By Tony Northrup
You're always looking for ways to make your doctor's office more efficient. After all, the less time you spend dealing with paperwork and trying to catch a moment with a doctor, the more time you will have for spending with patients. You probably already rely on Microsoft Office System products, such as Microsoft Office Word 2003 and Microsoft Office Excel 2003, but there's another Office product you might not be aware of: Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003.
By using SharePoint Portal Server, you can easily communicate with and share documents with staff members in your office, even if they're not in the office at the same time as you. SharePoint Portal Server is so easy to use that even the doctors can use it!
Setting up your portal
A portal is a Web page that links to many different resources. Using SharePoint Portal Server, you can set up a portal that shows a little bit of everything going on at your office, such as:
- Staff members' vacation schedules
- Office news
- Upcoming events and meetings
- Important documents
- Staff members' contact information and phone extensions
Unlike other Microsoft Office System products like Word and Excel, SharePoint Portal Server requires a server. A server is a dedicated computer that everyone on your network can connect to, but which is not used as a desktop computer. If you don't have an IT department that can set up a computer to run SharePoint Portal Server for you, don't worry; companies such as Microsoft and Apptix can provide a server for SharePoint Portal Server at a modest monthly fee.
Note If you do contact your IT department to request SharePoint Portal Server, be sure to ask for SharePoint Portal Server 2003. This is to distinguish it from the product Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services, which lacks features that staff members in a doctor's office would appreciate.
When SharePoint Portal Server is first installed, you can visit the portal page by starting your Web browser and entering the URL, which will resemble http://server/. From here, it's easy to customize the default portal page with your own news, events, and documents.
Adding a news item
To add a link to a news article on the Web or a news item that you want to write yourself, follow these steps:
- On the news Web site, click News, and then click Add News.
- Type a title and description for the article, select who in the office should see it, and then click OK. The news item appears on the home page.
Adding an upcoming event
To add information about an upcoming meeting or vacation, follow these steps:
- On the events Web site, click New Item.
- Type a title, such as Dr. Baker on vacation or Support staff meeting.
- In the Begin and End boxes, type the start date and end date for the event.
You can also type a description and location, and choose how often the event occurs.
- Click Save and Close.
To share a document so that others can view or modify it, follow these steps:
- In the appropriate document library, click Upload Document.
- Click the Browse button, select your file, and then click OK.
- Type the name of the file owner and a description in the appropriate boxes.
- In the Status list, select a status such as In Review or Final.
- Click Save and Close.
- Then on the Add Listing page, type a title and description, and click OK. Now, everyone who visits the portal will be able to open the document by clicking a link on the home page.
Using the SharePoint template for a doctor's office
To make it even easier to set up your own SharePoint site, Microsoft has created a predesigned SharePoint template specifically for doctor's offices. Setting up a site with the template is easy — just open the ReadMe.html file included with the template, and follow the step-by-step instructions. You'll need Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003, also part of the Microsoft Office System, installed on your computer to apply the template to your SharePoint site.
After you have the template set up, you can customize it by using FrontPage 2003. The template has all the capabilities of the standard SharePoint portal, including the ability to add events and news. The template also adds several features useful to doctors' offices:
- Events page This page is a full-featured calendar with monthly, weekly, and daily views for you to keep track of office events. Anyone can add new events to the calendar by clicking New Item. By using this electronic calendar, everyone will be able to keep track of what's happening in the office. If your IT department configures the portal for remote access, staff members can check the portal from their home computers.
- Continuing education links The template includes several important Continuing Medical Education (CME) links, but you can add your own links as well. Putting these useful links in one place can help physicians save time as they work to meet their CME requirements, even if they're not computer savvy.
- Human Resources page This page stores documents that cover internal policies, procedures, and benefits. The Human Resources page is a great reference for new employees. It can also save you time because you won't have to answer as many questions about benefits from staff members. If you show them how to access the Human Resources page from your portal, they can conveniently find answers to their questions.
- Insurance Documents page This page lists your accepted insurance plans and documents covering physician guidelines for different plan policies. Although the template provides sample documents, you will need to add information about your own plans by clicking New Item. As guidelines and policies change, you can update the list with just a few clicks. Because the documents are computerized, you won't have to worry about lost or outdated paperwork.
- Staff List page On this page, you can create a list of staff members and include information such as their phone extensions, titles, educational backgrounds, specialties, and spoken languages. The staff list is a great reference for determining who can best answer patient questions, and it will help new employees and temporary staff become more efficient with less training. You can also customize the information that you store about each staff member.
- General Discussion page It can be challenging to communicate with everyone in the office, especially if staff members work multiple shifts. This page can be used for discussions in SharePoint Portal Server to have conversations with the entire group. This is perfect for low-priority topics that might never be addressed otherwise.
- Appointments and billing Add links to your own internal applications for managing your appointments and billing information. These applications are not included with SharePoint Portal Server, but SharePoint Portal Server makes it easy to integrate them into your Web site.
You can use the doctor's office SharePoint template to quickly set up your Web site, but it doesn't limit what you can do on your site. You can delete any of the links that you don't want, and you can add links for just about anything you can imagine. You can change the colors and pictures, too.
About the author Tony Northrup, MVP, MCSE, and CISSP, is a technology consultant and author of dozens of books and articles about using Microsoft Windows and Internet technologies. He writes to help people safely use technology to communicate, share, and learn.