Networking Between Offices

September 25, 2008

One of the biggest problems I continue to see in medical practices is the difficulty they have communicating between multiple locations.

One of the biggest problems I continue to see in medical practices is the difficulty they have communicating between multiple locations. In the past, when our society moved at a slower overall pace, it was a simple matter to physically transport charts between offices, have all employees come to the main office for a group meeting, or track down an individual to discuss a concern.

But nowadays, that scenario would be grossly inefficient, in terms of commuting costs and staff productivity. Advances in communication technologies offer numerous solutions for open-minded docs. But given the variety of technical gizmos on the market, where do you start?

  • VoIP. Have you ever considered using your Internet connection for your phone line? That’s essentially the definition of Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. Likely, you already have a data connection between your offices for billing purposes. If so, you can communicate without a separate phone line. Instead, your Internet and phone connection will share the data line. Now, even though your satellite office is across town, all you’ll need to do is dial four-digit phone numbers to communicate with anyone associated with your practice. One lovely aspect of this approach is an increased ability to bypass the front desk staff, which frees them up to concentrate on incoming and outgoing patients.

  • Conference calls. A conference call, where all parties dial in from their separate locations, can be a real time-saver. It’s especially great for practice with more than one satellite office. The cost per phone can be as low as $.04 per minute, so a 20-minute phone call with three offices involved can be less than $10.

  • Video conferencing. Think of video conferencing as the platinum level of VoIP, as it’s also done through the Internet. Various vendors -- including Skype, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo -- offer the ability for two sides to see and talk to separately located individuals. Teaching staff, sharing solutions to problems, and offering visual responses to statements work well! This beats requiring staff members from satellite locations to commute to the main office for meetings.

  • E-mail. Person-to-person communication is almost always preferable to e-mail, which can be easily misconstrued because you lose the sender’s tone-of-voice cues. And too often, e-mail is used to communicate with coworkers who are in close physical proximity. Shame on those who e-mail a nurse who is literally 10 feet away! That said, there are proper, if judicious, uses for e-mail, such as quick communication with satellite offices. This works quite well, as e-mail cuts down on phone tag and off-task chatter, and it creates a written log of conversations.

  • EMR. Yes, even your EMR can assist you with satellite-office communication. Once set up on your network, you can easily transfer information from one office to the next, improving patient care and eliminating the security risk of physically transporting or shipping charts across town.

In no way can you -- or should you -- replace face-to-face communication. Human interaction always trumps technology. But for cost savings and a more efficient operation, consider using technology in the best way possible for the good of your practice and your patients.

Owen Dahl, FACHE, CHBC, is a nationally recognized medical practice management consultant with over 24 years of experience in consulting for and managing medical practices and author of Think Business! Medical Practice Quality, Efficiency, Profits. He can be reached at odahl@comcast.net or 281 367 3364.