Empty slots. No-show patients. Annoyed staff overwhelmed with administrative tasks. You feel there must be something that can help your clinic sidestep these issues. With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for mHealth apps increased rapidly. Though you know there’s no magic pill for all diseases, in the current circumstances, it seems like a good idea to build a doctor appointment app...
And vague. Will this app be effective enough for managing appointments? What features should your doctor appointment app provide to satisfy both doctors and patients? Will you be able to get a return on investment instead of driving up debt? Chances are, this isn’t a complete list of the questions you’re concerned with, so we’ve prepared an extensive post with insights on this topic.
Reasons to develop a doctor appointment app
Before starting any project, it’s sensible to be aware of the potential outcomes. Let’s consider what benefits your clinic could enjoy if you had a doctor appointment booking app.
Fewer empty appointment slots (and less lost potential revenue)
Between 16 March and 1 May 2020, a primary care clinic in Columbus, Ohio, was confronted with a 36.1% in-office no-show rate. Given the physician’s ability to take on an average of 20 patients a day, a 35-working-day interval, and $200 in average revenue from one patient visit, that clinic lost around $50,540 on missed appointments.
To protect your clinic from tens of thousands of dollars in losses, you need to somehow reduce the number of appointments your patients don’t show up to. An appointment booking app can help you fill empty appointment slots by:
- Sending reminders to your patients about the time left before a visit to the doctor
- Allowing patients to see empty appointment slots and book them on the same day or in the next few days
- Enabling patients to book appointments outside normal business hours
- Offering patients a quick and easy way to change, reschedule, and cancel appointments on the go
By providing an appointment booking app, the primary care clinic in Columbus could have reduced the number of missed appointments by a third and recovered up to $16,800 out of the $50,540 in lost potential revenue by sending text reminders to their patients.
Streamline your front office operations
If you ask your staff what most contributes to their feeling of burnout, they’ll likely name administrative burdens and paperwork. Integrating a doctor appointment mobile app into your staff’s workflow can help staff free up at least 10 hours a week that they currently spend on scheduling and confirming appointments. If a mobile app takes the lead on managing appointments, you can redistribute your medical assistant’s 10 hours per week to more crucial clinic needs.
Driving patient satisfaction and growth
According to The State of Digital Patient Access report by Kyruus, to select your medical center as their new healthcare provider, patients need speedy access to information about:
- Real-time appointment availability
- Availability of virtual care options
- Detailed physician profiles
It’s hard to find something more effective than a doctor appointment app for giving patients 24/7 access to this information.
Seven steps for building a doctor appointment app
Having a doctor appointment app in your arsenal sounds great, but how can you make it value-packed both for your physicians and your patients? The lion’s share of your app’s success depends on your approach to the doctor appointment app mobile app development process. We’ll share the seven steps through which we run every project.
Step 1. Discovery
Before diving into the doctor appointment app development, you should conduct market research and figure out the total revenue from the mHealth market and the market share you can potentially capture.
If your practice is in the US, you can consider the following figures:
- The total value of the global medical appointment scheduling software market is expected to reach $297.81 million in 2021, which will correspond to your total available market (TAM).
- Accounting for a 40% share of this global market, the appointment scheduling software market in the United States is predicted to reach $119.12 million in 2021, which will correspond to your serviceable available market (SAM).
- 57% of US patients prefer to use mHealth apps for communicating with physicians and medical staff, cutting your serviceable obtainable market (SOM) to $67.9 million.
Even if you succeed in capturing 0.5% of the SOM market share with your new doctor appointment scheduling app, your annual revenue could reach $339,500.
However, your market share is an unknown variable. It could be as high as 0.5% or 10%, or it could be as low as 0.0001%. To assign it a realistic value, you need to have a clear picture of how much competition is in your niche and who your direct competitors are.
According to Kyruus, the top 20 US hospitals already provide mobile apps for established patients (so-called patient portal apps). Nevertheless, there are a lot of flaws in these apps related to scheduling appointments:
- Only a third of the top 20 hospitals allow new patients to book appointments without creating an account up front.
- Only eight healthcare providers allow new patients to schedule in-person visits online, and only seven allow new patients to schedule virtual appointments online.
