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Case Study: The Challenges and Successes of Open Scheduling Within the Epic Framework

Case Studies

With six hospitals and more than 250 additional service locations throughout Michigan, Henry Ford Health System plays a major role in providing healthcare in its region. But it is in an extremely competitive market, and attracting and retaining new patients is key to the system’s long-term goals.

One of the methods Henry Ford’s senior leadership team identified as critical to drawing in new patients was open scheduling — the process by which patients can independently make an appointment with their chosen providers. Rather than calling into Henry Ford’s call center or requesting an appointment online and waiting for a staffer to follow up, open scheduling gives patients the easiest possible path at the point of conversion. Existing Henry Ford patients already had the ability to directly schedule appointments with providers they had seen before through MyChart, the portal offered by Henry Ford’s electronic medical records (EMR) provider, Epic, so the system’s leaders knew opening the option up to new patients had vast potential.

Thanks to a successful collaboration with MedTouch, Henry Ford was able to successfully roll out open scheduling to its Henry Ford Medical Group Primary Care providers. The system has realized some important early wins as a result, including:

  • A no-show rate of just 6% for self-scheduled appointments – lower than direct scheduling and other methods
  • 60% of open-scheduled appointments are new medical record numbers (MRNs) to Henry Ford

The Right Solution for Open Scheduling

Early on in the process, Henry Ford considered going with a third-party provider of open -scheduling functionality rather than offering the option itself. However, third-party open-scheduling systems often involve serious challenges for health systems, such as:

  • High cost
  • Requirements to use the third-party provider’s format and procedures
  • Loss of control of the health system’s data
  • Lack of true integration in the health system’s existing physician-search and scheduling systems

The difficulties inherent in using an outside provider of open-scheduling functionality made a third-party system infeasible for Henry Ford, according to Anna Hansard, Henry Ford's Director of Web Strategy. “We wanted to provide open scheduling ourselves versus going to a third party,” Hansard explains. “A lot of times, when you go to an external vendor, you’re locked into their process. We truly wanted to integrate this functionality into our Find a Doctor tool with our own properties.”

Integrating open scheduling into Henry Ford’s patient experience would require a strong understanding of Epic and Cadence, the tool physicians use to manage their schedules. Fortunately, MedTouch has extensive experience with Epic through development within the Epic App Orchard, which allows web developers to create innovative solutions that integrate with Epic through APIs.

Combined with the partnership Henry Ford and MedTouch have built through many successful web development projects, the two organizations were confident they were up for the challenge.

Related Reading: A Legacy of Healthcare Marketing Excellence: a Conversation with Rose Glenn & Anna Hansard from Henry Ford Health System

The Steps to Success

Henry Ford’s team members knew it was important to get started on a project of this scope early. They started to work with key players from the MedTouch side more than a year before project deployment, focusing first on how to best educate key Henry Ford stakeholders and strategizing on where to start with open scheduling. Henry Ford ultimately went with the MedTouch strategic recommendation of piloting the program with the Primary Care service line, as it is the most-requested self-schedule service in the health system.

Hansard credits the strategic guidance of MedTouch with much of the later success of the project.

“MedTouch really provided a lot of the strategy early on, and I think those insights were critical. Not only did MedTouch have the history and experience with open scheduling, but they were also able to help us think through the problem strategically. What are the key considerations? MedTouch really helped lay the foundation and strategy in order to make it a success.”

- Anna Hansard, Director, Web Strategy, Henry Ford Health System

Many teams at both MedTouch and Henry Ford worked together in the course of this wide-ranging, complex project. With a tight timeline for implementation, each component had to be delivered just in time for testing and approval to allow the next component to begin on schedule.

Key teams on the MedTouch side included:

  • Business Analytics
  • Information Technology
  • Marketing and Analytics
  • Project Management
  • Sitecore Delivery
  • Strategy

On the Henry Ford side, key teams involved in this project included:

  • Access Technology
  • Clinical Transformation
  • Epic and MyChart
  • Henry Ford Medical Group
  • Information Technology
  • Insurance and Billing
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Project Management
  • System Ambulatory Operations

With input and advice from MedTouch strategists and analysts, Henry Ford established many key goals and metrics it will use to measure the success of open scheduling, including:

  • Tracking completed appointments for both new and existing patients through Epic
  • Replacing patient-requested Primary Care appointments with self-scheduled appointments
  • Tracking where users drop off during the online scheduling process
  • Tracking appointment cancellations and no-shows
  • Viewing what visit types (new versus existing patients) are most popular
  • Over the long term, increasing the number of new-patient appointments and revenue from these appointments

The Successful Results

Phase 1 of open scheduling at Henry Ford went live on June 24, 2019. The initial pilot included open-scheduling capabilities for a select group of Primary Care physicians who were hand-picked by senior Henry Ford leadership. Early on, these providers reported a no-show rate of just 6% for open-scheduling patients — a lower percentage than direct scheduling and other methods.

Henry Ford’s Find a Doctor search results page now includes an option to filter results by providers who offer online scheduling. This was critical for Henry Ford’s goals for open scheduling, Hansard notes. “We have a competitive market here,” she says. “We wanted to make it as seamless as possible for consumers to schedule appointments with Henry Ford, doing so easily and on their terms.”

online doctor scheduling

The teams created new visit types to allow tracking of open-scheduling appointments. Once patients click on the “Schedule Online” button, they can self-select into one of four main appointment categories, depending on their status.

schedule online path

Patients can choose their preferred provider, appointment time and location within the system. Once they have scheduled their appointment, patients must provide demographic and contact information. Existing patients who are on MyChart have the option of logging into MyChart to complete their appointment without having to enter all of their demographic and contact information. Epic did not offer a native option to cancel an open-scheduled appointment, so the Henry Ford and MedTouch teams worked through a process by which patients can fill out a cancellation form through the email they receive to confirm their appointment, which has shown to be successful.

appointment confirmation

Planning for the Future

The first phase of Henry Ford’s open scheduling project is complete, but the work is by no means done.

The teams are planning for Phase 2 of the project, which will increase the prominence of open scheduling on Find a Doctor search results, include more providers and additional specialties, and integrate open scheduling into listings of Henry Ford locations and service lines. The teams will add open scheduling to more Henry Ford service lines in future phases, and Henry Ford’s marketing teams will accelerate the use and promotion of open scheduling as the functionality becomes available to additional service lines.

The Big Picture

Patients in today’s healthcare marketplace increasingly think of themselves as consumers. With that mindset comes the expectation of the same easy, intuitive experiences from healthcare providers as people receive from e-commerce leaders.

Open scheduling is a critical implementation for health systems that want to continue providing industry-leading patient experiences and stay relevant in the digital age. But it is a high-visibility, challenging undertaking — one that requires an experienced, thoughtful approach in order to implement successfully and to win the approval of all the key players who must be involved.

Our industry-leading expertise can help you position your organization for continued success. Contact your MedTouch account representative, call us at 866-638-6824, or email us today for more details.

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