Skip the Waiting Room program now charging $5 for online bookings

Patients at the Downtown Walk-In Clinic in Charlottetown are now paying five dollars if they want to book an appointment online. It is still free to register in person. The company behind the app says it needs to cover the costs of the online booking service.

P.E.I.-based company says it needs a way to cover the costs of service

Because appointment times are updated, Skip the Waiting room says most patients spend less than 20 minutes in the waiting room. (CBC)

Patients at the Downtown Walk-In Clinic in Charlottetown are now paying five dollars if they want to book an appointment online.

The new fee is being collected by Skip the Waiting Room, an online site and app developed by a P.E.I. company and launched as a pilot project in 2015.

Patients register online for an appointment, and when that time nears, they receive a call or text telling them to head to the clinic.

Skip the Waiting Room CEO Mark Richardson says he's still hoping to expand the online booking service to more walk-in clinics across P.E.I., even with the new $5 fee. (Submitted by Mark Richardson)

"This is a change and certainly we've had a number of people use it and being quite happy before to not have to pay anything," said Skip the Waiting Room CEO Mark Richardson. 

"I'm not going to say that there's no one that has complained but overall it has been pretty much a non-issue for most people." 

No dent in bookings

Richardson points out that the fee only applies to online bookings. 

"People understand that we're doing this as an option to access the clinic," Richardson said.

"People can certainly still show up in person and register without any fee and the very first people who are seen every day are people who register in person that haven't paid anything."

Skip the Waiting Room started as a pilot project at the Boardwalk Professional Centre Downtown Walk-in Clinic in Charlottetown in 2015.

So far, Richardson says, the fee has not put a dent in the number of bookings at the walk-in clinic since it was added on May 1.

"It hasn't really changed anything as far as we've been able to see," Richardson said. "Registration filled up very very quickly before. It's maybe slightly slower now, but really whatever capacity is being given to us, it's basically filling."

Skip the Waiting Room has expanded to other provinces, including Ontario and Alberta, where some clinics charge patients a fee to book online. (CBC)

Moving forward

Richardson says the intention was always to charge a fee for the service. But government funding helped cover the costs for a couple of years at the clinic in Charlottetown.

Skip the Waiting Room developed the app with help from a startup grant of $25,000 in 2015 from Innovation PEI. It also received $40,000 from the Department of Health and Wellness for the pilot project.

"We were faced with how we move forward with the service on P.E.I.," Richardson said. "We were looking at what to do to keep the service up and running, this seemed to make the most sense."

Skip the Waiting Room has expanded to several other provinces, including Ontario where they first started charging a fee in August 2017.

Richardson says he would like to see the online booking service offered by more clinics on P.E.I.

"I talked to one staff member one day and they said it's 11 a.m. and there's 30 people sitting in the waiting room and the clinic doesn't start until 1 p.m. so why would we do anything different," Richardson said.

"In my mind, that's incredibly broken but from their perspective, that's working just great."

The Downtown Walk-in Clinic is still the only clinic on P.E.I. to offer online booking. (CBC)

In a written statement the Department of Health and Wellness said Skip the Waiting Room is a private business, and reminded Islanders that walk-in clinics are open to everyone and are free of charge.

The department also said it has had discussions with the company and if clinics are interested, the service could be expanded.

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.