We have all heard that communication is critical to our success as dentists. Patient communications is a hot topic today, but it is just one communication objective that we are challenged with as we run our dental businesses. To optimize our success as dentists and business owners, we must understand the myriad of communication objectives that we face every day.
We must think and act like the CEO of small businesses, while providing consistent high quality care to our patients. To effectively lead and run our business, whom do we need to regularly communicate with? We must communicate with our patients, staffs, referral networks, insurance carriers, patient-financing companies, labs, supply representatives, lawyers, and accountants. On any given day, this communication can be burdensome and overwhelming for the entire team. A dental business is about people, and being able to effectively and efficiently communicate is critical to our success.
Ensuring optimal oral health for our patients is paramount, and that is why we chose to go to dental school in the first place. To best serve our patients, we need to effectively gather health histories and diagnoses to generate treatment plans. This important step can only occur if we can convince our patients to commit to their scheduled treatment. Patient compliance is predicated on trust and the strength of the relationships that we build.
Our patient relationships begin with their first contact with our offices. If we treat them with respect and take care of their needs throughout their initial appointments, how do we build upon that success? We need to routinely communicate with our patients in a caring, trustworthy manner that validates the individual and supports his or her decision to stay with us and take action on our recommended course of treatment.
The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the available technologies which can facilitate improved communications and reduce some of the stress associated with operating a dental business.
A dental business needs to maximize rudimentary technologies, such as having enough phone lines so patients never hear a busy signal. In today’s culture, you must have a Web site, even if it is only to avoid the perception of being antiquated. A well-designed Web site should have a clear message about your practice, along with the basic information such as preregistration forms, previsit preparation, and, most importantly, before-and-after photographs of the type of dentistry you provide.
If you want to build patient loyalty without tremendous effort, you should look into new technologies such as Smile Reminder™ (www.smilereminder.com). This technology integrates seamlessly into your existing practice-management software to automatically generate appointment confirmations and last-minute reminders to your patients’ e-mail, cell phones (text messages), pagers, and PDAs. In addition, it allows for easy creation and delivery of newsletters, patient surveys, internal marketing promotions, patient education, birthday greetings, and more. This technology enables you to provide frequent and consistent messages that help build trust with your patients.
Once we get patients into our practices, what technologies will enhance their experiences and facilitate better communications? The old saying, “a picture is worth 1,000 words,” is certainly true when it comes to the use of intraoral cameras and digital photography. These modalities allow patients to see the state of their oral condition. These visual aids also open the door to basic understanding and improve dialogue. It is difficult to argue with what we see.
Digital radiography allows patients to see their radiographic images magnified on the large screen, instead of seeing the small periapical X-rays. In addition, digital radiography has the ability to enhance and magnify the image, which aids the dentist in diagnosis and treatment planning. Another emergent technology is CBCS (cone beam computed scan). It shows patients their oral condition in a three-dimensional model and is an effective educational tool. By creating 3-D renderings and using cross-sectional analysis, patients have an accurate visual of their own anatomy. Dentists can use this information to virtually perform bone grafts, place implants, and fabricate surgical templates.
We would all like to be perceived as oral health-care specialists and not simply as “tooth mechanics.” Digital technologies (photography, radiography, and CBCS), when used in conjunction with treatment-planning software (such as XCPT - www.xcpt.com) and image-management systems (such as Kodak - www.kodak.com), allows the dentist to use visual images that are annotated or arranged in a fashion that patients can understand. XCPT is a breakthrough, reality-based method of case analysis and treatment planning using patients’ X-rays to create dynamic, personalized visual aids and educational tools. Graphic images of crowns, implants, cosmetic work, and notes are easily placed right on the Xray (digital or analog) or digital photo. With XCPT, your practice can become digital without the expense. XCPT applies digitization technology to the existing image, converting it to a file the software can use without compromising quality. Co-discovery and treatment planning occur in front of the patient. This method allows for clarity in communication, an immediate connection with the patient, trust in the doctor’s recommendations and, ultimately, case acceptance. It is the difference between simply telling and precisely showing. These tools serve as universal translators and allow patients to take ownership of their oral health. In addition, these systems facilitate enhanced communications to insurance companies, as well as thorough documentation for patient files. This mitigates liability beyond a standard informed-consent document.
Patient-education software such as MedVisor/dental™ (www.medvisordental.com) allows dentists to use a visual library to illustrate how their patients’ oral-health problems can be solved. MedVisor is an easy-to-use software (whether loaded onto your laptop or throughout your networked office) which allows each team member to communicate with patients about their specific treatment plan. The days of writing on the bracket table and mumbling “foreign words” to your patients are long gone!