- Beyond primary care, only 10% of the top 20 health systems in the US offer online scheduling for broader healthcare services like urgent care, laboratory and diagnostic care, vaccines, and mental health care.
- Only one of the top 20 hospitals in the US indicates which providers have upcoming availability and showcases real-time availability in search results.
Besides high competition in the mHealth industry, the mismatches between existing online appointment scheduling solutions and patients’ demands give your app idea a solid shot, assuming it’s implemented well.
Now let’s take a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the top three US doctor appointment systems — your direct competitors: Zocdoc, Doctor on Demand, and HealthTap.
Zocdoc is an online appointment scheduling platform that was founded in 2007 and is based in New York. It raised a total of $375.9 million in funding over 10 funding rounds. Almost a third of this total funding was raised in February 2021.
Previously, Zocdoc allowed patients to book only in-person appointments using Zocdoc’s website or mobile app. But thanks to partnering with Twilio, a customer engagement platform, Zocdoc launched the Zocdoc Video Service (ZVS) for providing telehealth video consultations in May 2020. Now, Zocdoc continuously enhances its doctor base by collaborating with major healthcare providers. The latest news is that Zocdoc has begun to work with Thriveworks, a mental health provider with 240+ locations across the US, and with Headway, a telehealth platform that includes 4000+ therapists and psychiatrists.
Doctor on Demand
Doctor on Demand specializes in connecting patients with different medical experts across the United States via mobile phones, tablets, or computers. It was founded in 2013 in San Francisco, California, and since then has successfully taken part in five funding rounds. Total investments of $235.7 million were realized with the latest $75 million in funding in July 2020 from a Series D round.
Doctor on Demand was the first virtual care provider to assist over 33 million Medicare Part B beneficiaries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, it was acquired by Grand Rounds Health in order to expand to a major nationwide practice specializing in primary and urgent care, advanced specialty care, chronic treatment, behavioral care, and preventive health. As a result, in May 2021, Doctor on Demand was named the “Best Overall Digital Health Company” in the 2021 MedTech Breakthrough Awards.
HealthTap is a virtual-first urgent and primary care provider that serves all Americans, whether or not they have insurance. Founded in 2010, this California-based venture has raised a total of $88.3 million in funding, with the latest $50 million in investments raised in a Series C round in 2017.
HealthTap focuses on improving its functionality and recently added a care orchestration feature for their enterprise clients, free patient messages to primary care doctors, and prescription discounts for primary members. Like Zocdoc, HealthTap increases its provider base by partnering with services like Talkspace to provide access to mental health experts, for instance.
Let’s highlight core strengths and weaknesses of Zocdoc, Doctor on Demand, and HealthTap using a SWOT diagram:
Analyzing your target users will give you the most valuable insights into what functionality your app should provide. You can analyze insights from:
- Your patients (established, new, those who recently left your clinic)
- Your medical staff (current, newly hired, recently resigned)
- Competitors' users who have left reviews (especially negative)
We’ll assume your clinic is already equipped with some sort of a customer relationship system (CRM) and that you’re clear on the demographics, in-market behavior, psychographics, and preferences of your established patients. With patients and doctors, you can conduct interviews, create focus groups, and run polls to find out what they expect from your doctor appointment mobile app.
But what about new app users? Let’s consider an example of a patient persona using data from the Kyruus Patient Access Journey Report 2020:
- Age: Predominantly Millennials (24–39) and Gen Xers (40–55)
- Top search resources: Internet, health system website, insurance website
- Requirements when selecting a provider: Insurance acceptance, expertise, appointment availability
- Data they expect to see: Years in practice, patient reviews, educational background, physician’s statement or bio, office locations on a map
- Search/filter options they want to have: search by specialty and provider name, search by insurance accepted, keyword search by condition/symptom, filter results by distance
- Wants: Live chat, availability to consult via telehealth or virtual visit, cost calculators
- Decision-making drivers: Near-term appointment availability, clear information about COVID-19 safety protocols, cost transparency, convenient ongoing communication (via chatbots, email, etc.)
A rich repository of insights into what features you must or should include in your doctor appointment app are user reviews of your competitors’ apps.
Here’s a compilation of some negative reviews from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store that Zocdoc, Doctor on Demand, and HealthTap have recently received:
All these user complaints can be boiled down to one thing: If you have stated that your app has a particular feature, then it should work without bugs. It’s better to implement fewer features but have them work smoothly.
