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Doctor Appointment App Development: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals

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Anastasia Osypenko
Market Researcher

It is no question that healthcare is changing thanks to adopting digital tools. In our previous posts, we discussed how hospitals can benefit from making mobile apps, how promising telemedicine app development is, and how drug delivery apps work. Customer demand for faster and more convenient services drive digital healthcare solutions. 

But at the bottom of this demand, we find a simple function of booking doctor appointments  – an opportunity every modern clinic or individual practitioner should embrace. Nearly half of respondents in a PatientPop survey prefer online appointment scheduling, with only 17 per cent admit having such an option. Another survey shows that almost 70 per cent of Americans are likely to book a doctor visit online if given several options.

With the majority of patients seeking for online scheduling, there are many ways in which it makes sense to develop a doctor appointment app. It can be an added functionality in a hospital app or a telehealth app or a separate program for managing bookings alone. Let’s see how healthcare providers implement online booking systems and what a doctor appointment app should include.

Benefits of Appointment Booking Software in Healthcare

Given an opportunity to book appointments online, patients no longer receive confirmatory calls and have hassle-free possibility to amend, reschedule, or cancel their visits. With an app, they can manage the schedule anywhere at any time and set notifications that won’t let them miss doctor appointments.

For healthcare facilities, appointment booking software solves many pain points, such as:

  • Devastating no-shows statistics. In the US, missed doctor appointments cost around $150 billion a year. The same happens in Australia: with 8 per cent of visits missed, the healthcare system loses $26 million. While there are many complex reasons for no-shows, including transportation and financial problems, appointment reminders alone can improve the situation: studies found that automated alerts can reduce no-shows by 36 per cent.
  • High turnover and absenteeism resulted from poor staff scheduling. The healthcare industry is ranked third highest in staff turnover rates and absenteeism which leads to the loss of scheduled time. Booking software allows hospital workers to adjust their schedules quickly and managers to react to last-minute changes.
  • Data decentralisation. When doctor appointments are handled with calls and work schedules are put in several spreadsheets, the information is dispersed across multiple tools, increasing the chance of errors. On the contrary, when the data is stored in a central database, it’s easier to adapt and find a relevant professional for a certain time spot.
  • Damage to the continuity of care. Studies reveal that healthcare scheduling is rarely driven by acuity, which is a problem for acute care delivery. It happens because of prioritising certain doctor referrals or insurance statuses, as well as because of general scheduling errors. It has also been discovered that patients who experience prolonged wait times are more likely to miss their visits. And if patients miss just one appointment with their primary care physician, the chances they won’t return are 70 per cent, as an Athenahealth study shows. An appointment app can help prioritise the needs of patients and guarantee the continuity of care.

How Does Appointment Booking Work?

There are many third-party software solutions implemented by healthcare providers and designed for both individuals and medical teams. Scheduling functionality is often added in a simple form of a WordPress plugin as an addition to the clinic’s website. It doesn’t offer much customization and tools for patient engagement. 

There are also many complex systems which sell different versions of their software. On top of online calendars, they may offer SMS and emails, individual customer record forms or other possibilities of customization at an added cost. Some of them are crafted specifically for healthcare, while others can be tailored to various industries. Here are some examples of booking software used by doctors and clinics:

  • Planfy offers three types of service: for individual practitioners, for medical teams, and for large teams with an unlimited number of bookings. The system can accept patient bookings automatically or let doctors review each booking to accept or reject it. Planfy’s software package includes profile pages (with services provided, prices, team members, and contact details), online calendars, notifications, patient database management, and specific recall dates.
  • Setmore offers a website plugin and mobile apps with appointments, reminders, online payments, staff logins, and integrations with other services.
  • Appointy offers four types of subscription, starting from a free one for a single staff member which includes limited bookings, online payments, and reminders. The enterprise subscription can be used from two locations and features premium support and on-demand customisation.
  • Cronofy has different price plans which vary in additional features and the number of synced users. Cronofy’s API provides real-time scheduling synchronised across multiple calendars.
  • SimplyBook offers a booking widget with intake forms, online payments, reminders, and medical SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, plan) forms.

Apart from a patient-facing app that allows online bookings, hospitals need employee scheduling systems which can be synchronised with patient appointments. Shiftboard and Humanity are examples of companies that sell employee scheduling software. There also are separate solutions for medical secretaries and medical sales representatives.

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Shiftboard. Source: APKPure

Custom vs. Off-The-Shelf Medical Appointment Software

While there are many ready-to-use medical appointment scheduling templates, sometimes, it makes sense to build custom software. 

In a Shiftboard case study, a health screenings company explains how they’ve adopted Shiftboard instead of going for expensive development and maintenance of a custom app.

They needed to transform the booking process from multiple spreadsheets to real-time scheduling with unlimited clients, employees, and locations. 

Using pre-defined functions of such software services can truly work for healthcare professionals and clinics that want nothing more than convenient online scheduling. But when it comes to different types of staff calendars, integrating chatting options and insurance cards, or making individual customer forms and reminders, it’s best to put your project in hands of experienced developers.

