“Trojan Horse” Urgent Care Registration Systems Re-direct Your Once Loyal Patients to Competitors and Telemedicine

When considering an online patient registration system, beware of “patient marketplace” solutions that commoditize your services, present your loyal customers with “better options,” and tie up your cash. Key to success in urgent care is your differentiated service that becomes “top of mind” whenever your patients are sick or injured, a goal you can’t reach when your registration system usurps your “brand.”

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and has contributed over 500 original articles, presentations and citations on the subject of urgent care.

If you’re an urgent care provider looking to draw in more business to your center, what’s not to like about the latest wave of online patient check-in / registration systems that promise to do just that? After all, these systems purport to improve the patient experience by allowing patients to schedule appointments, verify whether the center takes their insurance, and get wait time estimates – all in advance, through the patient’s smartphone or tablet. Indeed, these registration services are holding themselves up as a boon to the entire urgent care industry, with some services claiming that centers that partnered with them have increased their online bookings by over 50%.

In short, these registration systems promise increased patient volumes, easier-to-use online registration tools, and real differentiation by way of delivering an improved time-saving, end-to-end patient convenience. Again, what’s not to like?

Trojan Horse Patient Check-in Systems

On its surface, there’s nothing not to like about an online patient registration system that promises to provide real, tangible benefit to your urgent care center and the patients you serve. But beware – things are not always as they appear. Because as it turns out, some of these so-called patient registration systems are little more than “Trojan horse” portals that siphon off users who intended to book with your urgent care, and redirects them to an online urgent care “aggregator.” So, patients who had intended to “get in line” at your urgent care are rerouted to these online urgent care “marketplaces” that list multiple urgent care locations alongside yours for comparison shopping. Essentially, this software serves as an “OpenTable” of sorts for the urgent care industry. Instead of booking exclusively with your center, patients are presented with competing options to choose from. In the end, your erstwhile patient might still choose your center, or they may deem a competitor to be cheaper, faster, or closer. And your center loses that revenue.

Of course, the sales reps for these registration systems will not divulge this important detail during their pitch. Rather, they’ll spend most of the call touting the benefits of their service. They’ll rightly emphasize that their appointment booking software will help increase patient volumes, reduce wait times, and simply the check-in process. If your lobby gets full or wait times creep up, though, they’ll fail to mention that their app allows patients to cancel their booking and make a reservation with your competitors. Urgent care providers, therefore, should be extremely wary and thoroughly investigate any patient registration system before deciding to partner with them. Additionally, extra care should be taken with registration systems that combine payment processing along with their appointment booking. Because once your urgent care becomes fully integrated with a third-party payment processor like these, they’ll integrate your center with their system in such a way as to create a certain “stickiness” that’s hard to get out of should you change your mind later.

Trojan Horse Systems Further Siphons Patients through Telemedicine

At first glance, these Trojan Horse registration systems seem to empower patients by providing multiple care options, offering them real choice. But what they really do is turn convenient care into a commodity, which hardly serves the patient’s best interest, either in the short or long term. With a sole focus on convenience in the moment, commoditization leads to the marginalization of important quality factors like superior care and an excellent patient experience. Moreover, the urgent care brand you’ve built up with hard work, quality services, and advertising dollars get shuttled into a pool of competitors that all appear the same from consumer’s perspective. Hence, your brand becomes a generic product with little differentiation from its inferior-quality competition in the local area.

To make matters worse, some of the leading patient registration Trojan Horse systems are now introducing telemedicine to their platforms. Again, a convenience for patients, but bad for your center! In this scenario, your loyal patients who may have simply been looking for basic wait time information now gets offered telemedicine as an alternative. This of course eliminates the need to leave the comfort of their home to see a physician for, say, pinkeye. If a quick 15-minute virtual visit can take cares of the entire episode, then why would a patient need to visit your center? And as we know people are creatures of habit, once they become accustomed to the utilizing the other options presented, they may never again return to your center.

Conclusion

Not all patient registration systems carry the risk of losing customers by partnering with them. In fact, there are several on the market that truly do shorten wait times, simply the check-in process and improve the patient experience – all without rerouting your hard-earned customers to your competitors. There are others, however, that will not only undercut your profits by commoditizing your center, but they’ll also offer telemedicine as a further obstacle to people showing up in your lobby. Again, great for consumers, not so great for the bottom line. So always be wary of these registrations systems before signing up. And If your center should ever consider partnering with one, a thorough evaluation is definitely in order. If it looks and feels like a Trojan Horse, though, kindly decline and save your center the future headache.