Smart Web Surfing

September 1, 2004
Rosemarie Nelson

Read on to discover some of my choices of sites that can help you find what you're looking for.


The Internet offers many tools to help you run your practice more efficiently, communicate with patients, and strengthen your financial acumen. But like any tool, you have to know how to use it.

Misuse a hand tool and you may end up doing the job wrong, breaking the tool, and, possibly, causing injury. Misuse the Web and you'll have wasted precious time.

The challenge is that the Web is a pretty large universe -- there are literally billions of Web pages, and the number grows every day. 

What are the most effective Web sites to help you manage your practice? How can you more quickly and thoroughly search for what you need? Read on to discover some of my choices of sites that can help you find what you're looking for. (Sites included in this article were researched and selected by the author, and not by the staff of Physicians Practice.)

Best ways to search

Do you find searching the Web too time-consuming? Who doesn't? There's nothing more frustrating than looking for a specific topic only to end up wasting time weeding through an almost endless list of search results -- most of them off topic, like the 6.35 million Web sites the popular search engine www.Google.com lists when the words "practice management systems" are entered.

Take control of your Web searches by using the advanced search options typically found on the home pages of most search engines. For example, Google's advanced search options allow you to reduce the false hits. Searches can be conducted for:

  • An exact phrase,

  • All or at least one of your search words, or

  • A specific type of Web site, such as only sites ending in .gov or .org.

Sometimes knowing what you don't want is as important as knowing what you do want. Try searching for Web sites without certain words or phrases. That way your search for Web sites mentioning "cancer" can exclude those dedicated to "astrology," for example.

Narrow searches even more by eliminating or specifying foreign sites or languages; limit the results to sites that have been updated in the last six months, the last year, or whatever timeframe provides meaningful information about your topic.

Google, Yahoo, and the other big names are not the only ways to search the Web. Some of the most useful tools are meta-search engines that help you find what you're looking for across many search engines. One powerful meta-search engine is www.dogpile.com; another is www.vivisimo.com -- a clustering engine that queries several other search engines. Based on the information it finds at each site, Vivisimo creates categories of results and groups similar sites together. For example, if you search Vivisimo on the word "arthritis," the results will be clustered into categories such as pain relief, health, foundation, medicine, and chat rooms.

In touch with patients

The Web can be a great way to help you connect with your patients. For instance, patients can use your practice's Web site to download registration forms and complete the information prior to their appointments. A study by the marketing firm Manhattan Research LLC found that patients want to go online to access test results, pay bills, and request appointments and prescription refills. Firms such as

are among the many options to get your practice's home page online and add services for patients.

If your practice already has a home page, try adding a document management application. Ask your Internet vendor or look to products like OmniForm from www.scansoft.com, which can easily turn your practice registration form into an e-form that your patients can fill out electronically and submit online.

Do you want to exchange e-mails with a few select patients, such as those you know well or who are traveling overseas? The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) provides a model e-mail guideline at www.amia.org/pubs/other/email_guidelines.html. Another source for e-mail guidelines comes from the eRisk Working Group for Healthcare (www.medem.com/phy/phy_eriskguidelines.cfm), a consortium that includes the AMA and other national medical societies and liability carriers.

E-mail must be encrypted in order to secure sensitive private information. Encrypted e-mails require senders and receivers to use the same encryption technology to exchange their personal digital IDs.

Register online with VeriSign (www.verisign.com) or one of the other major vendors of encryption, digital ID, and other security services for Web sites and e-mail. You can find a list of these companies at www.microsoft.com/Windows/oe/certpage.asp.

By the way, the popular e-mail program Microsoft Outlook includes a relatively simple encryption tool that allows you to attach your digital ID to your outgoing e-mails; Outlook senses that ID and automatically stores it for your future use.

Get gear for your PDA

The ubiquitous PDA (personal digital assistant) can do much more than manage telephone numbers and contact lists. With more than 1,000 PDA software titles for physicians, it can be overwhelming to search for an application or tool to resolve a nagging operational issue. To help narrow the field, check out the Web sites that collate detailed information on useful tools for physicians, such as references for normal lab values, drug encyclopedias, medical textbooks, and billing and coding software. Most of the software is surprisingly inexpensive; some is even free.

