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    How I managed to create a paperless office

    The transition to paperless can seem daunting, but in the end it could have big benefits for your practice.


    Mapping the journey

    One month later, I rented a conference room in a local hotel. We brought along a laptop and a computer projector. Each department had submitted its information in a Word document. I ordered in all the food necessary for the day and had informed the staff that we wouldn’t be leaving until we had a plan in place. Utilizing a computer projector and a whiteboard, we began hammering out a plan.

    Each department came forward with its advantages and disadvantages. Once they were done with where the problems would be, we had a brainstorming session to come up with solutions for those problems. I was truly, happily surprised to see how the team worked together to solve each other’s potential problems as well as their dedication to making things work smoothly. It took most of the day, but we came away with action plans to overcome the needs/challenges of each department.

    Some of the problems listed would require inter-team coordination and, once again, I was excited to see the different teams throwing out potential solutions. It was a great example of people truly caring for each other. These are going to be different for each office, as we all have unique processes and systems that will need to be changed in order to accommodate a chartless environment. 

    Once we had a list of potential problems and solutions, we reworked each department’s list to include the solutions as well as the action items. We then agreed to a mandatory monthly meeting where we could review our processes, tweak them if necessary and hold each other accountable. 

    More from Dr. Flucke: How to locate the pain points in your practice

    The drop-dead day

    Whenever our office decides to implement some new device, technique, procedure or situation, we set what we humorously call a “drop-dead date” or a “go-live date.” These are important because if your implementation date is something nebulous such as “third quarter,” this gives a lot of wiggle room and also sets a mentality of, “It’s OK to move the date.” Short of a catastrophe, there is never a good reason to move the date. Study after study has shown moving the date once increases the likelihood of moving it again, which can even have the effect of canceling the project altogether. The best words of advice I can give in this section are “hold each other accountable” and “stick to the plan!”

    On the day we stopped using charts, we began to put all data into our software. This included clinical charting, perio probing, treatment notes, etc. We continued to pull the charts in case patients had questions about previous treatment, but that was all we used the old charts for. There is absolutely no reason to scan and enter all previous data unless that is something you want to do. As long as you can access the past data, you will be fine. One of the things we determined during our strategic planning meeting was that most patients’ questions have to do with things that have happened within the last six months. That meant we pulled charts until we had six months of “back data” and then we put the paper charts into storage. It’s much easier if you have room for chart storage on site. We were fortunate enough to have room to keep retired and unretired charts in separate areas, which helped with the organization somewhat.

    What I noticed was that the first month or two, when we were no longer pulling paper, I needed to access the old chart maybe 10 times per month. That number continued to decrease the longer we were chartless. Now, I cannot remember the last time I touched a paper chart.

    Wrapping up

    The journey to chartless was well worth the effort. While it did require meetings and commitment to change, the advantages in efficiency and organization were huge. The time savings alone was worth the effort. I began to leave the office 30 to 60 minutes earlier simply because I wasn’t forced to deal with all of that paper. The time to embrace the chartless environment is now. You’ll be glad you did.

    Dr. John Flucke
    Dr. John Flucke is in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He also serves as technology editor for Dental Products Report magazine and ...


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