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Are you chartless or paperless?

Aug. 1, 2007
For the past 18 months, I have been speaking to dentists about going paperless. What amazes me is that almost everyone I speak to thinks they are paperless.

by Laci L. Phillips

For the past 18 months, I have been speaking to dentists about going paperless. What amazes me is that almost everyone I speak to thinks they are paperless. Yet, when I ask dentists how their patients fill out their paperwork, the universal answer is, “We hand our patients paper, then we scan it into the computer.” That is not paperless!

The comment that usually follows is, “We have computers in the operatories, and we do not have paper charts.” That’s wonderful, but it’s still not paperless! I have struggled for months trying to find a way to convince the world that we are not paperless yet. Then it hit me.

I was at the Hinman Dental Congress in Atlanta, discussing my dilemma with some great consultants, speakers, writers, and editors. Here is the clarification - we are chartless, but we are not paperless!

I think we should explore this more. Let’s first take a look at what being chartless means. There are so many great consultants out there to help explain this, such as Drs. John Flucke, Paul Feuerstein, or Lorne Lavine. They will tell you all about computers and the new technology on the market.

Then there are the major practice-management programs such as PRACTICEWORKS, EagleSoft, and DENTRIX®. These programs can be used throughout the practice for electronic scheduling, insurance management, and, of course, electronic charting. The smaller PMPs are also making a name for themselves. These include MOGO, DAISY, and DentiMax. Dentists have so many choices; they can research these software programs to find the one that best matches their office needs.

Once you have selected your PMP, you need to go digital. What does this mean? We can ask Dale Miles to explain the new I-Cone beam to us, but we will need an imaging program, as well as sensors or phosphorous plates. We’ll also need a digital camera to take the photos. Don’t forget our favorite add-on programs, such as Smile Reminder and the Florida Probe®.

We also might need some help to put this together so that our offices run more efficiently. We can ask Lois Banta, Gary Kadi with Next Level Practice, or JMI consultants for help with this. All of these components combined can help each office to go digital (and chartless) to increase efficiency.

Now let’s talk about what it means to go paperless. Web- opedia defines paperless as “The idealized office in which paper is absent because all information is stored and transferred electronically.” The key here is all information. This means any form that is currently being used by the office, such as registration, medical and dental history, HIPAA, financial arrangements, and any consent forms.

The first thing that comes to mind for most people is to scan and shred. There is even someone out there to help us with that. Brian Smith gives courses and speaks with offices about scanning documents into the computer for legal purposes. In 2006, new technology was introduced to provide electronic forms and capture electronic signatures, enabling offices to be truly paperless.

Again, there are great resources at our fingertips for being chartless and paperless. But what is new and exciting today? Take a trip with me for a moment ... a trip into the land of “What If.” What if our patients could logon to the Internet, fill out all their information using a keyboard and a mouse, and then the completed forms were immediately sent to your office for you to review before the patient walked through the door. That would be nice, right? What if - in those pertinent documents - you were able to incorporate a patient questionnaire with questions dentists always want to ask, but for one reason or another do not. Now remember, in “What If” land, 100 percent of all new patients and even existing patients will be faced with your most important questions.

Here is how I envision my questionnaire:

“Are you interested in keeping your teeth for a lifetime?” If the patients answer yes, my next question would be, “Is there anything about your smile you would like to change?” My patient might answer, “I would like to make my teeth whiter, brighter, and straighter.” Hmmmmm ... now my next question is, “Are you interested in a temporary whitening service, such as a one-hour bleaching or a more permanent solution?” My patient then answers, “Permanent.”

This is great! My next question is, “Are you interested in a financial service that would allow you to make payments for this service that fit into your budget?”

Now, let’s stop here and think about this for a moment. If I am a patient and I am sitting in the privacy of my house, and I am asked about financing, I am not being “sold,” and, as a result, I am not put on the defensive. If I am denied financing, I am not embarrassed in front of other people in the dental office.

OK, so my “What If” patient says yes to patient financing. Now this is great! The patient’s demographic information is transformed to an online CareCredit® application - all the patient has to do is fill in his or her monthly income and expenses. Now the patient clicks “submit” and he or she has instant approval and a credit line to use in your dental office. How exciting is that?

What if we ask this patient a question about the appropriate amount of time for him or her to wait in the reception area. The time might be completely different for a retired individual than a Type A personality who is busy and whose time is valuable. And what about the hygienist? What information would be valuable to him or her? What if the hygienist knew how often the patient brushes and flosses, if he or she uses an electronic toothbrush, and when he or she last had a teeth cleaning? Remember, all of this information is being filled out by the patient, in the privacy of his or her home, prior to walking through the door of your office.

Now what if we asked the patient if he or she was interested in learning more about veneers? The patient says yes. With one click of an icon, an educational video is now playing, telling the patient all about veneers.

What if once the patient is done filling out all the documents, he or she clicks “done” and all forms are sent electronically and immediately to your office. Here is how I see this as beneficial. It is morning huddle time in your office. You ask your front office staff to tell you about the new patient coming in today. The staff can now relay an incredible amount of information to you. Not only are the basics there, but the patient’s wants and needs are available before you even meet that person.

What a great world “What If” is! Actually, everything I mentioned is possible right now! Well, everything except the CareCredit part, and I am working on that right now. If dental offices were to use this technology, 100 percent of their new patients and existing patients would have access to this information. This alone is an incredible marketing tool!

By using a practice management program, digital X-rays and images, add-on software programs, and perhaps the aid of some of the best consultants in the country, offices can now become not only chartless, but paperless. If you are living in the “What If” world, I like the way you think because “What If” just became “Why Not!”

Laci L. Phillips is the national sales director for Paperless Technologies. Phillips has 15 years of experience in the dental field, ranging from a chairside assistant in a government-funded health clinic on an Indian reservation to a practice administrator for a boutique practice in Phoenix, Ariz. Prior to joining Paperless, Phillips spent three years working with dentists and their teams around the country. Her responsibilities included project management for new offices, consulting on technology, and training teams to use technology implemented. The last four years, she has been speaking and writing in the dental field.

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