Automated electronic communications systems can improve medical practice business and efficiency

January 13, 2014

Whether you own a practice or work in one, the frustration of an appointment no-show affects everyone. Automatic electronic appointment systems can help to improve the efficiency of your practice, and they can help your patients feel more connected to you and the practice between appointments.

Whether you own a practice or work in one, the frustration of an appointment no-show affects everyone. Having an office assistant confirm appointments can help alleviate this problem, but it can also take away valuable time from attending to other duties and daily patients. Automatic electronic appointment systems can help to improve the efficiency of your practice, and they can help your patients feel more connected to you and the practice between appointments.

Liz Baker, Dermatology Business Development Lead at Demandforce Inc., says using an electronic and automatic communication system can dramatically affect the level of service a practice provides. Demandforce provides services to physician offices such as text-to-confirm appointment reminders, targeted patient e-newsletters and online review management.

For a specialty such as dermatology, a valuable aspect of an electronic communication system that is integrated with the current EHR is being able to narrow down a group of patients by, for example, types of injectable services purchases and amount of money spent, Ms. Baker says. By refining the list of recipients, an e-newsletter can be created by the office staff in less than 10 minutes using templates and then sent to a very targeted group.

“The ability for us to increase per patient spending, drive patients into the practice and reactivate lost patients ... those things are going to be something that's really going to be attractive to any dermatologist out there,” Ms. Baker says.

Tina S. Alster, M.D., has been using an automated electronic communication services in her practice for two years. Dr. Alster is director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and clinical professor of dermatology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington. The features she says she uses the most are automated e-newsletters, email appointment confirmations, automated annual birthday greetings and appointment reminders.

“Since initiation of these services, my administrative staff has been free to take on other projects because they are no longer confirming appointments,” Dr. Alster says. “The entire scheduling and follow-up process has been streamlined, thereby greatly improving office efficiency.”

As for the no-show problem, Ms. Baker says appointment day-of text message reminders can dramatically affect the number of missed appointments.

“Our no-show rates decrease by about 40 percent when offices have a high percentage of cellphone numbers in their system,” she says. “Getting that day-of text allows, let’s say, a mom at a soccer game or grocery store to drop everything and get over to the office and make sure she doesn’t miss that appointment.”

However, if you do decide to invest in an automated communication system for texts, don’t bombard your patients with marketing messages - try to keep them to operational texts, she adds.

Texting and emails aren’t for everyone, and physician offices can opt-out of the services for a particular patient.

Dr. Alster says she’s received positive review about the systems she uses.

“Patients frequently comment on the fact that the e-reminders are much appreciated,” she says. “In addition, patients like being given a ‘voice,’ as the system permits them to leave reviews. I absolutely recommend electronic communication services to other physician practice owners as it streamlines office activity and improves overall efficiency.”