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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
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
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
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,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.