Duane Schmidt, DDS
What is so grand about the Electronic Dental Office? A lot, but even more importantly, every dental office one day will be there. We might as well accept that fate and plan for it.
If there are doubters, consider that only a few years ago belt and pulley handpieces, stand-up dentists, wet fingers and reusable needles were state-of-the-art. That was then and this is now. Today, the benefits of digital data processing in dentistry are just too immense to deter the movement. We can drag our heels, but we cannot stop the surge of cyber-process.
How does the EDO benefit dental practice? Clinical experience points to four promising areas.
1. Patient Proactivity
Dentists have long sought ways to involve patients in the decision-making process. From models to microscopes, from photographs to intraoral cameras, the name of the game has always been involvement. We always believed that an involved patient bought our advice and accepted our treatment plans. Results usually sustained that belief.
In the EDO, patients see their periodontal and tooth charts develop on the monitor screen. Screened videos support the data. Computerized dental radiographs (CDR) reinforce an image that intraoral cameras may embellish. No person is immune from being swept up in watching his/her personal, oral-health story unfold before his/her eyes.
People who become a part of the process fail to be a pawn in the process, and proactive people make more intelligent choices about their dental destiny.
2. Better Team Talk
Successful relationships rest on open communications. A dentist cannot afford communication failure with his team and with his patient. The team, too, must talk with the doctor and the patients, and the patient needs the opportunity to respond. Disappointment is sure to follow a breakdown of any of these communications.
The present speed and ease of computer-generated mailboxes, staff notices and training manuals make intraoffice communication too simple to avoid. Treatment plans printed in minutes allow immediate patient response. The swiftness of creating personalized letters gives the office deserved praise for patient caring.
3. More Personal Care
Because a keystroke enters blocks of data, the team member is freed from onerous pencil-pushing and paper-toting. This newfound freedom may be spent on something important, like chatting with the patient. High-tech then transforms into the high-touch dream.
4. Less Legal Exposure
When a teammate can enter blocks of data at a keystroke, it gets done. However, when documentation demands labor-intensive time, fatigue and busyness eat into the job. These erosions create substandard records that put the dentist at risk. Discovering that records have been inadequately kept is not something a dentist wants to learn on the courthouse steps.
Four factors preface office involvement in the process. The first is team study. An office does not computerize until the entire team can visualize the result. WYSIWYG, a computer acronym, stands for What You See Is What You Get, meaning that screens print out the way they look. The human mind works much the same way. If we cannot see it in our mind`s eye, we cannot achieve it. That vision requires enough study to bring the picture into focus. The picture is big. Demands are large enough to embrace the visions of all members of the team.
For the team effort to succeed, the dentist cannot be an absentee member. Dentists who leave their computer decisions to staff allow the winds of chance to dictate success or failure. As the perceptive Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay`s Cosmetics, says, "The speed of the leader is the speed of the gang."
Second, the commitment is sizable; but there are ways to phase into the program, getting the hardware, the capacity and the capabilities in segments. Risk is always a part of high return and those who bet on themselves have the surest chance of finding a winner. Still, the return on invested capital can be enormous. Without a goal, and then a plan, nothing happens.
Third, persistence pays in going through dental college or phasing into an EDO. Programming success and not being deterred will result in your own version of the EDO. That is the point, for the EDO is a glassful of water, not an ice-carving. Just as there are great differences in how we each perceive dental practice, so there will be as many approaches to an EDO.
The best approach is the one you create, if you`ve caught the vision, risked the investment and persisted.
The author practices dentistry in Cedar Rapids, IA, in an electronic dental office. He has written three best-selling, practice-building books. He also lectures frequently on profit-building with dental computers. Address E-mail commentary to firstname.lastname@example.org.