Get wired up


Get wired up

Oct 01, 2006

Two tin cans and several yards of string worked fine when you were 8 years old, but now you need some serious communication tools in your practice—tools that will help you coordinate appointments and emergencies, and communicate changing client information with your staff. Easier said than done? Taking the next step may be easier than you think. And the latest communication tools can do a lot to ward off crises and improve efficiency.

Susan Miller, co-founder of Christopher B. Miller, DVM, PC, a 100 percent ambulatory practice based in North Salem, N.Y., and her team take the cake for dealing with what some might view as a potential communication nightmare waiting to happen. Half of the team moves to Florida to work at horse shows in the winter. Yes, that's right. Half of their four doctors, four office staff members, two full-time technicians, and several part-timers hit the road.

"I can't imagine operating without technological tools like cell phones and pagers," says Miller. "We've always been ahead of the game with technology and when we opened the practice in 1997 we knew that to be successful, we'd need to tap technology right away."

Tools you can use

Everything's wireless these days so you're no longer tied to your office thanks to the latest technology in cell phones, laptops, and PDAs. "I heard a quote once that said good technology makes your desk irrelevant," says Dr. Andy Clark, CEO of the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky. "It's true. These systems let you be where you're productive, yet you're in touch with your team."

Beyond basic text messaging and voicemail, some phones come with all kinds of bells and whistles from high-speed, built-in Web browsers to e-mail access. And a laptop you carry with you in your truck could provide even more communication options.

Each doctor at Miller's practice is equipped with a cell phone, BlackBerry, pager, and laptop. And every day her staff uses e-mail and text messaging to reach doctors in the field. The method the team uses to communicate with the doctors depends on the priority of the message.

"If something's really urgent, we'll page the doctor," says Miller. "And if we need to make a quick change in the schedule, like we need the doctor to make a stop down the road to see a patient or answer a question, we'll send a text message. For just about everything else, we'll send an e-mail."

On the doctors' end, they enter the day's records into the laptop and then network to the server. This approach keeps everyone—everywhere—up to date. "When the doctors are in Florida," says Miller, "they can work remotely so that the staff members that stay behind are up to date." Yes, you too could communicate with such ease.

Dr. Keith Wagner, owner of Equine Health Solutions in Raymore, Mo., equipped his truck with a laptop that's updated daily with the practice's appointment book. If any changes occur in the schedule, the receptionist notifies Dr. Wagner via cell phone. The computer also gives Dr. Wagner easy access to patient's medical records. "We transfer information into the laptop every day," he says. "Having it in the truck has been indispensable." And the set up lets Dr. Wagner bill and collect at the time of service. "Without a computer, I just couldn't do that," he says.