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June 2010

In today's world of high tech gadgets, phone applications, electronic health records, and all sorts of data gathering-crunching-analyzing doohickeys, it's easy to forget that sometimes the basic tasks are most effectively completed with basic solutions. One can get caught up in whirlwind dazzle technology that makes it seem you are more efficient, when really you are being slowed down or not effective in your efforts. I think this applies to several optometry office functions.

Call that Patient!
When my practice first started, it was easy to pre-appoint patients, but the real work began when I started year two. Now, it was time to enforce our system and reap the benefits. Since I had an electronic medical records (EMR) and practice management system, this was going to be simple, right?

What I, and my staff, found out was that electronic systems do make some aspects of appointment-making much easier. Set up next year's appointment (click), call and confirm and note that confirmation (click), ensure insurance information is verified (click)…..you get the idea. It was also great to pull up patients who had cancelled or (gasp!) no-showed to their pre-appointed time slot.

What we did realize, though, was that the simple phone call to confirm that appointment was instrumental in reducing no-shows. I have one staffer whose primary job is creating appointments, confirming appointments, and maintaining our "call list." This list is those patients who have fallen through the cracks and missed their annual appointment. Instead of mailing out postcard after postcard saying "We've missed you!" or "It's Time for Your Exam!" I have this staffer call these patients personally to reach out to them. She also tracks these phone calls in a spreadsheet so we are not bothering these patients every month, especially noting things like "Lost job,


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call in 6 months," or "Waiting for new insurance to kick in next month." This cost-effective management via the phone books more patients for me every month than any fancy recall letter I could print from my EMR system. It may seem mundane and repetitious, but it's what brings the patients into the office!

Syncing Data
The syncing of pretesting data into an EMR is certainly nice and time-saving in some areas. However, I think there are certain pretesting components that are better keyed in. For instance, I have my staff measure IOPs with a very effective hand-held device that is cost-effective for the office, easy to use, and patients don't mind it. It takes about five seconds to enter in the results and my office saves thousands of dollars by not having a more expensive alternative that would sync to my EMR. This is simple entry for a simple, straightforward test.

Additionally, it's not necessary to have technology sync into the EMR even if it can. For example, if your retinal camera is already sending data to the exam room computer and you can easily toggle back and forth between the EMR and photos, is it necessary to take the extra step to save and link the information together, especially when you need specific software on that very same computer to analyze that picture? Some may argue yes, but I think this is not an effective use of your staff's, or your, time.

Take a Look
I've only briefly touched upon a few of the ideas of the "simple" approach to everyday office tasks. I'm sure if you evaluate your own practice, there are a variety of ways in which you already simplify office procedures and tasks. Take a second look. You may be surprised at what you can streamline to make your practice more efficient, profitable, and effective in the use of your staff's time and efforts.

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