Communications and Technology
In addition to providing the best possible care, dentists with smaller practices spend a lot of time tunneling through fiscal and organizational protocols. Receivables, co-pay, reimbursement, certification - this lexicon becomes routine language for the entrepreneurial dental professional.
Some dentists have managerial support to untangle challenging issues, while others rely on willing spouses, receptionists and assistants. Responsibility for financial, staffing and administrative chores, coupled with patient care duties, may fall mostly to the practice owner.
With the average dentist in a solo practice having a patient roster with close to 2,000 active patients (more for a practice with multiple practitioners), each patient generates considerable paperwork, including charts, invoices, insurance claims and other related records.
To meet the challenges of managing and expanding their practices, a growing number of dentists are relying on high-tech tools, with scheduling, billing, claims management, prescription tracking, test orders and results, and clinical notes comprising common applications.
With the goal of a completely "paperless office" still far off for most dental practitioners, a variety of integrated clinical and management programs and software suites can improve productivity and practice revenue by reducing the amount of time spent on administrative tasks.
Digital Practice Management
Technology and digital communications make it possible for dental practitioners to create, store and access their clinical data - and manage the business aspects of their practice - much more efficiently.
Today's dentists can take advantage of products such as practice management software that can handle a wide range of front office, operatory and back office functions.
While capabilities may vary among specific practice management suites, some features to look for include:
- Patient (and staff) scheduling
- Treatment plans
- Digital x-rays, and image management
- Periodontal and clinical charting
- Revenue projections and collection by day or month
- Billing and insurance claims
- Supply management and ordering
- Email newsletter templates and online marketing support
By clearing more time for actually practicing, dentists can improve the volume and quality of care they deliver.
Intraoral cameras can also help patients agree to treatment proposals by allowing the practitioner to demonstrate exactly what's going on within the patient's mouth.
Making the Right Choice
Healthcare providers are encouraged to conduct a bit of research before selecting practice management software or electronic medical record systems.
It's helpful, for instance, to better identify the practice's needs by talking with coworkers. Experts also suggest consulting colleagues with similar operations and disciplines to ascertain what works effectively for them.
Many programs target individual specialties; a family dentist may have different priorities than an oral surgeon. When possible, it's always a good idea to request demonstrations of several products for comparison. For online subscription services, some vendors offer trial memberships.
When making a purchase, be sure to consider:
- Who will be using the software?
- Does the program allow for practice expansion (e.g., addition of another provider or office)?
- Will the software allow access from off-site locations?
- Can the system field scheduling changes and adjustments?
- Does the program recognize all applicable diagnosis and procedure codes utilized in the practice?
Go for software products that multitask across systems and are compatible with existing programs and hardware. Some packages offer productivity features including bookkeeping and accounting, patient information management,
multi-provider scheduling, electronic faxing and electronic prescriptions.
The latest generation of tablet PC offers touch-screen data entry and retrieval, and their small size makes them a convenient addition to often-crowded operatory rooms.
A tablet PC enables dentists to take notes via a virtual or physical keyboard, or by using digital pens directly into practice management suites. Practitioners accustomed to jotting notes on charts often find it easier to record and view information on tablet screens.
Even more important is the tablet's potential for patient communication and education. Practitioners can use these devices to share results, such as x-ray images, when discussing treatment options with patients.
Similarly, patient education software that explains dental disorders can provide, often in frightening detail, illustrations about the potential effects of leaving a condition untreated.
This chair-side consultation allows practitioners to collaborate with patients on treatment plans, and often generates higher revenue by promoting greater acceptance of treatment proposals.
Because they are completely functional laptops, tablets allow users to access electronic record keeping, word processing or any other type of software. Like smartphones, tablet PCs provide secure, wireless connection to desktops, EMR systems, private practice servers and other devices.
Dentists who wish they could take their practices with them wherever they go can pretty much have things their way. Communication technology continues to spawn mobile gadgets that allow practitioners to stay in touch with their practice and patients, and to review patient files from virtually anywhere.
Smartphones can accommodate a multitude of software products geared to dental professionals, including:�
- Mobile medical reference guides for iPhone, BlackBerry and Android platforms. These apps provide access to information on specific drug/narcotic products, interactions, dosage particulars, pricing and more. Leading manufacturers such as QxMD and Epocrates Rx have designed the software to provide continuously updated information and search capabilities.
- Patient data management and charge capture. These mobile software products permit dentists and other medical professionals to access patient information and backend data from hospital, home or anywhere in the field.
- Digital image viewing software allows dentists to view patient x-rays and other diagnostic visual data from any location.
- Dictation programs allow healthcare providers to record patient encounters outside of the office (such as in clinics or emergency situations).
Security: Keeping Patient Data Confidential
With so much sensitive information stored in smartphones and tablet PCs, it's not surprising that HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) has raised concerns around patient privacy and security. In response, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has established guidelines regarding the use of mobile devices in the workplace.
- Provide proper storage facilities for devices and accessories.
- Monitor password selection, encryption and use.
- Establish procedures for reporting lost or stolen devices.
- Enforce all rules regarding proper use of office and mobile devices.