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Optometrist Eyes New Technology

This is a discussion on Optometrist Eyes New Technology within the May 2006 forums; Greater use of technology is often equated with a loss of the human touch, but ...

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Old 05-16-2006, 10:49 AM
Join Date: Oct 2004
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Default Optometrist Eyes New Technology

Greater use of technology is often equated with a loss of the human touch, but for optometrist Dr. Jawad Minhas, every minute saved through hardware and software is time he can spend with his patients.

After opening his first optometry clinic in Waterloo, Ont., in 1993, Dr. Minhas grew frustrated as the amount of time taken up by record-keeping and inefficient eye exams exceeded the amount of time he spent actually speaking with patients about their conditions. His new clinic, opened in 2002 and stuffed with advanced diagnostic equipment and office management technology, lets him administer eye exams more quickly, gather more detailed information and spend more time doing what really counts: connecting on a personal level with his customers.

That's not to say that the patients are the only ones benefiting. Use of the latest office management systems has allowed Dr. Minhas to reduce average consultation times threefold. He also has reduced work hours for himself and his staff by more than 25 per cent, and laser surgery consultations that normally take close to an hour now take just a single minute.

"Efficiency is sometimes viewed as trying to establish disingenuous care, and I disagree with that," Dr. Minhas says. "A more efficient office is better able to provide a patient with information, and is better equipped to provide a higher level of care. I feel great when I hear, 'That's the best eye exam I've ever had,' because it's something I strive for."

Dr. Minhas and his staff use an internal computer network to access, update and transfer patient records digitally, eliminating the need for storehouses of paper folders and speeding up staff access to information. Communication in the office is handled with free and fast instant-messaging programs instead of office phones. As a result, Mr. Minhas says the time spent on administrative activities during appointments has been reduced virtually to zero.

Some of the technology is aimed squarely at improving the experience patients have on their visit to the clinic. At computer stations, they can watch videos and animations explaining eye-related medical issues ranging from cataracts and corneas to laser surgery, and they can take home a package of notes for further study. Prescriptions are printed out at the front desk immediately following a check-up.

The efficiencies achieved as a result of this extensive use of technology allow Dr. Minhas more time to talk with patients face-to-face, free of the bookkeeping obligations that he says can bog down typical eye exams. The approach is popular with patients.

"The amount of time he spends with patients is amazing -- he's doing that extra step that no one else does," says John Tsintaris, a Waterloo restaurant owner and one of Dr. Minhas' patients.

"This is a deliberate undertaking, this balance between technology and the human factor," Dr. Minhas says. "I've used all this technology to throw me back to the level of interaction you used to expect from a doctor. Diagnostic machines collect data -- they don't render care. What matters is still personal time with your doctor. You couldn't pay me to go back to the old way of doing things."

Not surprisingly, Dr. Minhas' new practice wasn't cheap to set up. The price tag for the test room, a place where patients can personally check their lens prescriptions, watch a short documentary about glaucoma or have the refractive surface of their eye mapped out and printed in full colour, rang in at roughly $125,000 -- substantially more than the $100,000 he invested for his entire first practice back in 1993.

Add in the cost of the state-of-the-art eye exam lab, and the total investment cost of the new clinic was $500,000.

But his "new way" of working has paid off. The practice recently won a $25,000 Small Business Excellence top prize awarded jointly by Dell Canada and RBC Royal Bank to honour innovative use of technology by a Canadian small business.

And, more importantly, the changes are affecting the bottom line. Gross revenue at the new practice is up 207 per cent compared to the old low-tech office. The patient base is up as well, more than 30,000 strong. All this despite the bombshell of privatization dropped on optometrists in November, 2004, when the Ontario provincial government stopped paying the fee for routine eye exams for people aged 20 to 64. That has resulted in an industry-wide drop in eye prescriptions of about 25 per cent.

"At first, a lot of my colleagues said, 'What . . . are you buying all these computers for? You only need one.' Well, I say yes, it's all incrementally more expensive than the regular practice, but the gains for work environment and the level of care and precision available to patients far outweighs the initial cost," Dr. Minhas says.

"We're not gaining those numbers by spending less time with patients; we're spending more, and it's a better experience for them."
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