Consider Benefits, Drawbacks of Automating Patient Interactions

The Doctor's Office, January 17, 2008
Automating portions of the patient encounter--such as the initial call or patient check-in--can provide cost savings and help with the number of staff members required, but patients aren't always receptive to these technologies. The office staff members need to decide whether this is the program that will best suit their patients.

"There are going to be some people who just want to talk to a real person, and we should be giving them that option," says Charlene Burgett, administrator at North Scottsdale (AZ) Family Medicine. "There are also many people who would rather go through the automated system than to wait their turn in the calling line."

Bohler says the automated system has been a huge help for the patients at her practice. "I believe this has enhanced the communication abilities of this practice, and with each new change, the patient still has the freedom of choice," she says.

Following is a list of devices to consider in making the flow of appointment scheduling, patient telephone calls, reminders, and confirmations easier in your busy practice.

Interactive voice response (IVR): This is a telephone technology that allows patients to interact with a database to acquire information or enter data. Your practice can set up the IVR system to offer any automated features needed, including office announcements about when nurses and physicians will be available, office hours, emergency calls, prescriptions, after hours, and holiday and weekend calls. Practices can purchase and install basic, self-service, or full configuration models. This system generally fares well in handling large call volumes, particularly in busy physician practices.

Kiosk: This is an interactive display or terminal stationed inside the office and used as a patient check-in method, similar to what a person would do at an airport. The patient would punch in his or her name, and the device updates the demographics and insurance card information before the patient even speaks with a receptionist or sees the doctor. Kiosks save patients from filling out forms and allow receptionists to avoid entering the data into computers and placing daily calls to insurance companies.

Portable buzzer: The buzzer is used for the patient. This allows him or her to tend to other priorities instead of being in the waiting room for a long period of time. If the patient decides to leave the building but stays within range, the buzzer will sound and the patient can then return.

Shannon Sousa is the editor of The Doctor's Office. She may be reached at This story was adapted from one that first appeared in the January edition of The Doctor's Office, a monthly newsletter by HCPro Inc. For information on all of HCPro's products, visit
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