Written by: Center for Care Innovations

In the age of Amazon, Uber, and Instacart — when services are available with a few online clicks — patients want the convenience of booking doctors’ appointments the same way. Healthcare providers like West County Health Centers (WCHC) are anxious to streamline the appointment process to free up busy call centers or front office staff for other tasks. They also want to lower the rate of clinic no-shows and late cancellations — less frequent, apparently, when patients make their own bookings — and fill empty slots. Small wonder health centers view online booking as a win-win for patients and clinicians alike.

So West County Health Centers in rural Sebastopol, California decided to pilot an online booking program for its patients, the web-based platform healow. Healow is a product offered through eClinicalWorks, a privately-held IT company and one of the country’s largest electronic health records provider.  Since WCHC already used eClinicalWorks for its electronic health record, it seemed like a natural fit.

West County Health Centers — a private, nonprofit, Federally Qualified Health Center ­— has seven clinic locations dotted throughout western Sonoma County. WCHC serves patients across the socio-economic spectrum and provides primary and obstetrics care, in addition to homelessness services, addiction treatment, behavioral and psychiatric care, teen health, wellness, and dental services.

Many of the clinic’s patients struggle with transportation and food insecurity, along with other economic, health, and social barriers to accessing medical care, which can be difficult for patients to address when their top priority is meeting their basic needs. Given such obstacles, finding the time to call to book a doctor’s appointment within clinic hours or coming into a clinic to schedule an appointment may prove prohibitive. In addition, some patients would simply rather self-schedule their appointments, avoiding wait times or preferring the anonymity of online booking.

Despite these challenges, many WCHC patients have access to smartphones and use them to find employment, access housing, reach public assistance agencies, pay bills, and more. “With technology at their fingertips, our patients have become accustomed to completing their basic errands online,” reported Kathleen Figoni, WCHC’s former innovation program manager, who now works at CCI.