One benefit of the MedVisor software is that you can customize the sequence of how you present findings to your patient. For example, the patient is missing tooth No. 19 and you are discussing performing an implant versus doing a bridge. As much as we discuss conservative dentistry, patients still have difficulty visualizing the aggressiveness of a crown preparation.
By using MedVisor, the patient can see the abutments being prepared and the amount of lost tooth structure. Forget bringing models from the lab - this is far more advanced and creates a “wow” factor for the patient. In the same video, we can show a bridge going in versus a side-by-side comparison of the implant being placed and the tooth restored without touching the adjacent teeth. If that’s not enough, this 25-second clip then shows what happens to the bone and tissue, along with recurrent decay and inflammation, over subsequent years versus the lack of problems with a stable implant. This saves a tremendous amount of time and enhances patient understanding.
If the patient still doesn’t get your message, import floss-threading from the hygiene mode and custom create your own presentation on hygiene and bridges. To avoid decayed margins, import the biofilm or pH animation, and now you can discuss which toothpastes - such as Prospec™ MI Paste (www.gcamerica.com/mipaste.html) and chewing gums like Trident White (www.tridentgum.com) - best support long-term maintenance. All this is within your reach - at the click of a mouse - to share with your patients.
Practice-management software has dramatically improved the efficiencies of running a dental practice and enhanced our knowledge of patients. The integration of practice-management software has made it cost effective for dental businesses to add computer workstations in treatment areas which capture, synthesize, and store data obtained with intraoral cameras, digital photographs, digital X-rays, and computerized charting.
The day of being paperless is here but only about 1.8 percent of today’s general dentists are paperless. Clinical computing (electronic oral-health records, practice-management software, administration software, and patient-communication software) and decision-support technology (digital photographs, digital imaging, intraoral cameras, patient education, and treatment-planning software) are increasingly being adopted by dentists. The power of digital technologies for imaging has enhanced the visual understanding of diagnosis and treatment for both dental professionals and patients.
Your dental business must be able to communicate its financial health at any given moment. This can be facilitated by several practice-management software programs, but can be systematized and automated by such “bolt-on” programs as SikkaSoft (www.sikkasoft.com). SikkaSoft technologies provide the practice with all of the major business indicators at the click of a button. There is no need to burden yourself or your staff with the task of tracking and calculating numbers. It does not replace your practice-management system or your accounting system, but reads the data automatically and provides you with real-time analysis of how your dental business is performing.
Until now, your collection and production has been completely separate from your accounts payable and financial systems. You had to go to two or more separate locations to get information on practice vital signs, valuation analysis, overhead, inventory management, suppliers, cost-account balances, ROI on your marketing, etc. With just a click of your mouse, SikkaSoft provides basic-to-comprehensive analysis displayed on an easy-to-understand “dashboard” that is also customizable. This level of communication allows for better management of your practice. We know from experience that ignorance can be bliss, but it also can be frustrating and disempowering. We have learned that tracking the appropriate business metrics can dramatically improve our businesses because we know when and where to apply our energy.
At the end of the day, you are not going to have a successful dental business unless you have a well-motivated and trained team. How your dental team communicates with one another can have a big impact on the atmosphere within your office. Hard-wired light panels have been the carriers of messages for many years, and have sufficed to address basic alerts.
BlueNote Communicator (www.bluenotecommunicator.com) is a software solution that gives your dental team a bird’s-eye view of events that are actually occurring throughout your practice. The software program uses Blue Notes - a combination of tones and stylized text - to easily communicate over your existing computer network. Individual tones are played, alerting specific staff members when and where they are needed. This keeps your personnel informed and relaxed, resulting in a more efficient practice and creating a more positive atmosphere your patients will appreciate.
Technology continues to help dental professionals communicate effectively with their patients, staffs, dental-business networks, and colleagues. There is a plethora of technologies available to dentists to help us achieve our goal of providing consistent, high-quality care to patients. I hope you will take the time to investigate some of the technologies discussed in this article, and the best of luck to you and your team as you evaluate your options.
David A. Little, DDS, specializes in cosmetic and full-mouth restorations, including dental implants. He is an internationally respected speaker and consultant on dental materials, leadership, and management. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lou Graham, DDS, is an internationally recognized lecturer extensively involved in continuing education for dental professionals. He focuses on incorporating current clinical advancements through conservative dentistry. For more information, contact Dr. Graham at (773) 551-7971 or by e-mail at Lgrahamdds@aol.com.