Step 2. Prioritize doctor appointment app features
Only a thorough competitor and user analysis can solidly prepare you for deciding what features you must, should, could, and won’t include in your app. Apart from the MoSCoW prioritization matrix, there are at least eight other methods for prioritizing mobile app features.
Let’s highlight features that can form the backbone of a doctor appointment app for your clinic:
|Sign in/Sign up||Provide secure and easy in-app registration, allow users to sign up with their Google account, Apple ID, email, phone number, or organization credentials||Consider putting a sign-in/sign-up form to the end of the navigation bar. Zocdoc’s first screen is a search bar. They moved the tab with a sign up/log in form to the end of the navigation bar. It seems a wise design solution to protect first-time users from 5+ screens of form-filling, mitigating the risk of user exhaustion.|
|Patient account||With an account, patients can manage personal information, view visit/payment history, change passwords, save health-related documents, and sign out. Thanks to a patient account, doctors can examine initial patient data (e.g. medical histories, lab tests) before an appointment.||A good example is Doctor On Demand’s patient account that includes two blocks: “My account” and “My health.” Using the “My account” settings, patients can:
- Change contact information, passwords, insurance plans, employers, and Google Fit settings
- Choose a payment method
- Apply a coupon for a free first visit or share their own promo codes
- Get in touch with customer support or send feedback
In the “My health” section, patients can store visits, documents, lab tests, messages, questionnaires, providers, and pharmacies.
|Symptom checker||From our survey for a new mHealth project for the US market, we concluded that 37% of patients feel uncertain about what specialist they need. It’s worthwhile integrating some sort of a symptom questionnaire to help your patients find the right doctor.||See how effectively the HealthTap symptom checker gets the job done. It’s an in-app AI-powered chatbot that transforms patient symptoms into diagnoses and offers patients options for what they can do next: book an online consultation, visit a clinic, post a question, or read educational content.|
|Search||Allow users to search for a doctor by specialty, symptom, condition, treatment, name, and insurance acceptance.||It will be convenient to have a photo scan feature that allows users to scan their insurance cards and automatically detect insurance plans.|
|List of available doctors||In a doctor appointment app, searching for a health provider tends to lead users to a feature-packed list of doctors.||Consider including doctor names, photos, specialties, locations, available appointment slots, and ratings in your app’s doctor list.|
|Filtering||After viewing a list of physicians, users need to be able to filter them by different parameters.||Filter parameters for doctors can be distance, availability, gender, languages spoken, whether they see children/adults only, or a virtual visit option (if you plan to provide one).|
|Map||If your clinic is part of a network of medical facilities, it’s sensible to show locations with available doctors on a map. Also, you can add locations of nearby pharmacies.||You can highlight the nearest locations and indicate which mode of transport can be used to reach them.|
|Doctor profiles||Apart from a common doctor list, enable users to get more specific data about each physician. Doctor profiles should contain a doctor’s bio along with information on years of experience, licenses/ certificates, education/training, affiliations, languages spoken, virtual visit availability, contacts, etc.||HealthTap added a Q&A section to doctor profiles and also a separate section for reviews of a doctor’s virtual visits. Consider enabling doctors to add a short video to present themselves and increase patient trust. You can also help doctors track their progress and depict real-time performance indicators in in-app dashboards and reports.|
|Online appointment booking||Booking appointments for first and follow-up visits is your app’s primary use case, so functionality for doing this must be seamless and intuitive.||Consider adding a contrasting button with an understandable text, as Zocdoc did. The “Book online” button in Zocdoc has become so recognizable that it’s now available for adding to Squarespace websites.|
|Online appointment management||Allow patients to easily book, change, and cancel appointments. Enable doctors to check appointment statuses and accept or reject appointments.||Consider adding a calendar to help patients book/rebook follow-up appointments and allow doctors to see their slots.|
|Reminders & notifications||To be effective at reducing patient no-shows, reminders about upcoming appointments must be timely and tailored.||You can choose the following frequency of in-app reminders:
- Immediately after an appointment is scheduled
- Around 24 hours before an appointment
- One hour before an appointment
|Online prescriptions||Within your app, you can:
