Online signups can help patients avoid long waits for a doctor appointment, care in the ER

Many hospitals and doctor practices are offering patients the convenience of signing up for appointments and even reservations to be seen in the emergency room, right from their smartphone or laptop.

This brings them new patients and retains existing ones wanting to avoid hassles and long waits. At the same time, it helps doctors fill slots from last-minute appointment cancellations and hospital ERs shift patients with non-life-threatening conditions to slower times of the day.

Companies providing the online signups, and doctors and hospitals using the services, say most patients are seen within 15 to 20 minutes of their ER reservation or doctor appointment.

Other advantages the services tout:

— Patients typically can get appointments within one to three days

— Patients can book 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

— If an emergency room gets backed up, patients with ER reservations are called or texted and instructed to come in later.

— Patients enter identifying information and symptoms at home, reducing paperwork later. If their symptoms indicate a possible heart attack or other dangerous condition, they're told to call 911 or rush to the ER.

— Patients can view online reviews from other patients on the care they've received from various hospitals and doctors, as well as see which are in their insurance plan.

If a search of InQuicker or ZocDoc doesn't find any participating doctors or hospitals in your area, check the websites of your local providers. Many offer online booking with their own "brand," set up by companies that provide the software, including ER Express, Clockwise.MD and Urgent Care Check In.