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Like a growing number of health care systems across the country, Clearwater, FL-based Baycare Health is looking to the Internet to help define the future of access management, says Martine Saber, CHAM, regional project manager for patient access services, and has found that its customers are more than ready to come on-line. "We had a focus group of patients and said, How can we serve you better?’" Saber adds. "You wouldn’t believe how many said, We want to do business on the Internet.’"
While Baycare officials had expected privacy concerns about the Internet to be an issue with their patients — many of whom are senior citizens — that notion was quickly dispelled, she says. "They laughed and said, I do banking and stock trading on the Internet; and if that’s secure enough, I can certainly [register for a hospital stay].’"
With that vote of approval, Saber says, Baycare is building a web site. It will begin by registering obstetrics patients on-line, as other health care organizations have done (see Hospital Access Management, January 2001), and will gradually include its other patient populations, she adds.
Customers now are given an e-mail address where they can send questions about their bills instead of calling the customer service department, Saber notes. "That [usage] has really picked up. Staff are able to respond so much quicker than by phone and we have gotten good reviews from patients."
Baycare is giving physicians access through the web to patients’ medical information and test results, she points out, as well as to any type of demographic information. "They used to have to wait for us to give them a fact sheet." Registrars are getting insurance verification and authorization of patient accounts via the Internet, Saber says. "All of our insurers are getting on the bandwagon. We [obtain benefit information] through the web instead of a phone call."
To facilitate the use of the Internet, she adds, staff are being retrained to do Windows-based rather than mainframe computing. "Our newest version of [Malvern, PA-based] SMS software is Windows-based."
Baycare is encouraging its physicians to participate, which they can do simply by calling the insurance company, signing up, and obtaining a password, Saber says. However, many physician offices still do not use computers, she points out. Those who do, and take advantage of the insurance companies’ web sites, can handle their referrals over the Internet, Saber adds. "They don’t have to call the insurance company or the [other] physician’s office to get authorization."