Education And Debate


BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 23 September 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:864
  1. Andrew Millman,
  2. Nicholas Lee,
  3. Andrew Brooke

    Appointments and referrals

    Computerised appointment systems offer great flexibility in making and checking appointments but have to be extremely well written to be more usable than the traditional appointment book at the reception desk. One strength of the book is that it readily allows the receptionist an overview of activity in the practice, whereas computerised systems often show just one doctor's appointments at a time, making it more difficult to spot gaps where an urgent appointment could be fitted in.

    Use of traditional appointment book

    Computerised systems do, however, have several useful advantages. Good systems automatically offer patients a choice of dates and times. Access to the appointment system is available at all terminals in a practice, and it is therefore possible for a doctor or practice nurse to make a follow up appointment before a patient leaves the consulting room. Making an appointment this way can be as simple as typing 2W or 3M (for two weeks or three months respectively). The system then searches for a vacant slot at about the right time. This relieves some of the pressure on receptionists, freeing time for other clerical tasks.

    Computerised appointment system.

    Most computerised systems automatically generate lists of patients to be seen by each doctor. During a consultation, the relevant list can be viewed on the doctor's terminal. Simply pointing to a name on the list calls up the patient's record, saving the time taken to search for it. Computerised systems also provide practices with statistics on consultation rates and workload and can be used to audit waiting times and to help practices to meet the targets set in the patient's charter.

    General practitioners write many referral letters each week, making a great deal of work for a practice secretary. Good letters contain details of a patient's medical history, …

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