Paperless office? Front deskless? Many pages have been dedicated to this idea. Imagine a patient walking into a waiting room and going over to a sign that says, “Place index finger here.” The fingerprint is scanned and up pops a screen, “Welcome, Mr. Vitale - please be seated.” Or better yet, the patient is instructed to look into a camera. Via the camera’s Viisage system, the patient is recognized by the iris of the eye. At the appointed time, a light flashes above the door to the treatment area and the screen there says, “Ready in Room 3, Mr. Vitale.” The patient walks down the hall, is seated and bibbed, and sits facing yet another computer screen with his digital photos - before-and-after images made the previous visit with simulation software. A short video then begins describing the day’s scheduled crown procedure.
Sure, this is an exaggeration. But it seems to be the apparent goal of many dentists, including myself. I had an eye-opening experience on a recent trip to Chicago. Due to circumstances, my hotel was changed from the Holiday Inn Express to the Ritz Carlton. As the taxi arrived, I knew that I was not going to be dragging my bags up to the room - even if I preferred to do so. A pleasant man took my suitcase from the trunk, greeted me, and asked my name. After telling him, he led me through the door, and directed me to the elevator that led to the front desk. On my short walk to the elevator, I was intercepted by a man in a suit, who rushed in to push the “Up” button. He said, “Go to the eighth floor, and turn right.” As I entered the elevator, he quickly reached in and pushed the 8 button. After reaching the eighth floor, I left the elevator, and approached the front desk. Once there, a friendly man said, “Good afternoon,” and asked my name. Since people have trouble with the pronunciation and spelling, I handed him my American Express card and mumbled my last name while pointing to it on the card. He looked at his computer, looked up, and said, “Good afternoon, Dr. Feuerstein. Welcome to the Ritz Carlton. How was your trip from Boston?” I grinned at the uncommon acknowledgement of the “Doctor,” and said it was just fine. After a short time, he said, “I have your room key; it is 1210.” I reached for the key, but was surprised when he came around the desk to me and said, “Follow me to the elevator.” The elevator was just behind me, but I followed. He then said, “You are on the 12th floor. Someone will be there with your bag momentarily.” The elevator door opened, he reached in, hit the 12 button, and off I went. After arriving on the 12th floor, I departed the elevator, walked to my room, and - within what seemed like seconds - there was a knock on the door. It was the bellman. Once again, I was greeted by my name. As he showed me around the room, I asked where the ice machine was. He grinned, lifted the top off the bucket of ice, and said, “We already took care of it.”
Those of you who know me realize that I do not travel in this style. Nonetheless, it was quite an experience. I thought about my electronic waiting room vision, and - at that moment - I scrapped it. My return to the office resulted in a quick staff meeting explaining what I had just experienced. I want my patients to be escorted to and from the dental chair. No more saying, “Bring this chart up to the desk.” If we have done everything on the computer system, I still ask that the patient be escorted out - even if there is no apparent reason to stop at the front desk. Greet those patients by name and treat them as our guests. This is not new thinking. As I am stepping out of my tech discoveries, I note that anyone who has attended practice-management lectures knows this is a recommended process. I just had to be on the receiving end to fully understand it. I also have contacted many of my colleagues who are setting up spa services. I must say that initially I looked at these services with a smirk. But not so any more. There is obviously a blend to look at here. I will make a point of looking a little deeper into some of these offices - not just at the physical amenities, but the workflow. Of course, touches of technology, like having Internet access in the waiting areas, can easily be value-added amenities. I realize I might have digressed from my normal content in this column, perhaps telling you things that you already know. But I guess that every once in a while you have to stand back from the intensity of the keyboard and the handpiece, and look around. I’ll see you at the Ritz.
Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry’s first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. 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 e-mail at email@example.com.