Challenges Faced in Democratizing Primary Healthcare Access and How to Overcome Them Digital health will inevitably take over the booking process, but there are a few challenges that must be overcome first

By Wafir Manakad

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Medical providers such as clinics and hospitals are increasingly switching to online booking of appointments, leading to the proliferation of consumer-facing doctor booking platforms across the globe. The success of some of these online interfaces suggests that they are here to stay, as is backed up by various surveys of patients. However, there are a few challenges that must be addressed by both platforms and medical providers, in order to easily transition to a seamless scheduling experience.

Fear of Healthcare Data Privacy

Medical data, unlike most other data generated online, is considered a high-risk and personal form of data by both patients and healthcare providers. According to HIPAA, there have been 2,546 medical data breaches in the USA in the last decade alone, affecting 59% of the population of the United States. People are usually apprehensive about sharing personal medical data for the booking process, data that will eventually append to the electronic medical record of an individual. For online scheduling of doctors to be more commonplace, the patient's fear of information being leaked should be alleviated. Booking platforms and healthcare providers should invest substantially in data securitization technologies, and create policies and frameworks that protect data, hence gaining the trust of patients.

Discoverability of Doctors

Identifying the right specialist is a challenge for most people who are looking to book a primary care appointment, especially in developing countries where awareness around healthcare is limited. For example, an individual showing symptoms of stomach pain might visit a general practitioner instead of a gastroenterologist. Platforms can use technology to solve the problem of discoverability, by defining a specialist doctor based on the patient's symptoms alone. These technologies include Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning applied to search engines, which learn over time to recommend the right specialist based on the user's input.

Insurance and Payments

As health insurance laws around the world gain more scrutiny, many countries are making insurance mandatory for their residents. Usually, a patient seeking primary care will look for medical professionals who are registered within their insurance network. This presents a challenge to booking platforms, who must constantly update their database of insurance companies and their ever-expanding networks. To do this efficiently, they will have to maintain an ongoing relationship with insurance providers and medical institutions, so that any updates to an insurance network will reflect immediately on the portal.

Real-time Syncing of Calendars

Perhaps the most important challenge facing the industry is the patient's ability to book a time slot directly off the doctor's digital calendar. For this to be possible, the medical institution or professional should constantly update their practice management software with each booked time-slot. Booking platforms could find a way to integrate with the variety of practice management software that is used by clinics, to provide a live calendar to the users. Here, consolidation of software would likely be beneficial, and the industry should consider adopting an open application programming interface, which can easily be tapped into by front-end scheduling software.

Stacked-up Delays

A delay in a medical appointment adds to the delay in subsequent appointments, creating an unpleasant experience for both the patient and the medical provider. The doctor is incentivized to provide the best care possible for a patient, and ending an appointment on time might not always be possible. Because of stacked-up delays, some people prefer walk-in appointments for online appointments. Booking platforms can use technology to analyse data from previous appointments, predict the average likelihood of a future appointment taking more than the allotted time and provide a range of time for an appointment, as opposed to a fixed slot.

Losses Due to No-shows

The medical industry and the airline industry among others are similar in that each empty appointment amounts to permanently lost revenue. Each year, clinics and hospitals in the USA lose a staggering $150 billion due to no-shows. Some of the most common reasons for no-shows are patients forgetting about their appointments, unavailability of transportation and lack of funds. Booking platforms can generate automated reminders to address the case of missed appointments. Also, there must be a way to collect an advance fee to prevent no-shows and last-minute cancellations, much like the other online scheduling industries.

As digital health products proliferate the mainstream medical industry, these challenges must surely be overcome. The end goal is a future where the booking process is seamless, and an individual can easily find the right specialist at the right time to reduce the rate of disease. This is a step in the right direction to democratize primary care access across the world, especially in developing countries, where technology can bring in exponential gains in healthcare accessibility.

Wafir Manakad

Co-Founder, Fidoc

Wafir is the co-founder of Fidoc, a digital health platform connecting patients with medical providers in the UAE. Previously, he was an engineer at the trucking division of Daimler AG, where he worked on developing innovative solutions to field issues.

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