Physicians get access to outpatient schedule

Appointments made on-line

Kettering Medical Center Network (KMCN), of Dayton, OH, is expanding its customers' opportunities to do business on-line by offering physicians the ability to access hospital software and schedule outpatient appointments.

With a successful pilot project already under way, says Jana Mixon, patient access manager for Kettering Memorial and Sycamore hospitals, "we're getting ready to roll out specific abilities for physicians who have privileges at our facility to have their office staff go on-line and directly book an outpatient test."

"This allows the physician to communicate with the patient right there in the office, give the preparation information for the test, and have the patient walk out with [an appointment slip] in hand," Mixon adds. "The physicians do have to follow up with a written order, which they fax to us."

The pilot program, in the office of "one of our busy cardiologists," is going well, she says, and tests are being scheduled without telephone calls. "The physician and his staff can see the schedule and where the openings are. It's a real patient and physician satisfier."

In the past, Mixon explains, the office staff would call in or fax the hospital a physician's order and access staff would "play phone tag" with the patient to schedule the appointment. After connecting with the patient, she adds, schedulers then would transfer the person to be preregistered or preregistration staff would place a separate call. "So you can see [the new process] eliminates several steps."

The pilot project started in the summer of 2005, Mixon says, and the goal is to have at least 30 physician practices up on the scheduling software by the end of 2006.

"We're going into internal medicine, the obstetrics practices — there's not going to be a limit," she adds. "If it will benefit you, we will develop it for you."

The process will be specifically designed for each practice, Mixon says, and there will be limited access based on specialty and needs. "A cardiologist wouldn't have access to obstetrical ultrasound [appointments]."

There is no cost to the physicians, she notes. "It's mainly giving them access to our system. They log on to a secure web site and outpatient scheduling software that is maintained on our system."

The biggest challenge, Mixon says, has been making sure to provide the physician's office with the necessary educational support, "things like letting them know a particular test shouldn't be scheduled at a specific time, different exceptions that need to be made."

To provide that help, she says, the hospital has gotten approval for a full-time position in the central scheduling department and is looking for the right person to fill it. "This [new employee] will be a liaison between the physician practice and us, providing training and support and answering questions."

There is no question that the investment is worthwhile, Mixon adds. "To have the patient walk out of the physician's office with [appointment] information in hand will impact us in a positive way financially, and with customer service and patient satisfaction.

"Any time you can make an investment in efficiency to make it easier for patients and physicians, the payoff is more than you're putting into it," she says. "By rolling out the physician web scheduler, we're pushing [the concept] that as the patient goes home, he or she can register on-line and never even have to call us.

"What we have learned, especially with on-line registration, is that the demand and the need are there," Mixon adds. "We're responding to the public's need and want to manage their health care better by doing things more efficiently."

On-line registration expanding

KMCN realized just how eager some of its customers were to begin registering on-line in 2004, Mixon recalls, when the hospital was looking into doing on-line registration and had developed a test version of an on-line form.

People began using the search box on the KMCN web site to find the test version, fill it out, and send it in, even though the service hadn't yet been offered to the public, she says.

Since that time, Mixon adds, "once we started getting data into the system, we've done some research to find the demographics of those using [on-line registration]. We found that the majority of the registrations coming in on-line were from expectant mothers, so we pushed that. We made sure information [on the process] is included in all the material that is given to those patients, as well as targeting physician practices that send maternity patients to us."

In addition, she says, KMCN has developed on-line registration information for physician offices that inquire about the process.

There still has been no deliberate marketing of on-line registration, Mixon says, and yet the volume continues to increase. "We're now averaging about 10 [on-line registrations] a day, compared to about three or four a day when we started."]