Time for online appointment booking

Published: Monday, 20 September 2021 11:22

Peter Connor, Managing Director, Healthcode explains how Healthcode's central appointment booking system could transform private healthcare.

Booking this year’s summer break was a frustrating experience for some as holiday plans were thrown into doubt by pandemic restrictions.

It was a throwback to the situation of a few decades ago when booking was a time-consuming and complicated affair, albeit for different reasons. Most people left it to travel agents to make the multiple calls needed to check availability, hold seats and then confirm reservations but such a bureaucratic exercise was costly for the travel and tourism sector in terms of staff resources and missed opportunities.

Industry bosses turned to technology to bring order to the chaos. The real game-changer proved to be a Global Distribution System (GDS) which enabled diverse service providers to exchange information about services and availability in real time through a central hub. The adoption of GDS within the travel sector transformed the booking experience for ordinary consumers, enabling them to view the latest options online and book flights and hotels.

There are clear parallels between the travel industry back then and the private healthcare sector now. Our booking process is inefficient, fragmented, prone to failures and detracts from the patient experience. Different providers (PMIs, hospitals and practitioners) are unable to exchange real time information about availability which carries the risk of double booking or wasted slots. And opportunities for growth are being missed.

Healthcode’s appointment booking solution

We know that patients expect to be able to access healthcare services online but live booking is relatively rare in the private sector and requires human intervention. Even though some patients can reserve a slot on a provider’s online booking application, the details still need to be sent to be manually checked and confirmed by phone or email.

Healthcode understood that a central appointment booking system could transform private healthcare as it transformed the travel and hospitality sectors so we started to develop our own bespoke version for the sector. Put simply, our GDS-based appointment booking solution is a hidden engine room that is capable of powering the process for private healthcare.

This is how it works:

1. Providers (practitioners, clinics and hospitals) link to Healthcode’s Bookinghub through an Application Programming Interface (API) which lets them connect with multiple booking sites.

2. Providers can publish information about services and synchronise appointment availability via the Bookinghub.

3. This information is shared in real-time with the booking websites.

4. Third party users use the booking site of their choice to search for an available slot. There is the potential to have a range of search criteria such as specialty, venue location, time, service type or estimated fee.

5. Once users book an appointment, this information is transmitted in real-time to the provider via the Bookinghub and their appointment/diary system is automatically updated.



Our appointment booking solution has significant benefits for the sector:

Standards-based – Healthcode has built the solution to globally recognised and proven Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) messaging standards for data exchange which have previously been implemented by the NHS for its Electronic Referrals System (ERS).

Efficient – A truly automated and seamless booking process is more efficient because it removes the need for human intervention to check and confirm booking slots.

Accurate – The availability of appointments is synchronised in real-time, eliminating the possibility of double-booking.

Ensure a better patient experience – The booking experience is smoother and less prone to failure and patients will have the reassurance of being able to make an appointment there and then at a convenient time and location. Patient details are automatically collected at the outset so the provider can provide a personalised service.

Attract more patients – Providers can link to many different booking applications which extends their potential reach at a time when NHS waiting times are prompting more people to consider private health services.

Quick and easy to implement – It is only necessary to build one interface to the system to reach multiple booking applications, rather than building interfaces for each one.

Flexible – As well as linking to third party booking applications via the system, providers also have the option to build a branded front-end booking service to their own specifications.

Secure – like all Healthcode solutions, it meets stringent information security standards, including enterprise quality infrastructure and end-to-end encryption to protect sensitive data.

Scalable – there are no development costs for existing users when more practitioners, providers and booking applications interface with the system.

Increases convenience and choice for patients - The solution will be an invisible but revolutionary development which enables patients to search multiple healthcare organisations, using different criteria and filters to find the service that meets their needs (either directly or through a referring organisation).

Healthcode has consulted with providers to ensure the appointment booking solution meets their needs and hope to release the prototype version later this year.

It is time for the private healthcare sector to emulate the travel sector and ditch the fragmented and inefficient appointment booking process that is holding us back. I’m proud that Healthcode’s innovation and online technology will make it possible to optimise the booking process and meet patient expectations.