In our post on hospital app development, we discussed why it’s better for healthcare institutions to make their own apps from scratch: custom development can consider particular users and workflow patterns and allow for powerful integrations with other services. Custom HIPAA-compliant scheduling software, designed in cooperation with end-users, will be tailored to their very specific needs.

Features of a Doctor Appointment App

Let’s explore the essential features of a doctor appointment app accessed by three types of users: patients, practitioners, and clinic administrators.

A patient’s version should include:

  • Profile. Secure login and personal data protection are a must in a doctor appointment app. 
  • Insurance card. Integrations with insurance providers can make the booking process more efficient: a patient will see what types of appointments can be covered and be aware of any out-of-pocket costs right away.
  • Search. A hospital appointment booking app should enable different types of searches based on location, doctor specialty, or other parameters.
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ZocDoc. Source: MobiHealthNews

Otboo. Source: The Popular Apps

  • Calendar. Calendars are the fundamentals of a doctor appointment scheduling app. Users should have the ability to review their bookings, change or cancel them, and set reminders.
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Calendar in HotDoc, a doctor appointment app in Australia. Source: APKPure

  • Map. It’s a good idea to integrate a mapping service into your booking application for patients to find the nearest doctors or get directions on getting to a clinic where they’ve made an appointment.
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ZocDoc. Source: Apple App Store

DoctorHub. Source: Rochement

  • Payments. The option to pay for a visit via an app is another feature that makes for great booking service.
  • Ratings. Although not always reliable, ratings can help patients make a decision choosing the right professional. The majority of respondents in a survey prefer doctors with a strong online presence and admit negative reviews have a high impact on choosing a healthcare provider. 
  • History. On top of the booking history, you can add the storage for treatment documents so that patients could be more aware of the care they receive.
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DrCitas. Source: App Advice

  • Notifications. As we’ve mentioned before, reminders are great helpers in eliminating no-shows. 
  • Support. If something is unclear or patients have trouble making an appointment, they need an option to contact support and elaborate on the details they are interested in.

Doctors should have the same features including personal profiles, calendar, appointments management, and notifications. Chat and document exchange can be additional functions in a healthcare scheduling app.

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Doctor profile in the Practo app. Source: Practo

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Doctor profile in the iMEDHealth app. Source: iMEDHealth

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Calendar in DocPulse Connect. Source: Apple App Store

The admin panel of a hospital appointment app needs the following:

  • Management of doctor and patient profiles. An administrator should be able to verify or delete profiles.
  • Multiple calendars. Ideally, an appointment booking system for clinics should synchronise patient calendars and employee schedules. Given all the data, administrators can replace appointments at moment’s notice and eliminate wasted time slots.
  • Clinic information management. When booking an appointment, patients should be given some basic information about the facility: services they offer, locations of departments, hired professionals, insurers they work with, etc. An administrator can update this information with the latest news.
  • Reports. Booking functionality alone can give hospitals valuable insights into how patients want to plan their visits. Based on that information, healthcare providers can, for instance, adjust their working hours to improve the patient flow or adopt new scheduling principles patients seek such as open access (same-day scheduling).
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LiveHealth. Source: LiveHealth

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Same-day scheduling in the Solv app. Source: MobiHealthNews

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Essential Integrations in a Doctor Appointment Booking App

If you decide on custom development, there are still some third-party services you might want to integrate into an app. Here are a few ideas on additional technologies for a patient appointment app:

  • A mapping SDK and a navigation API. There’s a variety of providers starting from Google Maps and Mapbox, including industry-specific ones like Mapwize for indoor hospital wayfinding.
  • Payment gateways. Integrate payment systems like PayPal and Stripe which are common in your target area.
  • Insurance. A doctor appointment booking app isn’t complete without insurance cards which can verify patient information and help them make sense of what their insurer pays for.
  • A communication platform for custom emails and texts. Although it’s not advisable to use popular services like Twilio in messaging for the healthcare industry, they can be implemented for sending reminding texts. For example, a London-based startup DrDoctor that aims to enhance hospital scheduling and patient engagement uses MessageBird to reach patients via SMS and voice messages.
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SMS sent by the DoctorConnect app. Source: DoctorConnect

  • Video chat. If you want to expand the functionality of your scheduling app by adding online consultations, there are plenty of video SDKs to integrate.
  • Analytical tools for monitoring user journeys and the app’s performance.

Keep This in Mind When Building a Doctor Appointment App

Keep in mind several important guidelines while making an appointment app for doctors or clinics:

  • Regulatory healthcare app compliance. There are national regulatory frameworks that define the standards of data protection and security of applications. Since your app will gather personal information, you must ensure it is compliant.
  • Focus on usability. Since the idea behind an appointment app is to make a booking process smoother and faster, it should contain as few steps as possible and provide clear guidance. You don’t want users to get lost in the system or book the same appointment twice. An intuitive interface is among the major focuses of development here. For more details on effective doctor appointment app design, read about the best practices in healthcare app design.
  • Make room for extension. Patients’ needs are radically evolving so any medical software accessible to them needs to be adaptable to changes. We explained how Agile app development allows for a high level of scalability in our previous post.

Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your healthcare app project. At MadAppGang we’ve been developing mobile solutions for a variety of industries. You can check what types of healthcare apps we can build here.

22 October 2020