- Enable doctors to create e-prescriptions for patients
- Send e-prescriptions to patients’ chosen pharmacies
- Store e-prescriptions in patients’ accounts
|Keeping in mind one of the negative reviews that Doctor on Demand has recently received, consider storing the history of all e-prescriptions in patient accounts no matter what stage of treatment a patient is at. Doctors tend to erase prescriptions after patients pick up medications.|
|eBilling & payment gateways||Allow doctors to create online bills and patients to pay via credit card or a payment gateway within your app.||The most popular payment gateways in the US that you can use in a doctor appointment app are Stripe, Paypal, Authorize.Net, AmazonPay, and WePay. Read more about mobile app payment gateway integration.|
|Reviews||Allow patients to review their past appointments and rate them by specific criteria.||Criteria for rating doctors include wait time, expertise in diagnosing, prescribing the appropriate drugs, communication style, level of empathy, etc|
|Admin panel||An admin panel is necessary for you to approve doctor profiles, manage doctor profiles and patient profiles, monitor bookings, publish reports, and control your app in general.||Only you (as the app owner) and a couple of designated people will have access to the admin panel using a secure login and password.|
Once you’ve decided on what online doctor appointment app features to develop first, think of features that can boost user engagement and make your doctor appointment app extremely valuable. In most cases, such features are costly or time-consuming to build, so you can put them into a backlog to consider for further development.
If you’re thinking of how to build a doctor appointment app for your clinic that is more advanced, consider implementing the following features:
Step 3. Define your app’s revenue sources
To help you clarify how to make your doctor appointment app profitable, we’ll explore ways that existing apps of this type make money.
Zocdoc is absolutely free for patients and gets payments from healthcare providers. In 2018, physicians needed to pay a $3,000 annual subscription fee. To become affordable for suburban, rural, and other providers with few patients on the platform, in 2019, Zocdoc changed its pricing policy. Now physicians need to pay a $299 annual licensing fee and pay from $35 to $110 for each new patient attracted through the Zocdoc app.
Doctor on Demand boasts the simplest pricing policy because it requires patients (or more likely, their insurance companies) to pay for online consultations based on their length:
- 25-minute medical care consultation — $129
- 50-minute therapy session — $179
- 45-minute initial psychiatrist consultation — $299, with $179 for a 15-minute follow-up
- 50-minute psychologist consultation — $179
HealthTap offers two types of membership. The first, called HealthTap Prime, costs patients $15 a month and allows them to book appointments for $39 per visit. If patients have insurance, their provider can cover 50% of this cost for each in-person or virtual visit, leaving a $19.50 copay. If a patient is a member of the HealthTap Basic plan, they pay $80 for one visit or $40 if paying a copay.
How can you define what monetization model will suit your business goals best? First of all, you can discuss the app pricing policy with your dedicated employees. Then, make a preliminary calculation of your unit economics and find out what service fees can facilitate a breakeven point. Somewhere in the middle of qualitative and quantitative feedback you’ll find the best monetization model.
Step 4. Identify constraints
Your doctor appointment app likeZocDoc or any other healthcare-related software, needs to transmit, receive, store, and alter electronically protected healthcare information (ePHI). But how can you make a doctor booking app reliable? For protecting privacy and security, your app’s architecture should align with requirements dictated by the following:
- Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
- Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act)
- Protected Healthcare Information data encryption (ePHI)
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections
If you enrich your doctor appointment app with virtual care and telemedicine features, then you need to conform to the telehealth regulations and reimbursement policies in your state.
With your app, you might consider providing doctors and patients with access to patient medical and treatment histories, diagnoses, treatment plans, medications, lab tests, and more. To do this, you need to integrate your doctor appointment app with your clinic’s electronic medical records (EMRs) or electronic health records (ERHs).
Step 5. Choose a doctor appointment mobile app development company
Cost is a solid decision driver, but sometimes it shouldn’t be the only consideration. Choosing a mobile app development team is one of those instances when it shouldn’t be. We’ve posted a lot of articles about the cost to outsource app development and steps you should take to find professionals.
