Improving Medical Practice Efficiency Through Automation

November 20th, 2008

When I decided to move to appointment scheduling software for my medical practice, I approached the decision much like I make other business or budgetary decisions: Get everything that I need for the best possible price. At first I found that many appointment scheduling programs had some, but not all of the features that I needed. I also realized that in order to make the process truly cost effective, I should integrate all of my needs into one software package.

I first needed to clearly define everything that I needed in a medical appointment scheduler. Since I run a solo internal medicine practice by myself, I am always making business decisions when I should be caring for patients. One area that I particular hated was the hiring and firing of my medical reception. I firmly decided that I needed a program that provided self-service patient appointment scheduling. This way, patients could simply call me or log on and schedule a time to see me.

Since I had decided to move to a web-based doctor appointment scheduling system, I decided that a package should offer an automated appointment reminder. If patients were doing their appointment scheduling online, I should be able to have an automated reminder for those appointments. Instead of having a medical receptionist make calls, I asked myself, why not get a package that would do it automatically and without error? I could then use it for keeping track of my schedule, as well. It seemed silly to go paperless for appointment scheduling and then waste paper by printing out my list of patients at the start of every day.

As I was researching the various programs and their features, I found that the level of sophistication in these programs was pretty impressive. The larger packages make it so that I do not really need to have a front desk receptionist at all. Some programs provided the equivalent of 24/7 medical reception. Now you may think that would be impersonal but it really is ideal. Patients hardly miss a live front desk receptionist because my medical technicians greet them when it is time for their appointment and begin intake right away. Since appointment scheduling is automated, the practice runs much more smoothly, and patients are not kept waiting nearly as long as they had been in the past.

Since I was moving towards automating just about every medical receptionist duty, I decided that should probably also consolidate my physician answering service into the same program. Why pay for a live answering service when I would have to manually input patient appointments into the now online appointment scheduler?

With all of these features, I realized that I was really asking a lot from a single piece of software or a single online service. I wanted a virtual receptionist, a reminder program, a 24/7 medical answering service and 24/7 patient scheduling. I may have been able to sacrifice one of these, if I had not found them all in a single package, but I had to have a package that was secure. In order to make the move to automated appointment scheduling, the entire program of service had to be fully HIPAA compliant. Regulations have gotten extremely strict over the past five years or so and I cannot afford to have fines or lose clinic days for a violation.

Now that I had this tall order to fill, I went online and spoke to colleagues to find out the best programs available and at the best price. The programs available today are very advanced and I was able to find one that provided all of those features and did so securely. When I considered the savings in terms of personnel costs and hassle, I wish I had made the move to automated appointment scheduling sooner.

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