Check out these Web sites to investigate the possibilities:

While you're online visit the Web site of your practice management system's vendor; it may offer a way to download your daily or weekly office schedule to your PDA. Also check to see if your vendor or one of the Web sites listed above offers an application that will allow your PDA to capture charges as you do hospital rounds or make nursing home visits and then transfer that data into your practice management system.

Do you EDI?

Electronic data interchange (EDI) standards have made electronic claims submission widespread, turning the process into an efficient in-office operation that allows your staff to transmit claims as frequently as every day. Submitting claims daily not only turns your cash over more quickly, but it also identifies denied claims sooner so your staff can get to work resolving the denial and whatever caused it. Because payers can process electronic claims more efficiently, they can eliminate data entry errors caused by their staff and reduce delays in remitting your payments.

Typically, practice management system vendors offer claims clearinghouse services, or links to claims clearinghouses. Many practices find outsourced claims processing more economical than doing it in-house. Popular claims outsourcing options include:

Going on the Web can make insurance verification easier and more likely to occur at the time of service, or even before the patient arrives. The Medical Group Management Association's 2002 Performances and Practices of Successful Medical Groups Report found that the most profitable medical groups are more likely to verify patients' insurance coverage status at the time of service.

High-speed, always-on Internet services allow your staff to more quickly complete insurance verifications, if not before the patient arrives then at least on the same day as the service -- and before the insurance claim is submitted.

Another way to manage operational overhead more effectively is to post third-party payments electronically. Many payers provide electronic remittance files that you can download directly into your practice management system. Using this option will save your staff significant time in the payment posting process. Free your staff from mind-numbing data-entry work so they can focus on managing unpaid claims, resolving denials, and other tasks that help turn claims into cash for your practice.

Managing money online

Trying to find information about a company and its stock on the Web is definitely a case of searcher beware. Google can provide a glimpse at news coverage of a stock. Type in "stocks" and the company's ticker symbol and you'll see results from five popular personal finance Web sites including www.motleyfool.com and www.quicken.com.

Go to finance.yahoo.com and you can find a list of more than 50 financial ratios as well as other data when you enter a company's stock ticker symbol and click on the "key statistics" link mid-way down the page. The site www.money central.msn.com provides an appraisal as well as a rating (based on a scale of 1 to 10) of the company and its stock after clicking on the "stockscouter rating" or "research wizard" links.

The government has a wealth of information about public companies. Go to the Securities and Exchange Commission's site (www.sec.gov) and click on "filings and forms." Then "search for company filings," then "companies & other filers," and type in a stock's ticker name or a corporate name. The SEC site will provide several years' worth of full-disclosure quarterly and annual reports.

And, if that's not enough, the extremely powerful www.lexisnexis.com will allow you to "pay as you go" and select "major papers." You'll find the most complete archive available of news stories from major newspapers across the country. It goes back several years and costs approximately $30 per day to use.

Finally, don't forget about your public library -- many allow cardholders to log in and get online access to ProQuest, EBSCO, and other electronic collections of daily newspapers, popular and technical magazines, and scholarly journals. Membership in your university or medical school's alumni association also may bring online access to these and other powerful databases.

Shop online

Does your practice use the Internet to shop for supplies and equipment? If not, try it out. Your staff can save significant time by going online to purchase office supplies at www.staples.com or www.officemax.com. To find medical supplies and equipment, try Web sites like:

Another way to find supplies online is to check manufacturers' Web sites; many list approved e-distributors of their products. Keep an eye on shipping costs so they don't eat up all of your online savings.

And here's another efficiency tip. Instead of keying in the Web sites mentioned in this article, go online to www.PhysiciansPractice.com, lect "Rosemarie Nelson" in the "search by author" box and find an electronic copy of this article with hot links to all of the Web sites mentioned.

Rosemarie Nelson, MS, has experience as a medical office manager, in information technology, and as a consultant to physicians and practice professionals. Currently a senior consultant for the Medical Group Management Association, she was manager of the multi-manufacturer Office of the Future project and serves on the board of the American Heart Association North East Affiliate. She was awarded the 2000 Professional Achievement Award by New School University, Robert J. Milano Graduate School of Management & Urban Policy, and has written numerous articles on practice management issues. She can be reached at rosemarienelson@alum.syracuse.eduor via
editor@physicianspractice.com
.

This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Physicians Practice.