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    Paperless technology frees up the dental office manager's time

    Paperless technology helps office managers work more productively by analyzing data and making strategic decisions with the doctor.

    Imagine the administrative area of a dental office of 20 years ago.

    We worked with large scheduling books and wielded mighty pencils and a formidable stack of sticky notes. Tear-away pads of routing slips and referral pads were always within reach. Our copy machine was humming and stacks of copy paper were always kept in stock. The outside of charts were full of numbers as that’s where the balances were recorded.

    If you think reading account ledgers and estimating copayments with your practice management software can be problematic, have I got a scenario for you! The old way of calculating copayments was to pull out the calculator, do the quick button work and then flip the calculator around.

    That was how you told the patient how much was due. If you had to work with a PPO plan then you were pulling out fee schedules, and fingers worked at lightning speed to come up with the correct amounts. This was before financial arrangements were routine, and payment promises were recorded on sticky notes that may or may not stay with the chart.  

    Related Article: From the office manager's Desk: Managing the schedule

    Fast forward to 2012 and you can see that we’ve come a long way. Paperless technology has freed up so much time for managers to truly manage—not just push data around on various bits of paper. Our job now entails analyzing this data and helping to make strategic decisions with the doctor.

    Our computers calculate our copayments and print out necessary truth-in-lending forms. Rather than photocopying periodontal readings with markings that look like hieroglyphics we now hand a color chart and informative treatment plans to the patient. We not only are tech savvy but the patients feel and see it for themselves.

    It starts with data
    Stored data is now easily retrievable and sortable, making it possible to see trends that impact our practice. The secret to good management is to anticipate the factors that can cause the most disruption to our practice.

    The only way to do this is to pay attention to that data—often. The challenge with paperless technology is the same challenge with loose paper: is the data correct?

    Related Article: Paperless makes for less stress

    Managers should be checking this information on a routine basis. Have referrals been entered correctly so we can track our marketing return on investments? Have our claims left our office with correct data so we don’t have to wait to find out the claim was rejected weeks ago? Is the medical information for each patient current and up-to-date so we aren’t taking chances with sedation?

    Data that’s easy to read and easy to access is a manager’s dream—all these checks and balances can happen much easier now with all the various reports that are a click away.

    Power of portability
    We often hear from office managers who manage multi-location or group practices. The need for centralized information is so important to this population. Before chartless technology many of these offices would have to be extra vigilant to make sure the right chart was at the right office at the right time.

    The team has to be prepared in case Mrs. Smith decides to go to the West Side location but her chart “lives” in the East Side office. The typical solution was to have Rachel the Runner speed through traffic between the offices with chart in hand. However there were times when the mistake wasn’t discovered until the patient was actually in the chair. You could easily visualize the miscommunication and schedule delays that occurred as a result of a patient wishing to visit a different location.

    Embrace EHR
    So much change and so much progress—have we even reached a peak? No—we’re still on the march uphill. The mandate for electronic health records (EHR) is a few years away and the possibility of dental diagnostic codes will renew an interest in technology solutions.

    Many offices have taken the step toward not only becoming just chartless but truly paperless. That means no photocopies of ID cards and referral forms sitting in a thinner file. The hum of scanners will replace the old copy machine and rightly so. Let our computer storage work for us instead of making room for physical storage. Take your time, do the research and implement with a plan.

    Remember how we should anticipate disruption. At one time transitioning to a paperless office was considered the ultimate disruption. It will be the most positive disruption you could ever manage.

     

    Heather Colicchio
    Heather Colicchio is the president and founder of the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). You can learn more about ...
    Teresa Duncan, MS, FADIA, FAADOM
    Teresa Duncan, MS, FADIA, FAADOM is an international speaker who focuses on revenue, dental insurance & management issues. She is a ...