Advantages of Online Appointments

Crutchfield Dermatology WebsiteNational report — Jessica J. Krant, M.D., M.P.H., says one of her goals at her Fifth Avenue, New York, dermatology practice is to go totally paperless. So she has implemented several online options — including appointment booking — that not only eliminate paper, but also help streamline the office’s workload.

“Patients love it,” she says.

Dr. Krant is not alone. Dermatologists nationwide are encouraging their patients to use the Web. The big trends are online scheduling, bill paying, completion of intake forms, and doctor-patient communication, says Brian Moloney, managing partner of Imaginary Landscape, a Chicago-based Web development agency specializing in the healthcare industry.

“These are what we consider tools of convenience,” he says. “Pretty much no one relishes going to the doctor or hospital. So what these tools are meant to do is minimize the engagement, to allow patients to interact on their own schedules.”

Doctors who have made the switch say their patients appreciate the convenience. Such options also can save time and boost practice efficiency, from the intake process onward.

Dr. Krant says her system, for instance, allows her to easily capture patient data. Her website links to a secure patient portal that allows patients to fill in demographic, insurance and medical history information. That data then feeds directly into matching fields in her practice management and electronic medical record (EMR) system.

“This way, the information is already in my system in an active way,” she says. “(It) doesn’t need to be typed by staff and can be reviewed and updated easily.” Another helpful feature, she says, “is that I can customize whatever I want … including things like pharmacy preference for e-prescribing.”

Many options

Dermatologists say they’ve had positive experiences with a variety of online options.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, M.D., of Eagan, Minn., for example, offers online bill payment, which he calls “just a great idea.”

“Patients will sometimes pay their bills in the evenings or on the weekends,” he says, “and if there is a need for an immediate payment to be made, they can go directly online and make their payments in a secure manner to our clinic.”

Several practitioners also say they offer some type of online appointment-scheduling capability — a popular feature with patients — although their policies vary.

Dr. Krant’s website links directly to a scheduler where patients can select an appointment time.

“The (Web-based) scheduler reads my office schedule and keeps up to date with open appointment slots,” she says. “The office is then contacted, and we confirm by email that this appointment has been created.” Patients can make selections even when accessing the schedule late at night or over the weekend.

Some doctors prefer not to grant direct access to the office schedule. Dr. Crutchfield says he doesn’t allow patients to make their own appointments, but rather he offers them the capability of requesting appointments online, then receiving a call-back.

That option is popular, too. “We are scheduling anywhere from 40 to 70 patient appointments per week through the online requests,” he says.

Tina S. Alster, M.D., offers online patient intake and appointment requests at her Washington, D.C., dermatology practice, but not online appointment booking. She says it would be too confusing for patients to self-book when required appointment times vary, depending on procedure, preparation time and more. Another reason, she says, is that many of her patients don’t want to run into one another in her waiting room.

“Whether it’s different political parties (or for some other reason) … I cannot have them in the waiting room at the same time,” she says.

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