Using Tech Tools to Automate Your Practice

September 27, 2011

Do you wonder how you can become more efficient and improve your bottom line? Let technology address efficiency and reduce operational costs.

You think you've optimized your operations? Or, like many practices, do you wonder how you can become more efficient and improve your bottom line? Let's look at a few technology tools that address efficiency and reduce operational costs.

Appointment reminder calls. Does your staff call patients to remind them of their appointments? Maybe you focus on just the annual exams, or the high-cost procedures that would leave a sizable gap in your schedule. Using staff to telephone patients is not as efficient as using one of the readily available automated call systems that work off your appointment schedule. Think about the incoming calls that you receive. When you don't recognize the caller ID, do you bother to take the call or do you just let it go to voicemail? It's likely that your staff seldom reach your patients directly. If your argument is that you want your patients to hear a familiar voice, then customize the recording in your own voice, but don't waste valuable employee time by putting staff on the telephone when they seldom connect with a patient.

A patient portal. Another good communication tool for reaching patients is via your website and portal services. Patients can register for a secure account, update their registration information as well as their medical history, and interact with your staff. You can push normal diagnostic test results out to the patient and your patient can request appointments or prescription reissues. Imagine how calm the office will feel if you can transition even a third of all the incoming phone calls to the Web! And then imagine how wonderful it will be to have your nurse available to you instead of on the phone! The portal can also accept patient payments and link directly to the patient account if the portal is integrated to your practice management system. That means no one has to post the payment or make a bank deposit.

Charge capture. Do you see patients at remote offices or the surgery center, hospital, or nursing home? Paper charge tickets can be easily forgotten or lost. There are plenty of charge capture apps for your smartphone that will make it easy for you and easy for your billing staff. You'll capture a CPT service code and the ICD-9 diagnosis code and then transmit the charge or sync your phone. Ask your practice management system vendor about solutions integrated with your system.

Documentation data entry. Optimize your EHR implementation with apps and/or hardware that can improve your documentation timeliness. Apps that create shorthand for frequently used phrases can be embedded within your EHR. Digital pens and note-takers are examples of hardware-software combination tools that supplement the EHR templates. Voice recognition software isn't just for dictating a paragraph; it can also improve your efficiency for navigating through templates.

Scheduling assistance. Has it become a time-intensive process to schedule drug rep visits? Use a Web-based service to coordinate time with drug reps. Ask the drug reps to get online where they will find only the available slots that you've designated as appropriate for their visits to your office. Maybe your scheduling problem is trying to get staff coverage coordinated for patient office hours. Turn to the Web again for a subscription service that supports a matrix of office hours, office locations, shifts, staff requests, and the calendar. Having online access will improve communications throughout the entire office so that everyone knows "who's on first"! The last scheduling hurdle is the most important - the patient schedule. There are several Web-based patient appointment scheduling services that allow the patient to book appointments on the provider's calendar based on slots that you make available. The patient won't be able to schedule an appointment that is already taken, or at a time that the provider is not available. Why not give the patient the choice within your own parameters?

Have you achieved best practice benchmarks in efficient operations? If you know you can do better, look to these technology tools for a better way.

Rosemarie Nelson is a principal with the MGMA healthcare consulting group. She conducts educational seminars and provides keynote speeches on a variety of healthcare-technology and operational topics. Drawing upon her diverse experience, Nelson provides practical solutions to help medical groups succeed in their practices. She may be reached at www.mgma.com/consulting/nelson.