A New Patient is Both a Blessing and a Curse

March 24th, 2009

Once you have established your own medical practice, new patients are both a blessing and curse. I know the second part may seem a little jaded or uncaring, but you know what I mean. The blessing of a new patient is that you get to learn about someone new, get the opportunity to treat or perhaps cure someone. That part of medicine never gets old and is always something to cherish. The problem is that new patient appointments take a considerable amount of time and paperwork. Even though I would like to spend an hour on a first appointment, I know that I cannot. Plus the issue of obtaining a good history, reviewing old notes and charts (if the patient is a transfer), and establishing a rapport takes a lot of time. The extra reimbursement that exists for new patient appointments is nice, but does not quite cover the cost of the time and energy, as horrible as that is to say.

After considering what exactly it was that I hated about initial appointments, I realized that it was obtaining the signatures, the clearances (like HIPAA) and the background information that may (or may not) prove medically important (like a broken arm at age 6). That is why I am blown away by this medical scheduling software that I found. Imagine if you had an automated, web-based medical appointment scheduling system that permitted patients to submit their medical information online as they make their initial appointment. I am not talking about a chief complaint or anything, I am talking about medical insurance information, address, contact numbers, etc. Perhaps it also inquires about a list of current medications and allergies. In a secure and HIPAA compliant online form, patients are able to upload this information so that it is instantly digitized and can be accessed by you or other medical staff. Also, if a putative new patient puts in a medical insurance carrier that I do not accept, the software gently notifies the person saving us both the time of having an initial appointment that will not be covered. Few things aggravated me more than when my medical receptionist accepted a patient with an insurance carrier that I did not accept. The patient’s time was wasted and I learned about a patient that I would not be able to treat long term. This software eliminates that mistake almost as soon as the patient logs on to the system—and I never even know that it occurs.

The best part is that this self-service medical scheduling software is that it is available as part of my medical receptionist software. Thus, in one affordable program, I am able to have an automated answering service (that triages calls!), a 24/7 virtual medical receptionist (that always checks insurance coverage) a mobile, online appointment scheduler and an appointment reminder service. This small but useful technological innovation takes most of the pain out of the initial office visit and allows me a few precious minutes to ask about my patient’s parents and their health, explain a chronic disease or discuss treatment options. The software saves time and money, sure, but it also reminds of the true reason that I practice medicine: my patients.

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