Turn Your Computer into Your Office
By Abigail Scott
Private practice OTs who want to turn their home pages into electronic offices might use James H. Wold, PhD, CCC-A/SLP, as an example. His patients can "visit" him without leaving home. Dr. Wold's 'Internet office' lists his credentials, office hours and clinical services and features a photo of the front desk in his actual office.
In the future Dr. Wold, owner of Medical Speech and Hearing Services, Inc., in Gulfport, MS, hopes to make his website (http://www.hearinginfo.com/hhp/offices/mshs) more interactive and offer remote fittings, follow-up, and troubleshooting of hearing aids on-line.
The electronic office works like the yellow pages, providing potential patients with basic information about a practice, according to James L. Fitch, PhD, CCC-SLP, professor in the department of communication disorders at Auburn University, in Auburn, AL, who helped Dr. Wold design his website. Dr. Fitch has used his own website as an electronic office for his students and faculty. He posts class notes, syllabi, study questions, advising information and office hours.
An electronic office differs from a home page because it has the potential to be interactive, he noted. Clinicians already can submit forms for reimbursement on-line, and eventually patients will be able to receive evaluations and treatment over the Internet.
"Rather than just using the site as a place to post things, you will be able to interact with it," Dr. Fitch said.
Dr. Wold's electronic office includes general information about hearing aids and hearing loss. The information is a public service that enhances consumers' knowledge, which makes them better consumers.
The quality of an Internet office tells a lot about the quality of the practice, Dr. Fitch said. The electronic office can showcase up-to-date technology, allow users to view the general layout of an office, and add to the credibility of the practice.
Practitioners also have the option of listing the cost of services, details about equipment used, and frequently asked questions about general or specific topics in disability.
The concept of the electronic office developed out of Dr. Wold's own tendency to use the Internet for a variety of services.
"I very seldom go to a department store," he noted. "I order things through the Internet and do all my car and hotel reservations. If I do this, I thought, others do, too. I wanted people to be able to use my services the same as other businesses on the Internet." He has received a steady response to the hearing aid information on his website. Most of the individuals seeking information are older adults.
"Older folks are not adverse to computers," he said. "They come in and mention hearing aids they heard of on the Internet."
Even more older adults will have home computers and Internet access in the future, he predicted.
Drs. Wold and Fitch are working on a proposal to make the site an interactive virtual speech and hearing clinic.
"We are almost ready for a demonstration model, which we will present to various third-party payers, rural school districts and rural clinics," Dr. Wold said.
They don't expect to put existing hearing tests on the Internet but design tests especially for on-line use.
Using the Internet for service delivery would be a timesaver for patients, clinicians and faculty alike. Establishing a website decreased the traffic in his office by at least 60 percent, Dr. Fitch reported.
Pediatric clients from rural areas who need therapy often spend more time in the car with their parents than in the therapy room, Dr. Wold said. With an interactive Internet site and videoconferencing, therapy would be less expensive and less time-consuming for families. A clinician can set up a time that the child and parent can be on-line with them to receive therapy. Children who are already familiar with computer technology from playing video games would find the sessions easier to attend to.
Interactive therapy sites can benefit itinerant therapists in rural school systems, who often must drive great distances between schools, Dr. Wold said. In addition, remote clinics could conduct services over the Internet without the clinician or patient having to leave the hospital, rehab facility or home.
Billing, filing, and the documentation of outcomes will be easier with an interactive electronic office, he said. "If therapy is done remotely, a computer would do a better job of keeping track of the number of visits and progress of the patient."
However, an interactive clinic won't replace a human being, nor will it have a major, immediate impact on clinical services, Dr. Fitch stated, "but it will provide an avenue to reach people. This is a growing consumer base."
Clinicians interested in creating electronic offices should learn how to obtain a server, upload and download files, and make changes to files or consult with someone who has technical knowledge about the Internet.
"Ideally, they need someone who is familiar with (occupational therapy), is very computer literate, and is able to solve any glitches that come up," Dr. Wold said.
The greatest challenge to maintaining an electronic office is keeping information current. Dr. Wold's website includes a note that indicates any changes will be posted in a month.
Any changes to a site should be made as soon as possible, Dr. Fitch recommended. "Either learn how to make the changes yourself or deal with a service that will make them on a monthly basis."
Abigail Scott is an ADVANCE contributing editor.