AF clinic sees appointment efficiency with Web

AF clinic sees appointment efficiency with Web


At Kadena Air Base, Japan, the optometry clinic of the 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron where I work has developed its own Web appointment system to free technicians from doing double duty as appointment clerks.

Until recently, the optometric technicians scheduled an average of 20 appointments by telephone each day and answered many other queries about open slots. It left them little time to perform auxiliary tests on patients or order spectacles.

Capt. Archie Bockhorst developed the Active Server Pages for the optometry clinic's online appointment system.
Last August one technician asked, 'Why can't we book our appointments on the Web?' We investigated and found that some military and civilian clinics use an e-mail appointment request system. We concluded, however, that such a system would add to our workload by requiring the staff to send appointment dates and times by e-mail. There would be no guarantee that patients received the messages or agreed to the dates and times.

We decided the best method was to let patients view all available appointments online, scheduling or canceling via Web browser from home or work, 24 hours a day. Contact with the clinic would be unnecessary prior to arriving for an appointment.

The technicians could print a report of scheduled appointments and enter a patient's information into the Defense Department's Composite Health Care System in about 15 seconds. Our online database could be updated by copying and pasting an ad hoc CHCS report into a text box on a Microsoft Active Server Page whenever new appointments opened up, usually every week or two.

Updating the database takes about three minutes.

When we launched the site for active-duty personnel March 1, the response from patients and staff was so positive that we made it available for the rest of the patient population 15 days later.

The clinic has seen an 80 percent reduction in phone calls. More than 96 percent of our patients say they prefer the online appointment system, and the same number say they would like other military clinics to adopt it.

Patients can see all available appointments in real time. When someone cancels, the slot immediately becomes available to others. Dependents can be scheduled from a home PC or a military computer; active-duty personnel must book appointments from a military computer. E-mail reminders go out at scheduled intervals and have helped cut our no-show rate by more than 30 percent.

Patients can send feedback anonymously to the clinic via an e-mail form sent after an exam is completed. They select a few drop-down boxes, add any comments, then press Submit. Responses are tabulated automatically via a Visual Basic script and displayed on a secure Active Server Page in real time. The response rate has been greater than 55 percent and very prompt.

Just an e-mail away

Patients who have broken their glasses, lost their contacts, are going on temporary duty or just need an appointment right away can sign up to receive immediate e-mail notification when someone cancels. This alone has eliminated a significant number of calls and yellow sticky notes on our monitors.

Technicians do maintenance on the system through a secure Web page. They can cancel appointments; freeze, unfreeze, delete or add appointments; send e-mail and feedback reminders; view survey results; see a daily roster of patients; and, via a separate system developed in-house, check status of orders for glasses.

The only maintenance for the appointment system, developed in-house at no extra cost, is rewriting the ad hoc report code whenever CHCS software upgrades affect it.

Capt. Archie Bockhorst is an optometrist with the 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan. E-mail him at [email protected].


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