Let your software do the talking

Feb. 1, 2011
For many practices, effective communication can be somewhat elusive.

Cathy Bacon and Colleen Matlack

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For many practices, effective communication can be somewhat elusive. But you can put your practice-management software to work. Here are a few ways to use your software to deliver the right messages to the right people at the right time.

Strategic memos and notices to teammates

The best practice-management programs enable you to leave important memos for team members. While this is pretty intuitive, the real keys are flexibility and control. You should create simple memos or reminders that appear for the people who need to see them, when they need to see them.

This includes patient-specific memos ("Johnny Smith's grandfather is authorized to make treatment decisions"), memos tied to specific events ("Run X report on the last business day of the month"), and more. Essentially, you need the note to pop up whenever a teammate accesses a related file or attempts to run a relevant report or function.

For instance, you could program your software to notify you of patients who have exhausted their annual insurance benefits any time a team member uses the software to access a file (clinical, contact, or financial) for any such patient.

This information is useful for your team and for the patient; it lets the team member tell the patient up front that there are no remaining benefits. This allows the patient to plan and budget accordingly. You can set these reminders to automatically lapse at the beginning of the new year.

These memos, notices, and reminders help save time, and say, "Hey, I need you to pay attention to this fact before you go too far." Information that saves time and reduces work is the essence of effective communication. You just need to make sure the teammates who create these reminders know what they are doing.

If multiple notices pop up for patients, they tend to lose their effectiveness. We suggest you designate a few "gatekeepers" who understand the nuances of programming the software.

Patient calls

Patients call daily with all sorts of questions. Particularly in high-volume practices, it is very important to be able to quickly access patient information so you can assist them. Your practice-management software should allow whoever answers your phones to quickly search and access, at a glance, high-level information that allows them to easily dig deeper.

Our recommendation is that whoever is responsible for answering the phones keep this search function open all the time, so they are always ready to handle patient calls.

Another helpful feature is family scheduling since parents frequently try to complete multiple appointments in one visit to your office. Family scheduling works when the software displays all patients associated with a given account (e.g., spouse and children) so you can easily schedule everyone in one call.

For patient calls that require some sort of later contact (such as when a patient wants to schedule an appointment over a vacation but is currently unsure of when it will be), set up an automatic notification that will remind you when to make the call.

Patient reminders

While it is a great idea to remind your patients of upcoming appointments, calling every patient can be a time-consuming process. Consider an automated system, such as T.Link, which integrates with many different practice-management suites, or see if your current software has an available option.

If possible, automated appointment reminders should give patients the ability to confirm the appointment using a touch-tone phone (for instance, pressing "1"). It is even better if patient confirmations are automatically updated within your schedule.

One more thing. Once you have become comfortable with using software to help you communicate, teach your team members how to use it. Take advantage of training opportunities. It's going to take some time for you to determine the best way to configure your software. But take it from us, it's time well-spent. It will save you in the long run!

Cathy Bacon and Colleen Matlack work for Lakewood Dental Arts, a multidisciplinary practice offering oral surgery, orthodontic, endodontic, and periodontal care, as well as general dentistry. Lakewood Dental Arts has successfully used Carestream Dental's SoftDent practice-management software for seven years. Contact Bacon and Matlack at [email protected].

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