Practice Innovation: Automating Appointment Workflow

Working closely with physicians for the past 6 years, PetalMD has learned a thing or two about how physicians operate. Today, our message to you is: Dear physicians, it’s time to enter the 21st century. We’ve seen many of you fumbling with fax machines, running around with pagers and looking for vital information in a stack of paper. A 2015 International Commonwealth Fund Survey of primary care physicians found that 43% of primary care physicians in Canada receive information by fax.

Technology is the new normal. It’s here to stay. We need to forget about adapting to the digital age, but instead think digital first. With many wearables and apps available, we’ve started collecting our own personal health data. In fact, patients are leading innovation in healthcare. One of the largest patient-led projects is the Nightscout project, where thousands of parents of diabetic patients have built their own open source real-time access to CGM data via a website, smartwatch, and apps. This project has proven that patients are becoming the maker, the collaborator, and also the expert in their own health.


So, if there is such a patient-led movement, why hasn’t technology been widely adopted across the healthcare system? The answer is not simple, and includes many factors:

  • Time commitment
  • Privacy concerns
  • How-to knowledge
  • Lack of Resources
  • System / Data Connectivity
  • Costs are often very high
  • Culture

Doctors and nurses love smartphones too. In fact, according to a BMJ survey study, over 90% of both doctors and nurses have a smartphone, and about 70% have a tablet. They’re not only used for personal purposes, but in a clinical setting as well. Over 90% of doctors, and 50% of nurses find smartphones “very useful” or “useful” at work. The most common uses of smartphones for doctors are:

  • 97% for phone calling
  • 92% for web browsing
  • 88% for email
  • 86% for calendar
  • 85% for SMS messaging
  • 50% for picture messaging
  • 43% for app-based messaging


Healthcare professionals are going beyond bringing smartphones to their workplaces. They are starting to build their own apps as well. Many are leaving their medical practice to learn how to code and build technology businesses. Recently, the Canadian Medical Association launched Joule Innovation, through which funding and resources are provided to physicians that have an innovative idea they want to take to the next step. Hospitals are becoming more digital as well. In fact North America’s first fully digital hospital opened its doors last fall in Toronto.

The future is here. How is your clinic keeping up? Medical practices must innovate in order to keep up in this fast-moving digital world. What does the digital practice look like? We envision a digital practice provides digital tools to streamline the experience for both patients and physicians.


About two decades ago, practice innovation started with the World Wide Web. If you had a website, you were cutting edge. Then, it evolved to offer online booking on websites, then a patient portal, and more recently, patient engagement tools. Practice innovation for physicians started with the basic MS excel spreadsheet. Although very practical, it is limited in use. This evolved to scheduling and billing solutions, EMRs to store patient health data and finally, practice management solutions.

The foundation of a medical clinic is to provide a meeting place between healthcare professionals and patients, thus appointment workflow being the basic starting point behind a digitization strategy. More and more practices are adopting online appointment booking solutions to streamline the appointment workflow, and the benefits include:

  • Increased patient and staff satisfaction
  • Increased efficiency and decreased operational costs
  • Increased accessibility
  • Decreased no-shows and wait times.


Still not sure if you should consider an online appointment booking solution? Some common signs that you need a booking management tool include:

  • You need to hire more staff to keep up with the number of incoming calls
  • Your patients are complaining about the wait-time for booking an appointment over the phone
  • Scheduling errors have occurred at your clinic
  • You have too many no-shows

To help practices move into the digital world, PetalMD has developed a completely integrated appointment workflow platform. The platform automates the demand (appointment requests) and offer (physician availabilities). Patients can send an appointment request through the clinic’s website, walk-in, or for example. The request will automatically check the physician’s availability and book a time slot. This can be done in real-time, or with the approval by an administrator, depending on the preferences of the practice.


Within the clinic, this platform can integrate with the EMR in use, or as a standalone solution. As soon as the appointment is made, the patient receives a confirmation email and reminders closer to the day of the appointment.