NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Medical Practices Increasingly Allow Online Appointments

January 6, 2011

Several factors are driving the trend towards online medical appointments.  On the doctors' side, it is mostly the need to add patients and reduce overhead costs.  They are also growing more comfortable with computers.  About half of family doctors use electronic health records, and 44 percent prescribe electronically.  Patients also report increasing difficulty getting a doctor's appointment, says Phil Galewitz, a staff writer for Kaiser Health News.

  • In 2007, about 35 percent of patients said they could not get an appointment soon enough -- up from 23 percent in 1997, according to the nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change.
  • That problem could worsen as an additional 32 million Americans begin to gain health coverage in 2014 under the health law President Obama signed last year.

About 16 percent of family doctors used online scheduling in 2009, up from 6 percent in 2005, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.  Most do it on their own or through health systems in which they work.  Patients pay nothing.  Doctors pay about $250 a month to be listed, says Galewitz.

ZocDoc, which started in New York City in 2007 and entered the Washington, D.C., market last year, also offers its online doctor scheduling in Chicago and Dallas.  It aims to add doctors in Boston, Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia.  The company won't say how many doctors it has signed up, but a review of the website shows it has hundreds of doctors and dentists in each market.  To reduce no-show rates, patients must pay at least a portion of an insurance copayment online before the appointment.

Source: Phil Galewitz, "Medical Practices Increasingly Allow Online Appointments," USA Today, January 3, 2011.

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