Taking Care of Patients More Efficiently with Technology

By Mary Anne C. Murphy, OD March 28, 2016

It's funny to me some days as I reflect about the first time my parents exposed me to technology. My dad had purchased a Commodore 64 back when it was state of the art. I remember sitting down to that computer and reading a magazine that taught me how to program in BASIC. Back then, periodicals gave you the most current information outside of television.

That first Commodore with its wonderfully clickety keys made me fall in love with technology, and I have never strayed. As our world gets more and more tech savvy, we do what we can in our practice to keep up with the times. Investing in technology does not always allow us to take care of our patients any better, but in most cases (but certainly not always and not right away) it allows us to take care of our patients more efficiently.

Let's take a look at some of these items and the effects technology, both intended and unintended, has had on the optometric practice. Starting from the beginning of the patient encounter, online appointment scheduling has delivered a tremendous amount of efficiency to practices. Let's be honest, being able to sit in your pajamas while coordinating your schedule with that of your spouse and children is just fantastic. I wish I could do this for all my health care providers. Patients can pull out their insurance cards and provide the data at their pace rather than fumbling through their wallets while on the phone or in the office to get us the information we want and need.

And these days, the likelihood of a no show is significantly diminished with email and text reminders available through patient engagement platforms like DemandForce, SolutionReach, and WebSystems3. These automated reminders are the mainstay of our patient reminders and our patients tell us without these, they would often forget their appointments. In the event a patient doesn't get a text message when they believe they have an appointment, they will now call, and sure enough, it's usually because they wrote the appointment on their calendar on the wrong day.

Once in the office, technology like UltrawideField Retinal Imaging and the iCare tonometer make the patient experience more pleasant. We've been able to perform corneal topography for decades, but having large, flat-screen monitors in-office help us show the patient what we are seeing and why we are concerned.

Automated phoropters allow us to delegate initial refraction to technicians and the doctors can use the instrument to very efficiently demonstrate “before and after” prescription changes. I am a firm believer that automated phoropters can't really do much more than traditional phoropters, they just do it more efficiently and with less strain on my body.

Sophisticated instruments like the TearLab, LipiFlow, and the BlephEx allow us to take our patient care to the next level. Electronic health records support our practice by making it simple to document care and provide customized resources to our patients.

While some of these innovations are significant investments for a practitioner to make, the return for most is apparent. The humor I find in the situation is that I have two instruments in my practice that have had the biggest "WOW" factor on the patient have been the two things that have cost me the least. First is my wrist-mounted blood pressure cuff. While the purists may argue these are not the most accurate, I am not worried. I am not prescribing blood pressure medications. I am screening these patients, making referrals when necessary. If I am truly concerned, I will pull out a manual sphygmometer. Regardless of the reason I have one, my patients think this little fan-dangled instrument is the best thing since sliced bread. "So cute!" Who knew? I bought these for $25 each on Amazon and we have one in each exam lane. The second "WOW" is the electronic fixation devices we have for children. These little stars twinkle and light up – I think we capture the parents’ attention as much as the children. Again, less than $50 per exam room and WE WIN! Everyone loves these little things.

After the exam, communication with patients through secure messaging and social media keeps them connected. In the optical industry, items that permit virtual try-on, product demos, and the ability to share images via text with other family members makes the experience complete.

The options are endless, and I love that we are in a profession where we can pick and choose what and when we want to incorporate into our office based on the patient experience that we want to create. You choose. You win. Your patient wins. Patients have an expectation for a level of technology in your office synonymous with other parts of their lives. Staying abreast of technological trends in optometric care is essential, but ultimately, the care you provide and the experience you create is paramount. I sleep well at night knowing that even if the batteries run out and one of my instruments cannot perform, they will still receive my best in patient care.

In what ways has technology helped you? What tools are you using now to enhance your practice? Leave a comment below or take the conversation to the VSP Providers Facebook page.

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