Monday, December 15, 2003

Old fashioned values, 21st Century gear

Things are progressing as I slowly move towards opening my solo practice.

I started moving in a week ago, much to my pleasant surprise. I thought the acupuncturist might end up staying past his 30 day notice, but he did not. The sink fit, but the carpet got soaked from the installation. No matter, as that is going to be replaced.

The cable installers came today, and installation was a breeze. I assigned myself an email address to be used exclusively with the practice. I had originally thought that HIPAA required that any email communication had to be via a secure encrypted server, which meant going with a free service, like the ones offered by the California Academy of Family Physicians or by Medem. Or you could pay $50/month for secure email through RelayHealth.

The problem with CAFP's site is that it is not fully compatible with Macs (my platform of choice), so I and my Mac-using patients would be left out of some functions. Since I am in California, I hope that CAFP can fix the website to allow full functionality for Mac users. In fact, I'm going so far as to volunteer to be on an advisory committee on technology issues for CAFP to make sure that it eventually comes to pass.

Medem is advertiser-supported, meaning your free website has to display ads, unless you choose the non-sponsored version which costs $30/month. The email service is called an "online consultation" and permits physicians to charge a fee if they want to or not. My reading on the subject so far has been that very few patients are interested in paying for email communication (or phone calls) with their doctor.

RelayHealth looks like a great site and I have used their eScript prescription refill service at Kaiser. It works well. But they do charge quite a bit, basically $600/yr. If I ever consider hosting my own website, maybe I'll consider them again.

My interpretation of HIPAA is that while secure email is best, unsecured email is permitted as long as you disclose to the patient that this form of communication is not totally confidential, and that as long as they understand this and agree to this avenue of communication, then a physician is not going to be penalized for using regular email. We'll see how well things work.

How will I get patients in my new practice? I hear this question a lot.

Word of mouth, of course. I am getting more and more requests from people/friends as to when my practice will start, and what kind of insurance I will take. We had a Christmas party last weekend, and one friend said she already has 5 families lined up for me whenever I'm ready. I even handed out some homemade business cards my daughter made on the computer, just so people could get the word out.

One of my daughter's friend's father is a graphic designer who just recently left a big graphics design firm to start his own business (just like me!), and he offered to help me design something for free (although we eventually agreed we would barter his services for a complete check-up). He showed me his designs today for identity logos which blew me away with how professional they looked. To paraphrase an old movie line, "I could be somebody!" with business cards that looked like they belonged to a Fortune 500 company, rather than a one doctor operation in a small suburb. The hard part will be trying to decide among the 6 great designs he came up with and choose which one will represent me.

Email. Business cards. Logos.

It is all part of an image I will be trying to present to my target population. That of a caring, community-oriented, small-town family doctor who is also extremely accessible and technologically savvy. Old fashioned values, 21st Century gear.

Countdown: 21 days until target start date