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"We will seat you as soon as you finish filling out this medical history and new patient information form." The chairside assistant mutters this through clenched teeth while the new patient...

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

"We will seat you as soon as you finish filling out this medical history and new patient information form." The chairside assistant mutters this through clenched teeth while the new patient, who was supposed to come in 15 minutes early, is happily checking off boxes on the forms, fumbling for the insurance card, and then asking where the restroom is. This is a common scenario that can be avoided with some simple and (of course) high-tech solutions.

The analog answer is simply sending the forms out to the patient ahead of time, with a self-addressed stamped envelope. This could also come with a welcome letter, appointment card, directions to the office, and any other marketing that you might want to include. There will always be those who never had time to fill them out and have to be reminded when a confirmation call is made. Having the forms ahead of time is important for many reasons. First, it will define the insurance status of the patient and give your office a chance to look it over prior to the appointment. There have been many embarrassing conversations in offices when a patient shows up with the wrong PPO or a total misunderstanding of the office financial policy. The medical history may alert you to a premedication situation that could have an impact on that visit, as well as such things as latex allergies, while the dental history could alert you to problems there may have been at a prior office visit.

The digital answer is having the forms filled out online prior to the appointment. With more people using the Web to purchase items online, online forms need less explanation. There are a few ways to set this up. First, if you have an existing Web site, the simplest setup is to have a blank form online and have the patient print it out and send it in to your office. Most Web designers can set this up for you without much trouble. The more complex design is to have a form created that can be filled out online, and—with the push of a button—transmitted to your office. Your provider will determine the manner that it is transmitted. To clarify this, once a form is filled out, it can be emailed to your office in various forms. These would then be printed out and put into the patient's chart. This assumes you have not yet gone chartless. However, this could be an early step to keeping the digital form on file in the patient's electronic chart. Some offices may utilize patient workstations or tablet PCs if they are unable to have the proper lead time, yet still allow the digital forms, albeit not in advance.

Although the larger Web design companies can do this, a few new smaller services have been cropping up around the country. I receive information from dentists nationwide who have discovered local companies that we might not be aware of on the national level. I thank Jeff Blank in South Carolina and Kurt Laemmer in Pennsylvania who found these local gems of new companies that hope to take their products to a national level. After reviewing them, I think they are worth a look.

First is www.dentalinformationdirect.com. The unique thing about this company is that you do not even need an office Web site—it is a stand-alone product. The patient is directed to their Web site, the forms are filled out, and then sent on to you. If you do have a Web site, it is a simple matter of setting up a link button to them.

The other company Lifetree Marketing (lifetreem.com) takes a more comprehensive approach. Its software, "Virtual Data Grabber," bundles a free Web site for the office that includes online patient pre-registration forms, along with an oral health and wellness email distributed to patients once a month. The software, which runs parallel to your practice management software, reads your appointment book and sends patient information to its server. Once received, the server sends appointment reminders to patients at intervals set by the practice, along with subscribing the patient to the monthly email.

These are not new concepts, just a couple of new wrinkles. There are a few companies that have been doing this for a while. Smilereminder.com will contact your patients via text messages and cell phone. TelePatient.com calls patients with appointment reminders while Televox does reminder calls and also has an online form service available. As I said, there are several fine Web-building companies that, if I listed them, would take up another page. I encourage readers to be the eyes and ears of new technologies and to get in touch with me when you see something worth reviewing.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions, including annual appearances at the Yankee.Dental Congress, and he is an ADA Seminar series speaker. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by email at drpaul@computersindentistry.com.

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