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Developing A Healthcare Booking App For The Modern Age

| October 6, 2020

Healthcare is one of a few industries that’s constantly evolving in multiple areas – just as the technology used in medical services is making strides so are supplementary technologies like those used for record retention and scheduling via healthcare booking apps which is important to understand when developing a healthcare app. One of the many challenges faced industry-wide is the ability to operate efficiently, partially because of antiquated scheduling practices. So, if you’re building a booking software, like Zocdoc, for medical providers, it needs to be done right.

By giving patients tools that allow them to help themselves, this can help alleviate certain burdens placed on staff. The caveat here is that the technology has to be designed with the end user’s needs in mind or an app ends up being a waste of time and money. It’s not enough to simply put an app on the marketplaces that allow users to pick a timeslot for an appointment schedule. A modern can – and should – do so much more.

Blue Label Labs has a substantial amount of experience in building software for healthcare but more importantly, developing this style app. We’ve developed for a wide variety of fields and practices where some of the key takeaways apply to this style of software.

Let’s take a look at some of the granular features of healthcare booking apps then discuss what features are needed for great software of this style.

Features to consider and insights to developing a healthcare booking app

It’s frustrating to be told to use an app that’s supposed to function as a one-stop-shop when it doesn’t do much more than provide a basic feature set. Healthcare is one industry where the human element needs to remain intact, or at least “feel” that way, so turning over functions like scheduling to a machine can be off-putting to existing and prospective patients. But when done right, a healthcare booking app can feel as accommodating as dealing with a human who has great customer service skills. 

Booking appointments: more than just a calendar tool

A simple calendar feature that allows registered users to pick a timeslot for a checkup seems sufficient on the surface. However, this isn’t the norm as it’s common for many patients to have additional needs and concerns that need to be addressed alongside the core reason for their visit which is critical to keep in mind when developing a healthcare booking app. This is why medical staff often run into issues as traditional scheduling lacks dynamicism. Simply offering a tool for a patient schedule themselves doesn’t solve the underlying problem many practices face every day.

As such, a scheduling system that’s accessible to a patient needs to be “smart.” When selecting a timeslot, patients need to be able to put in notes to prime the appointment. This information then needs to be analyzed to assess the actual timeframe needed to adequately provide care for the patient.

This is the biggest challenge that keeps practices from staying on task – you either cut the visit short and don’t provide adequate care for more time-consuming patients or you bottleneck and inconvenience every appointment thereafter.

Technology like NLP from Microsoft Cognitive Services can be used to analyze input from patients by honing in phrases that can queue a system to set aside a longer (or shorter) visit duration. Implementing this technology, or at least allocating time for a human eye to review, will allow healthcare facilities to create dynamic schedules that allow each patient to get the care they need without stifling the flow on any given.

Such a scheduling feature should also tie in with staff schedules. Different scheduling programs with good APIs can be used side-by-side so long as developers can easily merge data into one centralized scheduling system. We prefer the calendaring tool, timekit, as it provides a robust scheduling platform that takes away much of the complexity that comes from building an appointment calendaring tool. Having all scheduling information in one place helps prevent friction that stems from not having the “right” provider available for a patient visit. 

New patient intake via chatbots and/or virtual receptionists

To build on the scheduling point, there needs to be a specific process for new patient intake. These appointments typically take longer between the visit itself and backend administrative functions.

There are a few different solutions here when developing a healthcare booking app. The first is using a chatbot that collects all the information a practice needs to see a patient. Microsoft offers the Azure Bot Service which is the tool we prefer to build a conversational chatbot – information conveyed during the conversation with the chatbot can be analyzed with Microsoft’s NLP engine and plugged into appropriate systems like the well-designed scheduling system described above, insurance processing systems, and so on.

Another option to consider is a virtual receptionist solution that can mostly replace the need for a dedicated individual who answers phones and inputs data. You could opt to use which is built on Twilio and integrates with a variety of different VoIP service providers meaning it works seamlessly with most calling solutions, even regular phone lines. and similar providers like Ruby Receptionists offer live receptionists who field calls and perform a variety of functions, like data input, when given access to your systems.

Virtual receptionists are ideal to have alongside chatbots as this accommodates the less tech-savvy who aren’t keen on using or don’t own a smart device. Most of these solutions on the market end up saving businesses money as the pricing structures are typically designed so you only pay for what you need.

