Technology streamlines medical practices

Registering new patients can be a chore, but it doesn't have to take all day. MT learns how technology can streamline your practice's scheduling.

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By  Administrator Published  August 22, 2008

Registering new patients can be a chore, but it doesn't have to take all day. MT learns how technology can streamline your practice's scheduling.

Dr Lawrence Gordon was fed up. Having spent several years on his medical training, Gordon was spending several hours every day on mind-numbing paperwork.

"I realised that so much of my time was consumed either by getting data or transmitting data to somebody else - rather than doing what I was trained to do, which is to process high-level functions and give patients opinions based on my experience and knowledge."

I think that business-savvy physicians understand that the most valuable asset within any medical practice is their time.

Frustrated by the lack of software packages for healthcare, Gordon decided to design his own and collaborated with like-minded colleagues to found New York-based Waiting Room Solutions.

As the name suggests, Gordon and his associates place scheduling at the heart of their practice management philosophy. "Scheduling is very much tied to revenue cycle management," he insists. "That being the case we really sought to build a solution from the ground up."

By placing an emphasis on the way that a practice approaches scheduling, explains Gordon, facilities will start to notice marked improvements in their efficiency. "I think that business-savvy physicians understand that the most valuable asset within a practice is their time and efficient scheduling is about minimising the time spent on the task."

When it comes to scheduling, the worst-case scenario for a practice is for a patient to simply give up because they can't get through to an operator. "For a small practice that might only have one desk person, who can only handle one call at a time, then you can lose people who are on hold," Gordan warns.

"When you are working so hard just to get people to call you, losing the opportunity to take care of these patients because you haven't thought out a good scheduling method is a disaster."

Getting the message across

Limiting your scheduling system to one phone line and a clunky voice-mail system is an archaic approach for a modern practice - and it is also labour intensive, limiting scheduling productivity to individual step-by-step bookings.

It is imperative, therefore, that every practice has a web-based system that makes it easy for patients to register interest. But the success of a website can only be measured by the speed of a practice's response and email can sometimes be a little indirect for some providers' tastes.

The key to streamlining the process, it seems, is to take advantage of the modern age's obsession with media and connectivity. In Dubai, an individual's mobile telephone number functions much like a national identity card - with everything from banking transactions to restaurant reservations being delivered in SMS format. Medcare Hospital is one facility that has taken advantage of this addiction to integrate SMS into its scheduling.

"We use SMS to inform patients of their appointment timings - when it is scheduled for, when it has changed, or as a reminder if they have not been to the hospital in a long time," explains Sugeesh Chandran, business development manager at Medcare.

"We have the mobile numbers for each patient registered within the hospital - a few patients will opt-out and say that they prefer not to be disturbed and we take them off the list."

Chandran believes it is important not to bombard patients with information, but to send out targeted messages aimed at reducing the historically high number of cancellations Dubai generates.

"Everyone has a mobile at this point of time, but we usually send the message to the decision maker for the family," he says. "The SMS system is very useful because it is instant and people check it far more than they do with email."

Thinking outside of the inbox

Nevertheless, facilities are often guilty of underestimating how valuable email communication can be in sharpening up the scheduling process, argues Gordon.

"Before you schedule somebody they need to be registered within your system - part of that is refining the questions necessary to make an appointment. If you are doing it by email you can also ask about existing medication, allergies - all these things can save the office staff time and save the physician time when the patient first comes in."

Reducing patient processing time is easier said than done and does depend on the complicity of your patients - but if you don't get your scheduling structure right, booking patients will still feel like a chore, rather than a strength of your business.

From a logistical point of view, it is essential that a practice's time is used as efficiently as possible. But it is also crucial to remember that how you schedule patients is probably the greatest factor in how your organisation is initially perceived.

The smoother the process, the more appreciative the patient. Give them the run-around, or ask them to wade through swathes of paperwork, and they are likely to check out the competition. After all, it is not just doctors that get frustrated.

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