These days, if your business isn't online, it's almost as if you don't exist. But just having a Web site for your medical practice isn't enough. It's what you do with your site that counts.
Consider just a few things patients do when they call:
- Make appointments
- Request prescription renewals
- Ask about test results
- Update billing and insurance information
- Discuss their health issues
Your nursing staff handles a majority of these calls, but what if their time was freed up to attend to patient visits? That's where your practice's Web site comes in. Automating common actions via online forms will deliver a service that patients are much more used to getting online, which could increase patient satisfaction. Not to mention your practice will more efficiently handle patient requests.
"It's easier to manage your responsibilities when you can determine the course of your day," says Rosemarie Nelson, MS, principal, MGMA Health Care Consulting Group. "Checking a Web site for patient communications on a scheduled basis is far less intrusive than managing a barrage of unpredictable phone calls."
Plus, your patients are increasingly going online for their health. According to the Pew Internet Project, 49 percent of American adults, or 66 percent of internet users, report that they have looked online for information about a specific disease or medical problem, compared with 36 percent of adults, or 63 percent of internet users, in 2002.
Medical practices with hard-working Web sites
If your practice doesn't have a patient portal or use the Web site for any of the above activities, check out these examples:
Go beyond the site - use e-mail
Schedule an appointmentRosewood ENT
in Houston, Texas, has a new patient consultation form prominently placed on its home page. Janice Kelley, practice administrator, says the form is filled out one to three times per week. How it works: The patient submits the form and the Web site e-mails the administrator and scheduling staff, who contact the patient to quickly set up the appointment. "We haven't noticed a drop in phone calls. It is probably more of a convenience for patients so they can contact us after hours," she says.
The form has been up for only a year and a half, but Kelley suspects they'll continue to receive more requests. "Since this was a new feature, we wanted to monitor the responses so that is why the administrator is involved with distributing the e-mails," she says. "We have many same-day appointments in our clinic, and the thought was one day it would be nice for patients to make their own appointments."
- Ask for patient feedbackPacific Crest Family Medicine in Yakima, Wash., also has an online schedule appointment form, plus another form to rate and give the practice open-ended feedback. This gives patients an opportunity to give you valuable feedback outside their visits.
- Get updates on tests and proceduresPeaceHealth Lower Columbia Region uses SmarTrack, to display where a patient is throughout his or her procedure. A unique ID is given only to the patient, whose responsibility it is to share it with their loved ones.
- Discuss health issuesVista Family Health, Kennewick, Wash., has a link on its Web site to the Patient Education Center, a consumer health portal with information written by the Harvard Medical School. It's a great idea to recommend a Web site to patients, who often don't know which Web sites to trust when it comes to understanding their health.
Another way to cut down on call time is to use automated e-mails, instead. According to an MGMA Connexion article "Patients and e-mail - Don't be scared away," you can use e-mail to send patients reminders about their appointments, but only with their written permission – particularly if their e-mail account is at their workplace. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires medical providers to take reasonable measures to protect the confidentiality of patient health information. Also, keep in mind that employers have the right to look at their employees' e-mails.
Looking for more ideas? Nelson will present more about how to use your Web site to improve efficiency at the Oncology/Hematology Practice Management Conference on April 19 in Indianapolis.
Does your medical practice have a similar service on its Web site? Leave a link in the comments.