Here, we’ll share one core tip for checking whether a company is a trustworthy partner. Before formalizing your agreement, give a potential development team a small test assignment. It can be drafting mobile app product requirements documentation, creating an app logo, or outlining initial mockups of onboarding screens. This trial collaboration will give you valuable insights into the team’s:
- Ability to meet deadlines
- Communication skills
- Ways of solving issues
- Ability to match an agreed price
- Technical skills
- Level of quality provided in the end product
If something goes wrong with this small task and you don’t choose this team, it won’t cost you the success of your entire software development project.
Step 6. Design and develop
As a matter of interest, create your own HealthTap patient account. I bet you’ll be confused a bit when entering your year of birth using the calendar. To pick a specific year from a list instead of manually swiping the calendar pages, you need to tap the year area, though this area of the user interface doesn’t seem interactive. There are no arrows and no hints.
If users have to guess something while using an app, it’s an indicator of a bad UX design. To avoid this, make sure to meticulously and rigorously elaborate each step your users will take while interacting with your app using mockups and prototypes.
The outcome of the designer’s work is a high-fidelity doctor appointment app prototype that developers then turn into a minimum viable product (MVP).
To help you learn how to develop a doctor appointment app from the technical side, we’ll share the basic tech stack our developers use for building doctor appointment scheduling software:
- Mobile app development: Swift (iOS), Java (Android)
- Frontend development: Angular, React.js
- Backend development: Node.js, Phyton, PHP
- Database: MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB
- Cloud environment: Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure
- Payment gateways: PayPal, Stripe, Braintree
- Maps and user location tracking: Google Maps API, MapKit, CoreLocation
- Push notifications: Twilio, Push.io
- In-app calls and messages: Twilio
Step 7. Test and improve
How to make a doctor appointment mobile app hassle-free? While designers are drawing user-friendly app screens and developers are turning pixels into high-quality code, quality assurance (QA) specialists need to check intermediate results and let the team know about bugs in a timely manner.
To be sure the final product will meet your doctors’ and patients’ expectations, the team should run features through A/B testing. They can ask your medical staff or patients dedicated to your clinic to try app feature A and B and give feedback on which works better.
Before launching an MVP, QAs should check all app functionality, including through stress testing, unit testing, and security testing. The process of testing and improving continues as long as your app is live.
Effective marketing strategies
Doctor on Demand uses a referral program, enabling patients to share promo codes and get a first online consultation for free. Zocdoc allows doctors to promote themselves by paying for in-app advertising in Sponsored Results. HealthTap actively promotes its services among enterprises and insurance companies.
Still, several potentially effective ways to market your clinic appointment booking app remain unexplored:
- Collaboration with influencers related to the healthcare industry
- Video blog on YouTube (for example, to show your clinic behind the scenes)
- Activities on social media networks: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn
- Promotional landing pages
- Paid advertisements
- Partnership with pharmacies
Note that marketing strategies can vary depending on the type of software you use (e.g. a software as a service application) or specific clinic requirements for a mobile app, for instance.
Cost to make a doctor appointment app
The cost of developing a doctor appointment app may vary depending on the number of platforms it supports (iOS, Android, web), feature complexity, design requirements, the required tech stack, the size of the mobile app development team, and their hourly rate.
So how much does it cost to make a doctor appointment app? Since we aren’t familiar with your specific project requirements and objectives, we can only give an extremely approximate estimate and say that it will start at $40,000 for an mHealth scheduling app with basic features.
What lies behind doctor appointment booking app development price?
One of the most time-consuming and costly chunks of doctor booking app development is building a scheduling engine from scratch. However, there’s another, cheaper approach — integrating a third-party scheduling API like those provided by Timekit, OnSched, and Acquity. Using a scheduling API, you can speed up the mobile app development process (and reduce costs). But keep in mind that it will impose some limitations on your UI, however.
The way you’re going to bring your doctor appointment app to market also impacts the cost of online doctor appointment app development. If you have a lean budget, a soft launch will be your go-to option.
Doctor Appointment App Development: Afterword
Building a doctor appointment booking app involves a lot of different stages, each of which requires time, money, and effort from the app owner. Perhaps you’re just at the beginning, deciding to start market research. You may have already developed an app, but it doesn’t do the job, so you want to redesign it. Or maybe you’ve elaborated a prospective business plan for an mHealth mobile scheduling app and need to prepare a pitch deck to attract significant investors.
Whatever stage you’re at, our team can help you see your business through and make sure you’re proud of your software product.