By Ryan C. Wineinger, OD
Electronic health records, combined with patient recall software, can track annual exam schedules and put more patients in your exam chair.
Our electronic health record software has become a vital part of our patient recall program. The system allows our practice to control the recall date/scheduling information from within the EHR. That means that if a doctor or a tech so chooses, they have a simple solution to ensure that scheduling information is set and/or the date of the patient’s next recall is set. Within our EHR, OfficeMate/ExamWRITER from Eyefinity, there is a screen where we document the plan for that patient for that visit. In this screen not only do you record in your EHR what the patient is to do, but you can also control all of the recall information.
The way it works is OfficeMate/ExamWRITER keeps a record of when patients are due for their next visit, and then Websystem3, our patient recall system (see sidebar), pulls that information from the EHR software to automate the sending of recall messages in the form of e-mails, text messages or postal mail.
Your EHR Integrates With
Electronic health record software records and tracks when patients are due for their next appointment, but they do not send the recall messages for you. For that functionality, you must invest in a patient recall system. Here are the two certified systems that OfficeMate/ExamWRITER, the EHR software used by Dr. Wineinger, integrates with.
Websystem3 is a patient-communication system designed exclusively for the eyecare profession. It was designed to help ODs increase patient retention, generate new patient referrals and maximize the profitability of their practice.
• Automated patient e-newsletters
• Appointment reminders
• Online patient forms
• Patient surveys, recalls, thank you notes, no-show letters, Rx-ready notifications and promotional mailers
• Automatic patient messaging by e-mail or text message
• 60-day free trial, no setup fees, no contract required
•OfficeMate database synchronization
Websystem3 says that by using its system with OfficeMate, you can save $1,100per thousandnewsletters sent. This savings is realized when you use Websystem3 to send newsletters to your patients instead of the USPS. Without a prior e-mail database, you can begin using a 60-day free trial version of Websystem3 to evaluate the system and then subscribe monthly after the trial for $199/month.
4PatientCare solutions are tailored to increase staff efficiency, enhance revenue and build patient affinity. You can configure your own communication profile to remind your patients via secure HIPAA-compliant e-mail messages a few days before their appointments, and if the patient hasn’t confirmed, automatically follow-up with a voice-enabled reminder call. You can also text message patients the morning of their appointments.
• Appointment reminders with confirmation and patient-enabled rescheduling (via secure HIPAA-compliant e-mail, SMS/text and phone)
• Appointment recalls (via secure HIPAA-compliant e-mail, SMS/text, personalized postal and phone)
• Product pickup notifications (via SMS/text and phone)
• Web reputation management
• Web-based appointment scheduling
Greater Efficiency and No-Shows Reduced
Our patient recall system delivers a lot of communication with patients, but it’s all done via the backend of our EHR and electronic reminder systems with little staff time required. In fact, we noticed a significant change in our staff’s time after transitioning to EHR-based pre-appointment, especially now that we’re reminding via e-mail with the EHR system integrated with our practice management software. Better yet, we noticed certain patients who before, with paper recalls, came in every other year to every three years now typically coming in on a more frequent basis of every 12 to 18 months.
Move to Electronic Pre-Appointing
In the past 18 months we have transitioned into more of an electronic/pre-appointing scheduling system. We control all of the paper-mailed recalls, electronic communications and pre-appointing all from within the EHR software. When the appropriate reminder dates are set in the system, the system in combination with our patient recall system, Websystem3, does all of the communication for us. The move to pre-appointing has been mostly seamless for us because the system does such a good job of contacting the patients ahead of time to remind them of that pre-appointed visit. Websystem3 interacts with Officemate to send patients electronic reminders one month, one week and one day before their pre-appointed visit.
One of our concerns about pre-appointing was the question of how we were going to keep track of the communications with those patients before their visit to prevent a no-show. Since our EHR system automatically sends those appointments for us, our fears of no shows because of the lack of communication with the patient were relieved. Not only that, but if the patient re-schedules that pre-appointed visit, the system is smart enough to re-set that appointment date and will send the appropriate information for the re-scheduled appointment to the patient. Again, all we have to do is change a recall date or an appointment date in our scheduler and the system does the rest.
Customize Pre-Appointment Settings
One of the neat things about OfficeMate/ExamWRITER, is that doctors can have it the way they want it. Doctors can input all of the scheduling/recall information into the EHR in the exam room to ensure those dates are set if they want to. But if they don’t want to be hassled with documenting that, and they have staff that are excellent with handling that information, they don’t have to and can go about documenting their examination in the EHR. I personally ensure that our recall and/or schedule date is set on every patient whom I see. It’s the first thing I do when I open the patient’s EHR. That way I know that it’s done. If multiple recalls need to be sent to the patient throughout the year, or visits need to be scheduled at different times, that also can be done. Examples of this might be visual field testing and OCT testing two weeks after the eye exam visit, diabetic dilation in three months and an IOP check in six months. All of that can be documented and set up from within the EHR.
Develop EHR-Facilitated Patient Recall Action Plan
1. Consider pre-appointing patients for any visit that needs to occur, if you aren’t already. Any appointments such as one-week contact lens follow-ups, one-month IOP checks, six-month dilations to one-year eye exams should be scheduled before a patient leaves the office. Encourage your staff to switch to a pre-appointing system because with communication tools the EHR system allows you, the no- show concerns that are typically attached to a pre-appointing reminder system are no longer a concern. The system will automatically remind patients of these pre-appointed office visits at frequencies a practice sets in the system.
2. Implement any one of the electronic reminder systems. These systems automatically remind patients of upcoming pre-appointed exams, and also e-mail or text message with reminders that they need to schedule exams, or pick up eyeglasses or contact lenses. Remember, the system does the reminding automatically if you purchase an electronic reminder system that integrates with your EHR. We use Websystems3 with Officemate. Just remember to ask your EHR vendor if they work and or partner with the electronic communication system.
3. Take the pre-appointing, electronic reminder system and set up your EHR communication protocol. For example, when a patient is checking out from today’s visit, here is our protocol: Patient pre-appoints any visits they will need in the next year in addition to next year’s comprehensive exam. They will then start getting e-mail verifications for the pre-appointed visit one month, one week and one day before the scheduled visit. Each of those e-mails or text messages allows the patient to either confirm or reschedule their appointment. Again, these e-mails are sent automatically based on defaults your practice sets up when installing the electronic reminder system. If the patient doesn’t show up for any of the scheduled appointments they will get an e-mail that they missed an appointment. In addition, if the patient misses their comprehensive exam, the next month they will get a paper recall card, which the patient recall system automatically sends. Ideally, patients will respond to the e-mail and text messages we send, but if they do not, we find that a paper message as a final alert is worthwhile.
By using an EHR system to remind patients of upcoming appointments you can reduce no-shows and increase your touch points with patients, ensuring your practice stays top of mind with them.
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Ryan C. Wineinger, OD, is co-owner of Wineinger Vision Associates in Shawnee, Kan. He can reached at: email@example.com.