Imagine a paperless office. Handheld computer terminals contain all your patients’ records for instant access and quick-touch information entry. Conferring with other doctors or obtaining treatment guidelines all can be had at your fingertips. Patient check out and billing can be done electronically. Appointments can be made online and products can be purchased by patients through your website.
It’s not hard to imagine all this technology, because it all exists for the doctor’s office, but the adoption of this technology by chiropractors to support patient care is slow. According to the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC), a non-partisan policy research organization, larger physician practices tend to be more rapid adopters of office technology but, with group practices still rarely found in chiropractic, many chiropractic offices have few, if any, of these technological features.
HSC’s 2001 Community Tracking Study Physician Survey of 12,400 physicians examined the forms of information technology (IT) used in practice to support five distinct clinical functions: obtaining treatment guidelines, exchanging clinical data with other physicians, accessing notes on individual patients, generating treatment reminders for the physician’s use, and writing prescriptions. The results of the survey showed that the vast majority of the physician practices lacked significant IT support for patient care. Nearly one in four physicians surveyed was in practice with no computer or other form of IT support for any of the five clinical functions. Another quarter of the doctors only had IT available for one function. Only 27 percent of the doctors were in offices with IT support for three or more of the functions. Interestingly, of those physicians who had IT support, only 37 percent used technology to access patient records.
“Computerized patient records can be one of the most important ways to use technology to improve patient care,” according to Craig Oberfeld, CEO of QuickNotes, Inc., a leading chiropractic documentation software company. “It took a big push from Medicare toward requiring electronic billing to get chiropractors to switch from paper to digital claims submission; but, now that they are familiar with handling digital patient billing records, it is only natural that they are considering the move to digital treatment records. Chiropractors are realizing the benefits of using technology to manage more of their patients’ care. Hand-held documentation systems can be faster than hand-written notes, and the generated typed notes are more easily deciphered by claims adjusters for faster payment.”
Today’s handheld computers and touch-screens have enormous memory capacity and can hold vast amounts of patient records. Running from treatment room to treatment room, a doctor can carry the handheld unit, access patient records and record subjective, objective, assessment, and plan (SOAP) notes and reminders, by touching a screen or using handwriting recognition technology. Some systems even offer voice recognition for instant dictation and note generation, although there are some talking-speed and enunciation limitations.
Chiropractors may hesitate to purchase technology because of the cost, but they would be failing to recognize the long-term cost savings. Using an electronic patient documentation system can reduce the need for a staff member whose responsibility is typing up patient notes, dictation, or photocopying records to mail to insurance companies. Special report-generating programs can also transcribe SOAP and exam notes into legal care reports. Entering notes electronically can take the doctor less time than it takes to write them by hand or even to dictate, so the total money saved in one year can be as much as $40,000!
“Websites are the number one online marketing tool for chiropractors, but a website should be the beginning, not the end, of an online marketing program,” explains Asaf Ben-Haim, CEO of iMatrix, Inc., a chiropractic website development company. “A standard website, by itself, is only a digital brochure and not much of a new patient generator. However, by leveraging the search engine technologies and offering services like appointment scheduling and an online product store, chiropractors can make their websites more interactive, and attract both new and current patients.”
Online marketing is much more cost effective than mailings or print versions. Electronic patient newsletters, patient reminders and birthday cards can be emailed to patients at no cost, instead of paying 37 cents for a stamp. Online promotions are a fraction of the cost of similar print promotions to reach the same audience. For an office with a limited marketing budget, online marketing makes much more economic sense than local print advertising.
Mark Mandell, DC, MBA is the Director of Business Development at Foot Levelers and was the Medical Staff Chairman of the 1994 World Cup Opening Ceremonies. Dr. Mandell is a popular educator on the business of chiropractic and how to grow the profession. He can be reached at 800-553-4860.