Another matter to consider is that for the purely human approach, having a great UX for the receptionist helps improve their productivity. When these individuals are able to quickly plug in an appointment to some calendar function, such as those built with out-of-the-box solutions like FullCalendar, the less friction there is for both them and the caller. 

High-functioning user profiles and dashboards

Users should be able to easily see information as well as navigate the app from the home screen – certain data should be visible on the user’s main page and everything else needs to be easy to find. Not being able to easily navigate to commonly used areas of an app is incredibly frustrating for users which will cause them to shy away from the app.

You and your development team need to sit down and think about apps that are enjoyable to use – apps like PayPal and Chime, while both banking apps, are both incredibly easy to navigate and display all the information you want to see at a glance. Your user’s medical dashboard should parallel the design of such apps.

Each user will be a little different but the premise is the same. Some things a user will likely want to see immediately after logging in is their balance, access to the payment portal, links to medication information, notes or communications from their provider, and so on. Ideally, you should opt to build a dashboard with modular “widgets” that users can reorder to personalize their experience. For example, a patient with a chronic illness that requires regular checkups may want to see their appointments immediately after logging in while others may want to see different information. Making your app modular adds a personalization aspect that increases the appeal for most users.

A good search feature

If your app is designed well, you might think a search feature is unneeded. However, there are times that a user may want to see more than just their medical or financial data. Users may be looking for a certain area of the app they can’t seem to find or might have a question they feel can (or should be) answered by the app.

Medical providers need to understand that users will take to the web or use search functions on “trusted” sites to research any number matters. Unfortunately, search features on sites and mobile apps tend to be garbage – by design, they’ll pull information from your site’s pages that match keywords with little thought. Even worse, some will merely plugin information to Google or some other search engine then turn you loose on the web. For healthcare, this can be downright dangerous.

A modern search feature for a healthcare booking app should only present information from trusted resources, whether internal pages or external datasets like openFDA. Here, it’s a good idea to integrate chatbot features into the search function which can pull up accurate information and in other cases, ping a medical professional when the information can’t be sourced from a trusted location.

You don’t want a user searching for sound medical advice only to end up eating spoonfuls of turmeric instead of taking their medicine because your search feature sent them to a holistic medicine site.

A full-service payment gateway

Thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has begun shifting toward hands-free models. Though a minor safety improvement, this eliminates the need for an individual to exchange a card or cash when paying for medical services and should be included when developing a healthcare booking app.

There are several tools on the market for secure payment processing over the web and through an app like Plaid, Braintree from PayPal, PayPal itself, and Stripe, to name a few. All of these systems eliminate the need to build payment solutions from the ground up as each is secure and easily implemented via each platform’s unique API.

In the medical billing world, there’s a bit more to itemizing services then calculating a final cost as most individuals have insurance which affects out of pocket expenses. Ideally, your platform has been designed properly and all their information is retained and verified such that staff can easily collect the correct copayments through the app. Too, these same payment solutions can be used to collect payment kickbacks from the insurance companies which allows medical businesses to consolidate payments through a single system.

Another thing to consider is that some providers like dentists, eye care facilities, and veterinary offices often offer some kind of financing option, typically through an external service like Care Credit. Unfortunately, Care Credit doesn’t offer an API that allows you to integrate their payment services directly into your app. Fortunately, there are other options for in-app financing you can directly integrate into your platform when insurance isn’t an option.

For example, most PayPal customers can apply for financing through PayPal Credit directly through the PayPal app or site. Once approved, PayPal Credit becomes selectable so long as PayPal is accepted by the merchant or, in this case, a medical office.

EMR integrations

It’s important to think about the patient journey beyond the intake such that you’re making an impact on their entire lifecycle. For instance, once the user has completed a visit, they should look at these booking portals and be able to see follow up appointment details, and more importantly, lab reports, medical information, etc.

Many of the major EMR providers, like athenahealth, provide REST-like web service endpoints that can be leveraged to import and bring patient medical information tot heir fingertips. Of course, once you cross this threshold, there is a much greater emphasis that needs to be placed on HIPAA compliance, the protection of data, and documentation of the process. As such, you need to work with a development team that understands how to build and document secure architecture to share data between a healthcare booking app and the EMR system.

Blue Label Labs builds sophisticated apps for the healthcare industry

We are a forward-thinking group of technology experts who build solutions for not just the modern era, but with the future in mind. Your healthcare booking app needs to include the modern features we’ve outlined or you’ll end up wasting time and money on an inferior solution that will only frustrate users. Get in touch with us to learn more about how our designs will help medical practices operate more securely and efficiently.

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