|Leave sticky notes around your desk: “Monday: Call, remind Mrs. Hodges and Mr. Yost of Tuesday appointments.” “Wednesday: Mail Dyer twins notice re: scheduling follow-up exams.” “Friday: Send bills to Jorgensens and Taylors.” What kind of way is that to run a business?|
For many busy eyecare professionals—as well as all medical providers—pen-and-paper notes are going the way of the eight-track tape player.
A variety of patient recall, or “tickler” systems, such as Compulink, OfficeMate and MaximEyes enable optometrists, ophthalmologists and dispensers to notify patients by email, mail or automated telephone call of appointments that already are, or should be, scheduled. And the programs do a whole lot more, such as storing medical records, handling billing, tracking inventory, categorizing patients by such details as age or eye condition and mailing electronic claims to insurance companies.
Even if most eyecare practitioners or office staff never tap the full potential of these sophisticated systems, users agree that it’s helpful to have additional features available when needed. Typical is Thomas Overberg, OD, of Overberg Optical Services in Fremont, Ohio, who uses First Insight’s MaximEyes system. “It’s a wonderful program,” he says. “It’s totally automated. With a few clicks of the button, we can print out postcards and send them to patients for recalls.”
Dr. Overberg emphasizes the “can” because while MaximEyes and other systems are able to quickly compile lists of patients to be called and thus save his assistant from having to, as he notes, “stop everything” to make telephone calls, it’s still cheaper to send the data to a mailing company, which handles the physical requirements of assembling flyers, stuffing envelopes and sticking on stamps.
His point is reinforced by Kathy Zampounis, administrator at Cataract Eye Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The practice uses Compulink software from Compulink on its 15 computers, which are connected to a billing program because, she says, “it’s more cost-effective to farm it out.”
In Dr. Overberg’s case, the time saved allows his assistant to “interact with patients and be more productive,” he says. While the OD, alone among interviewees, says he has achieved a paperless office, Dr. Overberg’s practice is typical of the others, with all his computers (17) integrated into one office system.
Dispensers also use the systems for targeted recalls, such as alerting patients whose contact lens agreements have expired, and “recycled recalls” of those who were already phoned but didn’t return the call to confirm an appointment. Using Compulink, Jill Scates, manager of the two-office Salinas, Kan., practice of Frank Griffith, OD, can identify those who are not showing up for appointments. Scates also uses the system on the office’s 10 computers to schedule appointments in such a way that elderly patients, who get in and out of rooms very slowly, are not seen consecutively. That keeps things moving more quickly, she notes.
“We use it for billing, Medicare and insurance tracking and printing up HIPAA forms,” says Dr. Overberg. “It orders contact lenses, glasses, uncut lenses and prescriptions. We use MaximEyes totally.”
Sandy Barnes, business manager for Baller Eyecare Center in Bloomington, Ill., says her office is close to paperless and is “a lot less hassle” to run, thanks to Compulink. The program, which runs on all nine of the office’s computers, serves so many needs that in the course of a 20-minute discussion Barnes scarcely mentioned patient recalls, touting instead the storing of medical records, billing and coding for insurance company purposes.
The same goes for Pamela Bingham, an optometrist in private practice in Redmond, Wash., who relies on MaximEyes to simplify her billing. “Only in the past few months have we begun using it for appointments,” she says.
Dr. Barnes is among those for whom the system saves money by eliminating billing errors and catching underpayments so that patients are alerted. Errors caused by illegible handwriting were common in the paper-and-pen days of billing, but are eliminated by the many point-and-click options. “Anything we print from our medical records package and send off to the referring physician, the referring physician can read easily,” Dr. Barnes says. “It’s not encrypted or coded. You don’t have to enter keywords. The information is readily there and available for the physician to understand it.”
“These days, it’s very hard to move around patient information without a computer system and to use hard charts,” says Robert Glass, OD, who uses OfficeMate Software’s OfficeMate system on the 30 computers and servers in his three Los Angeles-area Eye Styles for Lifestyles offices. “It generates 1,500 patient recall letters a month. I can’t imagine how much time it would take to write out 1,500 postcards. I can’t imagine anyone running a business in my field and not using a patient recall system.”
All users say their systems are easy to learn, albeit time consuming initially. Some users who have upgraded versions of programs note that the modifications take some getting used to. Comments on technical support ranged from “satisfactory” to “up and down.”
Some interviewees acknowledged labor savings, with Dr. Overberg’s claim the most dramatic. He says he reaped such savings in improved efficiency that he reduced 11 staff positions to seven. Dr. Glass was more typical, unable to pinpoint exact savings. “It’s a little difficult to measure because it’s hard to put a dollar figure on recalls or responses to marketing,” says the OD. “But I’m 100 percent positive that we wouldn’t be as successful as we are without it. Even people in the organization who were naysayers in the beginning say that it’s unimaginable not to have the system. It would be like trying to do refractors without a phoropter.”
Overall, Dr. Glass says the computer system has been a good investment. “I look at the computer system as a moneymaking investment, the same way I look at my laboratory,” he says. “I wouldn’t have a surfacing or finishing lab that didn’t generate profits. The computer system generates profitability.”