Computer Use in the Ambulatory Care Setting

In a little more than a decade, computers have revolutionized the world of health care. They have assisted in performing sensitive surgeries, diagnosing illnesses, and developing patient treatment strategies. In addition to these dramatic clinical applications, computers have changed the nature of the ambulatory care setting from an administrative point of view, streamlining critical tasks such as patient data collection, correspondence, reports, and insurance claim filing. Yet, by itself, the computer cannot make a medical practice function more smoothly. Talented medical assistants, who understand the uses and potential of the personal computer, are the key behind an effective computerized office.
Inner City Health Care, an urgent care center in a large urban area, recently made the transition from a manual to a computerized system. It was a change long overdue, and it required a great deal of fact-finding and research before office manager Walter Seals could convince the center's physicians to purchase a network of computers for the five-physician center. Once he persuaded his employers of the computer's potential value to the center, Walter, an administrative medical assistant, proceeded very carefully. He spoke with other ambulatory care settings that were already computerized, in order to establish benchmarks, or comparisons. He selected a computer vendor who was familiar with the software needs of a medical office. He made sure all staff would receive training in the use of the computer. Finally, he selected a two-week period when the office was routinely closed for summer vacation to have the computer system installed and operational. Most ambulatory care centers either are or soon will be operating under a computerized system. The medical assistant who is familiar with the many applications of the computer and comfortable in its use is a great asset to any ambulatory care setting.