“Probably one of the pressing issues I see is that doctors are resenting the amount of time and the general pressure of having to do all of that computer work.” Katrina Otto
or needs to be seen urgently. It’s amazing though, how quickly what originally seemed like a huge change becomes normal. It’s like online appointments. I have been gently suggesting this idea in my training sessions for many years. Originally everyone was horrified, saying “I can’t let the patients control my appointment book!” That has moved to “yes, this could have some good aspects” and now it’s really something that’s proven to be hugely popular. Q: Some practices are still a bit reluctant to use online appointment systems as they still want to retain complete control. Is that your experience? A: Yes, although this reluctance is changing by the minute. Personally I think we do need to have a strong element of control over our appointments, just because of the fact that it is health and there are so many variables and so many complexities with the bookings. Systems like Health Engine are good if the practices are actively seeking new patients, but a lot of practices are struggling to find appointment times for their patients or haven’t had a new patient in years. They are so full and they are so busy. We need flexibility in our technology as practices work so differently. One of my clients who I consult for has a city practice and an outback practice. The needs of the two practices are just so different. Health Engine is great for the city practice that is
seeking patients, tourists who are staying in the city who might be looking for the closest medical centre, but the outback practice, they are merely looking to provide a convenient service to their regular patients so they can make appointments when it suits them, especially as they are often shift-workers. There are different products for different needs and I think for software programs to be really helpful, they need to give us integrated solutions that factor in that variability, give us all the options we could possibly need. Q: In New Zealand, practices are moving towards providing a patient portal that allows online bookings, reviewing of test results and even text or email correspondence with the doctor. Is that likely in Australia any time soon? A: Yes, I think these options will become more common in Australia soon. Where I have heard about that working well now is mainly corporate city practices. One of the practices I consult for in Melbourne is very progressive. Every patient gets notified of their test result because they have an online portal – the doctors write a comment about the result and the patient logs on and reads what the doctor has written. Obviously if there is something urgent the patient is contacted directly but from a practice management perspective this is quite amazing – every result is notified with clear audit trails and protection built in. This works because
of the type of practice it is though and they are now moving forward with online health consultations and telephone health consultations. There are no rebates but the patients are happy to pay in that demographic. Different options for different practices. We need to have these conversations, float these ideas around our practices. Just like online appointments we need clear rules set up about what we want to use, who can access and how, and clear audit trails, especially around access. Q: Talking to many practices around the country as you do, what are the hot topics in terms of IT? A: What is worrying doctors at the moment, more than anything I would say, is the demands of clinical documentation and how much they are expected to document. I get a lot of comments along the lines of, “I can only see four patients a day now because of all of this computer work”, or “So at some stage, will I be able to make eye contact with the patient?” Probably one of the pressing issues I see is that doctors are resenting the amount of time and the general pressure of having to document and follow up everything. “I am a clinician not a data entry clerk” is another common comment I hear. For the principals, it’s about having to maintain all of this, having to pay for it. For the practice managers it is the challenge of keeping up with all these technology changes. I see it as the practice manager’s job to embrace technology and to lead the change. I find people will embrace change if they as they can see the benefits and are involved in the decision making of that change process. Katrina Otto is owner and principal of Train IT Medical, and offers software training and practice management consultancy services across Australia. An experienced practice manager, she has been delivering accredited qualifications in medical administration and technology for the past 20 years.
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