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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor March 14, 2007 - Tip #269 
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Appointment Schedule on Paper vs. Computer

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I'm surprised at the fairly high number of eye care practitioners that I speak with who still use a paper appointment book. Even among offices that use popular office management software programs, which obviously offer an electronic appointment system, there are a significant number that stick with the book. I think many of these doctors and staff members believe that the book is easier, but there are many benefits to computerized appointments that make it the clear winner in my opinion. I think most paper appointment book users don't know what they're missing.


Most of the time, offices that still use paper appointments are middle to smaller sized offices that think the benefits won't apply to them. Actually, most of the benefits I know of apply to any size practice as you'll see below. Since receptionists and staff members are the main people who schedule appointments, the resistance to going electronic is often traced back to them. Some staff members do not like technology and some simply have not had the proper training and practice on the electronic appointment system. Once you jump in and start using the appointment section of nearly every major office management program on the market, you'll find it's pretty easy to master.

Advantages of electronic scheduling

Here are some of the advantages to keeping your appointment schedule on your computer.

  • The computer appointment module is faster and easier once the staff is experienced with it. You may not think so at first, but just watch an experienced receptionist in action in any eye care office. Most appointment programs allow you to search for available slots by first available appointment, by doctor, by day of the week, by date and month, by evening hours, by length of slot and more. Each search can be done with just a few keystrokes. Many also have a week at a glance feature. Turning pages in a book is not that fast.
  • It allows multiple people in the office to access and schedule appointments at the same time. This is not just a benefit for larger offices. Many average practices have technicians placing follow-up calls, opticians needing to schedule a recheck, multiple receptionists taking phone calls, an office manager calling a patient back, and a doctor who wants to review tomorrow's schedule. Of course, multiple access requires multiple computers, but networking is so easy today and computers are so inexpensive that I strongly encourage that. Multiple access of all records is a huge advantage of computerization.
  • You can easily print copies of today's appointments to post at key places in the office. Patient names can be checked off as they are seen, technicians can initial the people they worked with and doctors can keep an eye on who is coming in order to stay on time.
  • The appointment system will interact with your recall system and will remove recall notices (or lists) for patients who have already scheduled appointments. It also allows you to send a second notice or place follow-up phone calls to patients who were recalled, but have not yet scheduled. Try doing that with the paper book.
  • The opening computer screen for each patient indicates the date of the patient's last exam in your office. How helpful is that when your staff is talking to a patient over the phone who wants to buy more contact lenses?
  • The main screen for each patient record also shows the next appointment scheduled. This is also very helpful with every patient interaction.
  • It's easy to make sweeping schedule changes in the future - such as closing off lunch periods or taking certain days of the week off.
  • You could make appointment scheduling an interactive feature for patients on your practice website. Not everyone will want to offer this, but many people love the convenience. Not all slots are available or visible to the user.
  • There are companies that offer technology that can access your appointment list remotely via the Internet or phone lines and place automated phone calls to your patients to confirm appointments for the next day. This technology works much better than you might think!
  • Today's computer appointment systems offer many flexible features, such as entering notes after the patient's name and differentiating preappoints from new calls. Various lengths of time can be accommodated.
  • Finally, and this one is big to me, you can review your future appointments from any remote location, such as home, on vacation, from your laptop, or from one office to another. Windows XP (and now Vista) operating systems have a feature called remote desktop that allows high speed access of your office computer from any other computer in the world with an Internet connection. It works like you are sitting there. If your appointments are electronic, you can see them and makes changes to them.

Now is the time

Those are some big advantages. If you still use paper appointment books, now is the time to acquire office management software that does it electronically. If you already have an office management system, it's time to dive into the appointment module. Allow your staff to use both the paper book and the computer for a couple weeks if they feel more comfortable, but set a deadline and after that... hide the book and make the switch!

Best wishes for continued success,

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

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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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