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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor September 28, 2005 - Tip #193 
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Using the Internet in Your Practice


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Additional Information

Since this newsletter is only delivered via email, it's a safe bet that you have Internet access, and I would even venture that most readers are fairly tech-savvy. Still, I was surprised to see that a recent survey of million-dollar plus eye care practices revealed that 30% do not have a practice website, and many doctors have personal email accounts, but don't use email as a business tool. It made me think that it would be a good idea to review the practice management benefits of using the Internet and email.

High speed connection

I expect that most people have already converted to DSL, cable or some other form of broadband connection. To really make the Internet work properly, you need high-speed access and always-on capability. Dial-up connections are a thing of the past and you just won't use the Internet and email to a great extent if it's slow, inconvenient, and incapable of displaying attachments, files and graphics with large amounts of data. Don't let the monthly cost hold you back. I'd view it as a small investment that yields one of the most powerful business tools available.

Email

How did we ever get along without email? It is truly a breakthrough in communication, offering excellent speed and privacy, without the intrusive nature of phone calls. It eliminates phone tag and you can read and respond on your own schedule; day or night. Of course, email is only effective if the other party checks for messages, and the more frequently he or she checks, the better it works! So leave your computer on with your email program running at all times, and you'll realize the full benefits and ease of email.

Email has many uses beyond personal correspondence for the doctor. Consider these email business functions, along with a few nuances:
  • Provide business email addresses to key employees, so doctors and staff can email each other, and staff can email labs and suppliers. It's a great way to send messages and ask questions.
  • If staff members have business email addresses, they won't need to check personal email accounts at work, which can lead to a distraction and excessive attention to personal matters. Business email and personal email are separated, and the personal can stay at home.
  • I recommend only one email address for doctors and owners, however. That same email can be delivered to all physical locations where you have a computer and even to your handheld organizer (personal digital assistant) when you're on the go. Be sure to set messages to remain on the ISP server long enough for all your PCs to download the mail; I set mine to stay on the server for one day. With one address, it's easier to give out to people, have printed on stationery and check mail and you can always set up filters within your email software to organize messages, if desired. If you do have multiple email addresses, you can have the seldom-used ones invisibly redirected to your preferred address, so you only have to check one place. Speak to your internet service provider (ISP) for assistance.
  • Be sure to have all messages downloaded and saved on your computer hard drive. The written record will prove extremely valuable for many purposes; the storage space needed is minimal and can always be cleared later.
  • Consider hosting your own domain name using your practice name. Speak to your ISP about this service, and how to obtain additional email boxes for your staff. Your domain name can serve as your web address and your email address. Check availability of names with your ISP or at networksolutions.com.
  • Email other doctors about inbound or outbound referrals. The ability to attach photos and other electronic files is a nice plus.
  • Email your patient base to send recall notices, practice newsletters and announcements. It's a good idea to start collecting email addresses for every patient as part of your patient history questionnaire, and then store them as a special group in your email address book or within your practice management software program. Realize that ISPs often have restrictions on mass emailing, so speak to them about how to accomplish this.
Internet uses for eye care
  • File insurance claims for vision or medical insurance.
  • Order supplies and products directly from the manufacturer or through buying groups.
  • Place orders for glasses to labs, including transmission of frame tracing data if needed.
  • Transmit corneal topography maps and slit lamp photos to fitting consultants at contact lens labs.
  • Host your practice website, which has it's own features:
    • Electronic brochure for your professional services
    • Allow patients to order products from you online, like replacement contact lenses
    • Patients can view frame styles online and even have a virtual try-on
    • Patients can schedule their own appointments online
    • Patients can download office forms for completion, or complete and submit electronically
  • Use online banking services and online bill paying.
  • View websites for other companies - almost every supplier, business associate, company or government body you need to work with has a website.
  • Participate in online optometric chat rooms, forums, and blogs.
  • Obtain continuing education or participate in virtual conferences and seminars.
  • Access maps, check yellow pages, make travel arrangements, read journals and newspapers, and use Internet search engines, like Google.
  • Access your office computer system from home or anywhere in the world. Using high speed connections makes this seem like you're sitting at your office desk. Use software such as PCAnywhere, Reachout, Microsoft Remote Desktop, or establish a Virtual Private Network (VPN). You can check email or Word documents that are stored on your office PC, and even forward a copy to yourself. You can check your office schedule, look up a patient's file, or access your financial software program.
  • Many more uses exist
The Internet offers many advantages to eye care practitioners, and more applications are being developed all the time. Invest in technology and stay active with it to keep your practice progressing.


Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week


A Proud Supporter of

Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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