HotDoc looks to expand with customised reminder service

After a big 2014 for Melbourne-based online appointments booking service HotDoc in which it won long-term contracts with corporate GP groups Healthscope and IPN, the company is now looking at building a comprehensive reminder system that can help practices better target different types of appointments such as over-75 and 45-49 health checks.

First established by Ben Hurst in 2012, HotDoc is one of a number of services in the increasingly competitive online booking service market, which Dr Hurst believes is still under-penetrated.

HotDoc got a good head-start on that competition with the signing of multi-year contracts with its two corporate clients – the Healthscope contract is for three years and IPN is a five-year contract – but HotDoc also has a burgeoning independent clientele, ranging from solo practitioners to small, medium and large independent practices.

Back in 2013, Dr Hurst said his team had analysed the market and saw a big gap for a strong, enterprise-level solution, so set out to develop “white labels” specifically for corporate groups.

“We are not looking to specifically tackle these sorts of GP centres as we have plenty of non-corporate clients, but we did see that that was an opportunity,” he said. “From that, we signed up Healthscope as well as other smaller groups, and then over the first six months of 2014, IPN conducted a best in class online appointment provider tender. It was a very long, arduous process, including a three-hour technical demonstration, which we were lucky enough to win.”

HotDoc is currently being rolled out to IPN practices along with the Best Practice clinical and practice management system that IPN is deploying throughout its network as a replacement for the legacy Monet system. HotDoc will be switched on for each practice as they get Best Practice up and running.

Dr Hurst said that while there were a number of online appointment systems to choose from – and both MedicalDirector and Zedmed are set to launch their own integrated systems – one point of difference for HotDoc is the hybrid service application it has built to better match up bookings with patient details in the practice's system.

“The service can run in the background overnight but sometimes there are problem bookings where maybe the patient has booked but it doesn't perfectly link up with the patient in the database,” he said. “Sometimes you get patients who are put in the book as a new patient when they are actually existing, so we have a manual system that makes sure that patient is matched correctly.”

HotDoc also offers a practice dashboard that can be customised according to the practice's preferences. This includes an alert system that tells the receptionist or practice manager that there might be a problem patient – a drug seeker, for example, or one who has had multiple late cancellations – and ensures that those particular patients cannot make automatic appointments. “It is up to the receptionist's discretion whether or not they go into the book,” he said.

HotDoc launched a smartphone app for patients in late 2013, and has also built a customised version for IPN called GP4Me that features IPN's colour scheme and only lists the names of its medical centres.

To make bookings, practices can either embed a widget on their own website or HotDoc will host it on its site.

Now, the company is turning its attention to its reminder service, called HotDoc Reminders. This service has recently undergone a rebranding exercise to differentiate it from the recall systems that most of the practice management software vendors offer.

“There is a tricky distinction between recall and reminders,” Dr Hurst said. “What we've done is focus on the problem of getting patients back into the clinic who have outstanding reminders such as Pap smears or blood tests.

“The feedback that we got from practice managers and practice nurses is that this is one of the most painstaking, arduous tasks. It is frustrating as there is lots of scheduling and cross-checking, administration and envelope folding. Practice nurses want to be involved in a lot more clinical roles rather than administration roles, so based on that, we thought let's try and tackle the problem.”

HotDoc has developed an automated system that can send patients SMS notifications. However, in order to protect privacy and to avoid sending SMSs for delicate topics such as Pap smears, HotDoc has set up a three-point identification process before the patient can see the message.

“We've got their mobile so we get the patient to put in their surname and date of birth and then they get to see what the reminder is for,” he said. “It is an extra step for the patient but it is a very secure system.

“We've also focused on having a system where we provide a very strong electronic record of all of the patients who have booked an appointment following the reminder or have not booked. That is good for accreditation purposes but it's also helpful for practice nurses to know who they might still choose to write a letter for.”

HotDoc can send reminders to patients that they have an appointment the next day, but the company is not concentrating on this element as many of its vendor partners generate revenue from this capability.

This year, the company is focusing on building HotDoc Reminders into a comprehensive reminder system that is not just about what the doctor has put in the diary for two to three years ahead, Dr Hurst said.

“We are looking at lots of different types of appointments, such as those that might be more opportunistic like the over-75 check or the 45- to 49-year-old health check. We're not just looking at improving efficiencies but also at ways that the practices can generate additional revenue from their existing patient base.”

While Dr Hurst agrees that the market is becoming increasingly competitive, he believes it is still under-penetrated. He estimates that less than 10 per cent of doctors were using online appointments in 2013, which has now grown to about 25 or 30 per cent.

And he believes there is plenty of room for new systems such as those being built internally by MedicalDirector and Zedmed. “Their systems are probably going to be less comprehensive than the existing systems simply as they are not specialised in cloud-based and mobile technologies.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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