Technology in hygiene

June 1, 2004
We've come a long way with technology. Those of us who have been around for a long time remember the days of the peg board for bookkeeping and the metal boxes filled with ledger cards.

Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH

We've come a long way with technology. Those of us who have been around for a long time remember the days of the peg board for bookkeeping and the metal boxes filled with ledger cards. A separate file catalogue was kept for tracking recall.

Making the shift to computerization requires a total team commitment. In the last 24 months, I have worked with more offices that are taking the steps necessary to fully integrate computers into the practice. Interestingly, many new doctors are starting out paperless right from the first day. From daily operations, records, and documentation to tracking recall, pending information files and notes, here are some of the ways technology is being used in the hygiene sector.

Daily operations

Patient records stored in the computer with notes, medical and special needs, previous recommendations, restorative and perio charting, and patient histories are reviewed in the computer by scrolling through the file. Time and frustration are reduced when the hygienist (and entire staff) do not have to plow through several inches of paper charts. Many offices use a customized appointment template to standardize the hygiene appointment and hygienist's notes. By doing this, all questions are answered and nothing is left out of the appointment. Computerized periodontal charting provides a spectacular visual display for the patient. At the same time, it allows the hygienist to easily store the data and view a comparative periodontal analysis.

Intraoffice communications

When the hygienist posts services performed into the patient record, it can be viewed by the business coordinator at the desk. Insurance processing and payment calculations are completed by the time the patient reaches the front desk. Treatment plans can be communicated from the treatment room to the business desk. A patient consultation can be held to answer questions so that treatment can be scheduled at the end of the visit. Doctors and business staff love not having stacks of charts sitting around waiting for treatment plans to be typed and printed for the consult-presentation visit. Put the data in once and retrieve it over and over again with the stroke of a key.

Scheduling at the chair

The success of the recall and hygiene schedule is directly related to the interaction that takes place between the hygienist and the patient when the patient is in the hygiene chair. Hygienists that preschedule and reserve future patient appointments have a better opportunity for patient compliance. It takes a few moments to complete at the chair, and while they they are doing that, hygienists can reinforce patient perception (beyond just a cleaning), restate the importance of reserving the appointment (our patients appreciate being able to reserve convenient times), and respond to any questions or concerns the patient may have. The bottleneck at the front desk is eliminated, because patients do not have to wait before they can be scheduled and dismissed. Business coordinators can spend more time and energy on scheduling treatment plans and financial arrangements.

Tracking recall, patient retention, and overdue recall reports is just a mouse-click away. Reports can be run anytime, anywhere, for a constant update on patient retention. A staff person is delegated to spend a certain amount of time each day or week working to assure that the recall schedule is kept current. Recall cards and letters are printed directly from the computer scheduler, saving hours of time going through the schedule and writing the cards by hand.

Educational modules, such as the CAESY system, provide chairside visual patient education that far exceeds any lecture we could possibly present. Couple this with the intraoral camera and you have 98 percent case acceptance. Digital radiography enhances images and reduces patient concerns about "exposure to X-rays."

Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH, is a recognized leader in the field and an award-winning speaker and consultant. Since 1989, she has presented more than 350 seminars and consulted in dental practices throughout the world. She is a featured speaker at dental meetings and provides in--office consulting services with her team of business and clinical consultants. She may be reached at her Web site at AnnetteLinder.com, via email at [email protected], or by phone at (804) 745-6015.

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