In almost all European countries and the US, it is already commonplace: making an appointment online with a general practitioner or specialist of your choice. In the Netherlands, you can sometimes do this with your own GP, but there are still hardly any companies that offer this service as a kind of booking.com for multiple GPs. Doctena, a company that it says already arranges online appointments for ten percent of general practitioners in Luxembourg, launched this week in Amsterdam.
Online appointment scheduling between patients and health care providers is a market that investors see potential in. Today, for example, it was announced that French competitor DoctoLib raised thirteen million euros from venture investor Accel. Eastern European Docplanner also raised 10 million euros this summer, whileZocDoc in the US is now worth almost two billion on paper.
So Doctena’s concept is not entirely new. Entrepreneur Olaf van Schagen previously tried to market the model with the startupDoktervrij.nl. But according to him, it was smarter to connect with a larger party. So since last November, he has been Doctena’s country manager forthe Netherlands. Van Schagen has a background in online consumer services. He worked as business development director at bol.com and in recent years was responsible for the online dating service parship.nl. The Luxembourg founder of Doctena, Patrick Kersten, has a similar background; he was the founder of atHome, Luxembourg’s largest housing site.
Consumer wants more convenience at GP
Why is the Netherlands relatively so late when it comes to these types of services? According to Van Schagen, the Dutch healthcare market is fairly conservative, and the model with the registration by name with a permanent general practitioner is also a potential barrier to new entrants. The Doctena country manager sees online appointments primarily as a convenience service that healthcare consumers are waiting for.
The eHealth monitor released by Nictiz last week seems to prove him right in this regard: consumers clearly see the added value of making online appointments with the general practitioner, but the offerings of general practitioners do not yet match consumer expectations. According to the Monitor, 27 percent of primary care physicians say they offer the option to schedule appointments online (see table). But Van Schagen suspects that general practitioners here are a bit too optimistic about their own offerings; in Amsterdam, based on his experience so far, he assumes one in 10 general practitioners with whom this is possible.
Making appointments only with your own doctor
The supply of GPs on Doctena.nl is now extremely limited: only in the Amsterdam region and no more than eight GPs. But a sales team is launching this fall to convince more primary care physicians and specialists to join. So basically, through Doctena.co.uk, a searching patient will soon be able to choose from several family doctors. However, Van Schagen assumes that the system will be used primarily to make an appointment with your own family doctor. Doctena thus competes with current patient portal providers and software vendors for general practices. After all, those also offer online appointment modules.
According to Van Schagen, however, those traditional software providers are primarily focused on the physician. For example, they do not yet have a good mobile app, do not have a user-friendly website and have much less experience with online findability and marketing. Doctena, then, should primarily provide a much better user experience for patients who want to schedule and possibly change appointments. According to Van Schagen, there are dozens of existing suppliers of software for general practitioners in the Netherlands, the likelihood that they all have sufficient scale to continue to innovate in this area is not great, he says, also because the larger players in this market have to work internationally to have scale.
Advantage for the general practitioner
Although Doctena says he does not assume that consumers will make appointments with a “strange” family physician, he says the system does offer affiliated physicians a good marketing tool to recruit patients. “In Amsterdam, we see that many general practitioners have an attrition rate as high as 20 to 30 percent. Inclusion in a highly findable system like Doctena helps in finding new patients.”
Doctena is thus stepping into an increasingly important market, because there is no question that healthcare consumers want more convenience. But there are numerous parties in the Netherlands that want to become the Funda of GPs. The GP organizations themselves, for example. So it is buzzing with initiatives and business plans.
“Too long, too expensive and too costly”
Bastiaan Breukhoven, general manager of Womens Healthcare Center in Amsterdam, is one of the first healthcare providers where healthcare consumers can make an appointment with a medical specialist through Doctena. “I had been looking for a way to make appointments online for some time. I was working with a few software vendors myself, but it all took a long time, was difficult and most of all very expensive. Doctena is easily done through an app and a widget (a piece of HTML code, ed.) on our website. Since its introduction a week and a half ago, the first appointments have already come in through the platform.
“Womens Healthcare Center is an independent treatment center (ZBC), 90% of whose patients are referred through their primary care physician. “Compared to the hospital, for example, we are a very small clinic, but we are also approachable and have short waiting times. We have to rely on innovative things like this, to distinguish ourselves in that way. Not only for our patients, but also to show health insurance companies and referring physicians: making appointments with us is becoming easier and easier. In that sense, the Doctena is also a marketing tool for us.”
Currently, using Doctena still creates some extra work, as the appointments in the online calendar also have to be manually put into the EHR calendar. “Within a few weeks there will be a link that will synchronize both calendars, then we won’t have to worry about it at all. Then the assistant can simply reject, accept or change an incoming appointment: all digitally. The phone will basically no longer be needed then.”
According to Breukhoven, the monthly subscription costs are manageable: “Especially when I look at what we get in return in terms of service, reach and recognition on the Internet.” To make patients at the Womens Healthcare Center aware of Doctena, it says on their appointment card that they can schedule their next appointment digitally through the online platform. “It’s also new for the patients; we really still need to train people a little bit on that.”