e-service: Remember when 'e' was just a letter?

April 1, 2011
Remember when "e" was just a letter? Now, of course, "e" is a symbol for everything new, exciting, and high tech, such as e-mail, e-commerce, and e-service.

Larry Emmott, DDS

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Remember when "e" was just a letter? Now, of course, "e" is a symbol for everything new, exciting, and high tech, such as e-mail, e-commerce, and e-service. The "e" stands for electronic, but in actual practice it means a lot more: digital, automatic, and connected to the Internet.

One of the most useful and cost-effective e-things in dentistry is e-service. Yet, I find that the majority of dentists underutilize e-services. For the most part, I believe this is because they are not aware of e-services and how easy they are to use. As a general rule, an e-service is online, it uses digital information, and it's automatic. That is, once you set up the service, it runs automatically by itself with no need for additional work from the user.

An e-service can be understood by comparing it to a regular old-fashioned service, such as getting your lawn mowed. To get your lawn mowed, you simply contract with a service, and they show up with the mower, cut the grass, and haul away the cuttings. As the user, you do not need to buy any of the equipment or do any of the work; you just pay a fee and get a benefit – in this case, an attractive lawn.

An e-service is similar, but instead of an attractive lawn, you end up with a business benefit such as insurance claims filed, appointments confirmed, or patients reactivated.

This is possible because the service uses digital information. We gather this digital information as a by-product of doing business with a computer. For example, the patient's name, insurance carrier, treatment needed, and next appointment. Once this is gathered in a digital format, it is accessible on a computer and can be used automatically with no additional involvement of a human being.

A good example is a service to check insurance eligibility, which is offered by Dentrix (www.dentrix.com), Eaglesoft (www.eaglesoft.net), Softdent (www.softdent.com), PracticeWorks (http://www.carestreamdental.com/practice-management-systems/practiceworks.aspx), and others.

In the recent past – and sadly, the here and now in some offices – checking on a patient's insurance coverage and eligibility started with a phone call to an 800 number. After negotiating a maze – press one for this and two for that – the caller settled in to a long wait while listening to on-hold Muzak. After 20 to 30 minutes, a human from the insurance provider finally talked to the human in your office, some information was exchanged, scribbled onto a chart, and then typed into the insurance record. The same thing can be done as an e-service. Your office computer has the digital information – a patient name, an appointment date, a scheduled treatment, the insurer, and the plan number.

The e-service extracts the pertinent information from your local computer, contacts the appropriate insurance computer through the Internet, and extracts the pertinent data from the insurance computer. For example: Is this patient covered for this treatment, and what is the coverage?

The e-service will then go back to your local office computer and download the information, sometimes even going so far as to insert the data in the proper charts and appointment books. So, every day you can look ahead to the next day and know who and what is covered ... with no staff time, no 800 numbers, and no Muzak. And you can do it all for a small monthly fee that is usually less than the equivalent of two hours of staff time.

Many other e-services are available to dentists, including e-claims (with e-attachments), e-billing, e-calls (in place of recalls), e-backup, e-forms, and other e-services that gather satisfaction surveys or reactivate noncompliant patients.

For example, Practice Activator (www.practiceactivator.com) is an e-service that contacts and reactivates nonresponsive patients. This is not a new idea. Early attempts to use digital technology to reactivate patients simply automated the office tasks. Between patients, a staff member was assigned to look up patients who had not been seen in the dental office for a couple of years, and then send these patients a notice. An e-service does all the work for you, and it does it in a better and more sophisticated way than a staff person working between patients can. You will see better results at a lower cost.

You need to do just two things to make this possible: gather digital data and sign up for the service. The future is coming and it will be amazing!

Dr. Larry Emmott is the leading authority on dental high tech and one of the most entertaining speakers in dentistry. He is also a writer and consultant. To find out about his high-tech training programs, technology guides, and other services, call (602) 791-7071 or visit www.drlarryemmott.com.

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