Larry Emmott, DDS
The "people element" of computer use is at least as important as the hardware and software systems.
In the past, it was common for a dental office to develop a "computer maven" - the only staff member who knows everything about the computer. The maven makes all entries and is the only one who really understands and knows how to use the computer.
What happens when your computer maven quits? Nobody else knows how to close the daily accounts, process insurance, or send statements. How much turmoil will that cause? How much will it cost you in lost business, stress, and patient frustration by the time you hire and train a replacement?
A complete computer system with chairside workstations is great insurance against people-related, maven-like systems catastrophes. With multiple computers and treatment-room entry, everyone is cross-trained and learns the system. Steve Seltzer, a dental computer consultant, estimates that 3 to 5 percent of gross production in a typical general practice is lost revenue due to human errors and omissions. This is work you are doing that never gets billed out.
Chairside workstations with direct entry of treatment by the dentist or clinical staff recapture nearly 100 percent of this lost production. Seltzer says, "From a financial, quality-of-life, and risk-management perspective, you can`t afford not to have chairside workstations. I`ve never been in an office producing at least $20,000 a month where I couldn`t easily justify the cost of chairside workstations."
How much are you willing to pay for training? If the staff or, worse yet, the maven is self-taught, how inefficiently will they run your office due to lack of training? People are part of the overall office systems; it isn`t just computers. Attempting to implement a complete computer system without training is financially foolish. You will save much more in increased efficiency than you will spend on training.
Plan ahead and budget training costs as part of your continuing education. A useful rule of thumb is to budget 1 percent of gross income to training.
Training must be ongoing. It isn`t good enough to have a half-day session the day before you activate a computer program. Ongoing training is important for new staff members, as is learning new updates, cross-training, and gaining knowledge of the complete use of any program.
The most important staff member who must be trained in the use of a computer is often neglected - the doctor. The more you know about the computer and the programs in the office, the more "maven protection" you will have.
According to Seltzer, a good computer system gets "sick" one day every two years. Staff members get sick more often than that. It`s always a problem when a key element of your office is sick, whether it`s the computer, office manager, assistant, or curing light. However, with good human systems and training, there are ways to cope safely with all of these problems.
The future is coming and it will be amazing!
Dr. Larry Emmott is a practicing general dentist in Phoenix, Ariz. He also is an entertaining, award-winning professional speaker who has addressed hundreds of professional groups. He is a featured speaker at the Las Vegas Institute, and a member of AADPA. He has written many articles for national magazines on dentistry, computer use, and management. He produces a monthly newsletter on management and computer use in the dental office. He has developed and maintains a Web site at www.drlarryemmott.com; his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.