All businesses that want to survive do it. Medicine is no different — and medicine is adapting by allowing patient email access to their physician.
If new technologies or practices immediately cause you to think of increased workloads and decreased compensation, you need to start thinking outside the box.
For example, let’s take a look at a recent article published at AMNews entitled e-mail means fewer patient calls and visits.
A Kaiser Permanente study showing that physicians who e-mailed with patients saw a drop in visits raises the specter that online communication might reduce revenue.
The article headline might sway you into thinking that you’ll take a paycut. We all know that’s the last thing you want. However, the article actually shows that allowing email access to physicians offers greater practice flexibility, time efficiencies and marketing power. This is a very good thing.
Positive Work Hour Control and Easy Documentation
Remember, the key is to find ways to adapt to changing business practices, but to make them work for you in a positive way. Naysayers will see an inbox full of patient complaints, decreased patient visits and an overall drop in revenue. I see positive benefits across the board.
- You’ll have better time control.
Instead of answering the phone and turning a 3 minute explanation into a 25 minute conversation, with email you’ll be able to deliver the relevant information to the patient and save loads of time. Physicians would be better off to phase out phone consults altogether. Times are a changin’.
“It’s like taking a phone call at your leisure. I almost never talk to patients on the phone. I find when I do, it’s like an office visit, it’s like 20 minutes,” she said. “I will do the e-mail with them because I can control how much time I spend on it, and I can control when.”
- Documentation will be on easy mode.
A phone call is difficult to log. Physicians still have to manually write notes and keep track of the conversation. With email, physicians can either a) print out the entire conversation and place it in the patient’s chart or b) save the email and place it on the patient’s electronic chart. More time saved.
So far, physicians have been reluctant to begin offering email to patients across the board due to the lack of reimbursement. There are some payment models currently being tested.
Medem, whose owners include the AMA and other medical societies, allows patients to e-mail doctors’ offices free of charge. But to e-mail a doctor directly, a patient has to enter a credit card number and is charged for an e-consultation. There are about 10,000 doctors using the system. Dr. Fotsch said the charge for e-consults is typically the same as a co-pay, which makes the insurer’s involvement in the process unnecessary.
This is a beautiful system. Free access to email the office, but a charge for direct-to-physician contact all covered by insurance.
The Targeted Consumer
Patient’s who prefer to email physicians are targeted consumers. They have health concerns and are looking for a solution. Whether you charge for direct email access or not, you can collect email addresses and offer a free newsletter about health maintenance, deliver lab results to patients electronically, send appointment reminders, and best of all — stay in constant contact.
Contact Means More Revenue
If you change practice locations, how many of your patients will follow? More if you contact them on the regular basis. To make this worth your while, you’ll need to draft up a series of email messages that are sent to your entire patient list. Using some email list management software, these messages are personalized just like you wrote them one-by-one, but they are actually done in bulk. To the patient, you are staying in constant contact. To you, it means a few extra hours of work one time that can pay off for years to come.
Here are some additional ideas of content you can send to your patients on a regular basis:
- Health news, highlights, and videos
- Healthy cooking, recipes, and shopping advice
- Skin and beauty tips
- Sleep remedies and tips
- Dieting and tips for weight loss
- General health and wellness information
Hopefully you’ll be able to apply some of this to your own practice one day. Remember the importance of thinking outside of the box — it can pay off for years.