Friday, 29 August 2014

Making clinic appointment booking easy for patients

Revamp includes app for changing sessions, making process more direct
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2014

FOR nearly two million people here, making that medical appointment has never been easier.

Health-care institutions such as the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and National Cancer Centre Singapore have revamped the appointments system at their specialist outpatient clinics.

Now anyone who wants to change or cancel an existing consultation session can do so via a mobile app.

And polyclinic staff can book these sessions directly instead of going through call centre staff, speeding things up.

The changes are part of a move by the SingHealth group - which also oversees the National Heart Centre Singapore and nine polyclinics - to make the process less of a hassle.

"We know that the appointment making or changing process can sometimes be a headache for our patients," said Ms Lee Chen Ee, director of SingHealth's Office of Service Transformation.

"Sometimes they can't get through the appointment lines, or they may be too busy to call during working hours. So we want to create a system that is accessible to them 24/7."

SingHealth's call centres get nearly two million calls each year, or about 152,000 a month.

Some call to change appointments. Others have queries about clinic opening hours, medical reports or medication.

About 15 per cent of phone traffic is internal - for instance, polyclinics making referrals to specialist clinics.

Both the National Healthcare Group (NHG) and SingHealth launched mobile phone apps last year, allowing patients to manage their appointments on the go.

NHG app users can, for instance, book same-day polyclinic consultations for conditions such as fever or flu.

But SingHealth is taking this a step further. By December, 10 per cent of appointment slots will be reserved for online users.

The group hopes that doing this will leave the lines free for those who really need them.

"It's very similar to banking," said Mr James Toi, chief operating officer (ambulatory) at SGH. "When was the last time you called a bank? Health care should be the same way."

For now, the revamped appointments system is limited to just managing doctors' visits. But SingHealth hopes to display other types of information in the future.

Said Mr Toi: "X-rays, scans, physiotherapy - eventually these will all be inside (the online system)."

Since allowing staff at its nine polyclinics to directly book appointments, internal appointment traffic has also dropped by about 60 per cent.

For example, the number of calls from polyclinics to SGH fell from 2,736 in May to 1,483 last month, after polyclinic staff were given access to the appointments system in June. This not only frees up the phone lines, but also means a shorter wait for polyclinic patients.

Before, patients would wait for polyclinic staff to call the hospital and book a slot on their behalf. This could take up to 30 minutes, more than half of which could be spent just trying to get through.

"At that point, some patients could be getting quite frustrated," said Ms Fiona Sun, a clinic operations executive at Outram Polyclinic. "But now they wait about five minutes. Some can be attended to almost instantly."

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