Last year at this time, I was still working at a traditional fee-for-service practice. I was seeing countless patients, trying to squeeze as much as I could into my day, and would sit down at the end of the day to begin returning patient calls. By the time I called my patients, I would usually get their voicemail and thus would trigger a seemingly never-ending game of phone tag.
When I joined R-Health, I was excited about the opportunities provided by Direct Care. One of the most intriguing features of R-Health practices was the enhanced doctor-patient communication through a HIPPA compliant mobile app that is downloaded to both the physician’s phone as well as the patient’s. Patients can use the app to communicate non-urgent medical questions at any time. As part of my initial visit with new patients, I explain the app and how they can use it to communicate with me and my Health Guide. I have had patients reach out to me through the app, not only with medical questions, but have received follow up information after an appointment, photos of rashes, and pictures of medication bottles to verify names and dosage strengths.
And the best part – it eliminates the countless rounds of phone tag. Patients send me a message using the app, I return their message, and if needed, we can schedule a time that is convenient for us both for a call or an appointment.
After-hours, I can triage their care and often schedule them to come into the office that same day or next day. My Health Guide, our medical assistant, will often come in to the office the next morning and find that I’ve added patients to the schedule from our after-hours app communications.
You may be asking yourself, but how do you have any down time if patients can reach you 24/7? What I’ve found to work best is that I schedule certain times in the evening to check the app and respond. I am clear with patients that the app is for non-urgent issues, and they should reach me on my cell phone for any urgent medical concerns. With this approach, I can maintain a great work-life balance while still being proactive and accessible to my patients.
I’ve also found that when patients know they can send me a message at any time, make an appointment with me the same-day or next-day, and generally have better access to me – they are more at ease. By building a trusting relationship, one with mutual respect and appreciation, I find I rarely receive inappropriate calls or messages during evening and nighttime hours.
Practicing in Direct Care – and with assistance of the mobile app – has given me back control. I can practice medicine the way that I think is most effective. I can spend the time I need with my patients, whether that’s face-to-face in the office, via text message on our secure app, or over the phone.
Dr. James Bancroft is a family physician at R-Health New Brunswick.