The Dental Net

Cathy`s e-mail message brimmed with excitement: "We want to chart teeth, make notes, treatment-plan, record intraoral pics and X-rays, e-mail insurance claims and much more on our office computer. What system can do all this?" Cathy is a lawyer-mom-helpmate of dentist-dad-husband Charlie. (My hygienist-daughter saw the e-mail and said, "A lawyer married to a dentist: Is that a match made in heaven, or what?")

Duane A. Schmidt, DDS

Cathy`s e-mail message brimmed with excitement: "We want to chart teeth, make notes, treatment-plan, record intraoral pics and X-rays, e-mail insurance claims and much more on our office computer. What system can do all this?" Cathy is a lawyer-mom-helpmate of dentist-dad-husband Charlie. (My hygienist-daughter saw the e-mail and said, "A lawyer married to a dentist: Is that a match made in heaven, or what?")

Cathy`s questions are on target and the answer is worth sharing, because our office, with two decades of computer experience, has "Been there. Done that." Cathy and Charlie, let me tell you about my colleague Bill and his search for the right PMS (practice-management system).

A few years ago, Bill refused to consider a fine PMS because, "The guy was two hours late for the demo!" That`s really no worse than buying a system because either the demo was beautiful or the salesperson was.

Today, Bill requires a new system, one that can do more `stuff` and one that has more than sporadic support. He found that either a late salesperson, a "bells and whistles" demo or deceptive sales literature is not enough.

In truth, I have never seen sales literature that was untruthful. However, I have seen a sack of convention literature that carefully skirts the truth, misleads and draws attention away from PMS weak and flawed system ails. It`s up to you to sort clean files from "@#&:<@>?$%," which, of course, is garbage.

Here`s a PMS selection protocol that makes sense: 1. Check a system in several offices that are the size you want to become. Computer teacher Steve Seltzer of the Boston-based Seltzer Institute, says, "Anything can be done on a demo." At first, you may not know what you want. But during your dental-office visits, keep good notes and your system will emerge from the haze, Seltzer adds.

2. Choose from mature, national PMSs. Seltzer says systems that meet these criteria, ". . . have the bugs out, have a proven track record of support and provide regular enhancements." The August 1996 issue of Dental Economics is an excellent resource plus PMSs exhibit at major dental meetings.

A few quick points: a. Once your new system is running, answers to your dental questions will flow to your office over telephone wires. Those answers are called `support.` Your parent company can be a continent away and still serve you.

b. Buy hardware from your PMS company, not from a well-meaning friend.

c. Buy a PMS that has all the features you can imagine, even if you don`t plan to use them now. For example, if a PMS cannot e-mail insurance claims, move on, for soon all claims will be sent over the wires.

d. If cash is a barrier, lease the system.

Cathy, in your law practice you perhaps performed mundane legal chores before you tried the big case. Charlie did the same when he filled a buccal pit before he restored an MI on No. 8. In my experience, the team should first master the business use of computer systems before addressing the clinical side.

To computerize a dental office, the entire team-staff and doctor-must become hands-on users. They must be able to make appointments, create patient-care forms, assemble appointment and calling lists, prepare and present both treatment and financial plans and enter clinical notes.

In addition, business staff must fluently create work excuses, prescriptions, receipts, billing statements, credit reports, e-mail insurance claims, verify credit cards and personal checks, print receipts, age accounts receivable and develop lists of management data. That`s where the program starts. Key word there: `starts.`

Beginner functions like these are the minor legal work or the buccal pit filling, so to speak. And, yes, one system can perform all those functions and our office uses monitors and printers chairside-to create treatment plans, enter clinical notes and make appointments.

What are clinical functions? Usually charting, CDR (computered dental radiology), intraoral photography, informed consent videos and interactive patient treatment-planning.

An office `network` combines clinical and business functions. Your PMS must have network capability, or do not buy. If you see a system demo that seems to combine clinical and business functions, see it work in an office the size you want to become before you buy. There are many systems clamoring to be first in networking. Not all of those PMSs will prevail. Be sure you do.

The author practices dentistry in Cedar Rapids, IA. His latest practice-building book, Anatomy of a Successful Dental Practice, is available from PennWell Books at 800-752-9764. Address E-mail commentary to duanedds@ia.net.

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