scheduling services, such as those that are HIPAA-compliant, typically aren’t free. Prices range from $30-50 dollars a month, though some services offer discounts with an annual payment or cost slightly less if you opt for fewer features.
If cost is the only factor holding you back, consider how much you charge per session. Chances are, your fee is higher than the monthly cost of the online scheduling service. If offering online scheduling gets you even one new client, the software has already paid for itself and then some, since you’ll likely see that client more than once a month.
You’ll also spend less time answering your phone, flipping through an appointment book, and returning messages from clients. This is time you could use to schedule more therapy sessions each week, pursue continuing education classes, or do any number of other things.
2. Saves Time
Using an online scheduling service saves you from having to call people back in order to schedule therapy sessions. Even if you're already using email for this, you may still find yourself sending emails back and forth trying to settle on a time that works for you and your client. With online scheduling, people can easily see your available sessions and choose the time that works best for them.
It also helps you avoid overbooking. This isn’t something that’s likely to come up often, but mistakes do happen. If you’re keeping track of your sessions in an appointment planner but jot down a note during a phone call and forget to transfer it to your planner later, you could end up scheduling two clients for the same session. Using scheduling software can prevent this from happening.
3. Lets People Make Appointments Outside Business Hours
Scheduling appointments over the phone can be challenging and sometimes frustrating. You may end up going back and forth with clients over possible time slots or playing phone tag when neither of you are available at the same time.
If you use an online scheduling service, clients can go online at night, before they go to work, or whenever they have a few minutes to look at their schedule and make the appointment. This may reduce later time changes or even cancellations. If the client has a change to their personal schedule, they can use the software to reschedule their appointment later.
4. Reduces Cancellations
Most people have a lot going on in their lives at any given time, and sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of everything. Clients might schedule their next session in person but forget about it by the next week. They could simply become busy and lose track of time.
Online scheduling software helps prevent this by sending out reminders to clients a day or two in advance. This reminder can help prevent last-minute cancellations. Even if they can no longer make their scheduled session, they can go online and reschedule without having to get in touch with you.
5. Makes It Easy for Clients to Reach You
This may seem counterintuitive, since by making appointments online clients are spending less time contacting you. But online scheduling allows clients to access your services more easily. Some people dislike talking on the phone in general, and people experiencing emotional distress or certain mental health issues may have an even harder time reaching out. Many people may also feel more comfortable describing mental health symptoms or feelings through an online platform rather than over the phone. Removing the necessity of a telephone conversation can make it more likely people seeking help will choose to meet with you.
Online scheduling also allows people to reach you rapidly. If you choose to offer same-day or next-day sessions, online scheduling is one way a client can easily make these last-minute appointments if their schedule opens up.
6. Keeps You Up-To-Date with Client Expectations
Technology changes rapidly. You may feel like you’ve just become accustomed to connecting through email. Although tackling new technology, such as online scheduling software, may seem as if it’s not worth the trouble to some, a private practice is a business. As a business owner, you want to provide the best service possible to your clients.
Some clients may not mind making appointments over the phone or through email, but many of them may prefer online scheduling. Most are likely to prefer the option that allows them to make appointments easily, at their leisure. Clients who struggle to contact you or set appointments in a timely manner may choose to see a therapist who has better availability—or more easily accessed scheduling options.
Best Options for Online Scheduling
Advances in technology make it possible to streamline many business processes. But some measure of risk may accompany certain technological advances, particularly for health care workers and other professionals who must consider the privacy of the people they treat and comply with all HIPAA requirements.
When choosing your scheduling software, take some time to review the security options and make sure the software is HIPAA-compliant. One great online appointment scheduler is FrontDesk, which is currently available to GoodTherapy members.
With caution and care, it’s possible to incorporate new technology, such as online scheduling, into your therapy practice and create a better experience for you and your clients.
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- Giannulli, T. (2014, October 7). Four reasons to use online medical appointment scheduling. Physicians Practice, 24. Retrieved from http://www.physicianspractice.com/technology/four-reasons-use-online-medical-appointment-scheduling
- HIPAA compliance. (n.d.). Acuity Scheduling. Retrieved from https://help.acuityscheduling.com/hc/en-us/articles/218724778-HIPAA-Compliance
- HIPAA-compliant scheduling that puts patients first. (n.d.). AppointmentPlus. Retrieved from https://www.appointmentplus.com/solutions/healthcare
- The benefits of online appointment scheduling to the medical, healthcare, and wellness industries. (2012). AppointmentPlus. Retrieved from https://www.appointmentplus.com/wp-content/themes/appointmentplus-theme/dist/img/pdf/online-appointment-scheduling-benefits-to-medical-healthcare-wellness.pdf
- Zhao, P., Yoo, I., Lavoie, J., Lavoie, B. J., & Simoes, E. (2017). Web-based medical appointment systems: A systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(4). doi: 10.2196/jmir.6747