Making an online reservation at your doctor’s office or urgent care clinic could soon be common practice in the Triangle.
UNC Rex Healthcare is the latest to introduce online reservations for its five express care clinics in Wake County. UNC Physicians Network, which is affiliated with Rex, recently introduced online scheduling as well and expects to have most of its 50 primary care practices in 15 counties on the system in the coming year.
The online reservations work in conjunction with Rex’s online scheduling system, which sends text and email updates showing the length of wait times, so patients know if doctors at the urgent care clinic are delayed or on time.
“It just makes the convenience and access for clinics so much better,” said Tom Williams, Rex’s vice-president for ambulatory services.
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Online services are routine at restaurants, libraries, banking and the like. Hospital officials acknowledge that the health care industry often lags in technology adaptation. But Thomas Owens, Duke’s chief medical officer, said health care is heavily regulated with legally mandated privacy protections for patients. As a culture, health care proceeds with caution because the consequences of a mistake can be serious, Owens said.
By the end of the year, much of the Triangle’s health care sector will have largely caught up. WakeMed Health and Hospitals plans to introduce an online scheduling service for urgent care by spring, and already offers online scheduling for primary care practices in its WakeMed network.
Also this spring, WakeMed plans to introduce an option for virtual video visits for its two urgent care clinics in Raleigh and Cary and its 10 primary care practices in Wake County.
One of the potential drawbacks, Williams said, is that patients who see an urgent care clinic showing a long wait time may opt to go to the hospital emergency room instead. Hospital administrators are trying to steer patients away from overcrowded ERs, where patients can wait hours to be seen for minor injuries, and where the cost of treatment is much higher than the clinic or doctor’s office.
Duke University Health System’s primary care practices began offering online reservations in January 2015 and its five urgent care clinics in Wake County in July 2015.
Owens said most patients aren’t using the service for urgent care.
“We were a bit surprised more patients didn’t schedule appointments online,” Owens said.
Ross noted that in the first year, only 5 percent of patients – about 8,000 people – used online scheduling for urgent care clinics.
The service is more popular with patients who make doctors’ appointments. Ross said about 12,000 appointments a month are scheduled electronically, or about 144,000 a year out of some 500,000 annual appointments.
“It’s like call-ahead seating at a restaurant,” Ross said. “It’s not 100 percent guaranteed but you’ll get prioritized.”
John Murawski: 919-829-8932