Online Appointment Booking for Veterinary Clinics | Advantages & Best Practices
The demand for online appointment booking has grown in the recent years and the pandemic has only accelerated this growth.
This article will give a brief idea on how your practice will get transformed if you allow your clients to book online appointments. If you are already using online booking in your practice, then you will get to know few tactics to leverage the same to achieve better results.
Online booking is not very new to this world. The first automated booking was started by American Airlines back in 1946. Since then the process has changed a lot. Now, every type of services in this world offer online booking options.
You can book flights online, you can buy insurance online, you can book movie ticket online. There are a lot of websites that allow you to search for doctors online & book appointments with them. Few examples would be Practo, Docasap, ZocDoc, etc. Also, a lot of hospitals & clinics prefer to create a portal of their own to allow their clients without hassle. The online booking platform typically carries out the following functions:
1. Shows the available schedules to book appointment
2. Accepts payments for the booking
3. Creates schedules of appointments in the calendars of the client, veterinarian, clinic & staff
4. Send appointment confirmation notifications through emails & SMS
3rd Party websites vs. Own website
Some veterinarians choose to allow the clients to book appointments through 3rd party websites, whereas some create a portal of their own for the same. Which one is more beneficial will depend on the type of the clinic.
If the clinic is small and cannot invest in purchasing a veterinary computer program & maintaining a website for online appointments, then it can go for 3rd party websites where clients can book appointments. This is really easy to do & free of cost.
However, if you go for 3rd party websites, you will lose the exclusiveness that your practice can potentially get. When a prospective client visits one of those 3rd party websites, it will show a list of available clinics near him.
What are the chances that the client will go for your clinic & not any other? That way you will lose a lot of clients who could have come to your clinic.
The second option is to go for a small investment in a practice management softwares and allow your clients to book on an exclusive portal of your clinic. clinic.
This way you will never lose a client. Your clients can also make use of advanced options like rescheduling of appointments, advance payments, etc. There are many Practice Management Softwares that have inbuilt online appointment features which are easy to integrate with your clinic's website.
VETport is one such software which is cloud-based & gives a very easy interface for fixing online appointments with your clinic.
Advantages of Online Booking
1. Saves Time
2. Marketing Opportunity
3. Works 24*7
4. Easy cancellation
6. Lesser no-show rate
7. Easy payments
It is pretty clear that online booking is a more convenient way to fix appointments.
Let's briefly discuss a few pointers on the advantages of online booking of appointments with veterinarians/clinics.
1. Saves Time:
It saves the time the client would have spent on calling the clinic, checking availability, booking appointments & getting confirmation. All of the tasks get done in a single click. Also, the staff who would have received the booking from the client through phone and fixed appointment manually would use that time on something else. A lot of time gets saved through online appointments.
2. Marketing Opportunity:
As the clients will have to visit your website for booking appointments, you have the chance to showcase your offers and additional services.
3. Works 24*7:
Just imagine that a client of yours wanted to book an appointment with your clinic. Then, he tried to call the clinic. But, then he realized that it was weekend, and the clinic is closed. So, he couldn't book the appointment. However, the online booking of appointments works 24*7*365.
4. Easy cancellation:
Cancellation is as easy as booking of online appointments. The booking can be canceled by the client, staff or practitioner.
You get a lot of data & information about clients from online booking. You can know at what time of the day your clients book the appointments, which mode of payment they prefer the most & what is their preferred time slot for their appointments.
6. Lesser no-show rate:
When your clients book the appointments themselves, they are most likely to show up at the decided appointment schedule. The no-show problem that your clinic might be witnessing will get reduced. Isn't that a great thing.
7. Easy payments:
You can ask your clients to pay online while making appointments. This will solve your problem of handling multiple payment options (Cash, Cheque, Cards, etc.) and you shall receive advance payments for your service. Again you can charge the clients some penalty when they do not honor their appointments & don't show up.
Online Booking through Veterinary Softwares
Veterinary Softwares or Practice Management Softwares are popular nowadays because they have simplified veterinarian's job. A typical Veterinary Practice Management System (PMS) would allow a vet to manage schedules, manage intra-clinic communications, communication to clients, record & retrieve patient information through EMRs, integrate with labs, manage payments, manage inventories, etc. However, there are some advanced PMSes which allow online booking of appointments by clients. VETport is one such PMS which has exclusive features for online booking which enables clients to book appointments directly from clinic's website. The online booking is a very simple & intuitive process which involves the following steps:
- Visit clinic's website & click on Book Appointment
- Select the clinic you want to visit among the list of the clinics available in the portal
- Select the provider/veterinarian you wish to fix appointment with
- Select the date of your visit
- Select the time slot of your visit
- Click confirm
Demand management through online booking of appointments
As a veterinarian, you will face peak times as well as lean phases during a typical year. There would be days when you receive so many appointments that you get all packed for the day. Sometimes you even have to cancel or postpone appointments only because you had too many pets visiting your clinic that day. And, there would be those days as well when your clinic doesn't get enough footfalls. So, how to evenly spread out these appointments? How to make sure that you neither get too many appointments nor too fewer appointments. The solution is demand management. You have to spread the demand for your service evenly throughout the year. This will need you to plan strategically. Online Appointment Booking portal of your clinic will come handy for this job. Here are the steps you need to follow in order to implement demand management with the help of online booking:
1. Forecast Demand:
Make a rough estimate of the number of appointments your clinic will receive for each month in the coming year. The last year’s numbers will help you in the estimation of coming year's prediction.
2. Find the Gap:
Find the excess demand you witness in peak months & shortage of demand in lean months. Say you usually receive a lot of appointments in the month of June. Then to manage the demand, you can prepone the routine checkups & all other appointments that do not need immediate attention. You can convey the same message in your online booking portal. For those months when you get less number of appointments, you can run offer campaigns & give your clients certain discounts to visit you in those particular months.
3. Give discounts:
Give discounts for booking appointments on those days of a week when you don't get enough appointments. For example, on weekdays you might not see as many footfalls as you get on weekends. So, giving a discount for visiting on weekdays might not be a bad idea.
4. Referral Programs:
Pet owners know other pet owners. Why rely on word of mouth publicity only? Why not give incentive to your clients who refer your clinic to others? Distributing referral codes (which can be used while booking appointments in your online booking portal) is certainly a great way to start.
There are endless benefits of online appointment booking for a veterinary clinic. If you are a veterinarian who is thinking about how to grow your practice by adopting best practices, you must consider implementing online booking as one of the best practices. We would also request you to read our next article "Grow your Veterinarian Practice by following these Simple Steps" which will give you simple techniques that you can follow to grow your veterinary practice and increase your client base.