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    What a paperless practice really looks like

    How real dentists have gone paperless in their practices.

    Being paperless is all about eliminating the scraps of paper, handwritten notes, physical patient files and the systems they are stored in, and gathering all of your information in one place. It’s about consolidating information, streamlining practices and accessing data from anywhere. As one doctor put it, it’s about pushing a button and “having your numbers,” making a noticeable difference in efficiency and enjoyment in the practice.

    But what exactly does it mean to be paperless, and how can a regular practice, making its way through red tape, insurance and questions of ROI, get there?

    Related article: What technology is right for your practice?

    We interviewed several dentists in an effort to outline the workflow of the paperless practice, share thoughts on operatory design and the digital technologies within it, and discuss how their practices acquire, store and secure patient data. They illuminate the benefits — as well as the drawbacks — and share guidance on how to get rid of paper in the dental practice once and for all.

    The paperless workflow

    For Jason Watts, DMD, being paperless means running a fully digital office. That’s apparent before the patient even steps in the door.

    “I have a portal where I can upload documents that patients can access from any device,” he says. “All of the documents they fill out are digital and they instantly upload into their software. When they come into my office, they already have their records fully loaded. If not, I hand them an iPad and they fill out their documents there.”

    In a paperless practice, no longer are patients sitting down with a clipboard in the waiting room before their appointment.

    Their personal information precedes them so that they can instead walk into the practice and relax before the appointment, or be led directly to the operatory.

    In practices where patient information isn’t gathered beforehand, patients can fill out their information on iPads or computers.

    In many offices, patient information is still gathered in the waiting room just before the appointment, although in a paperless practice, it’s done on a tablet or computer.

    Paperless key“There are two computers in the check-in area of our reception room,” says John Flucke, DDS, technology editor for Dental Products Report. “The front desk hits a button in Eaglesoft, their practice management software, that signals the computer to display a personal welcome message to that patient. “They’ll press a button to continue, and they put all of their information in electronically. The screens are touch screen, so they can tap through all of the information. At the end, they sign on the screen, and when they click ‘done,’ the system takes that information and puts it into the standard health history and patient demographic areas.” 

    Dr. Flucke says it’s much easier this way because the moment the patient is finished filling something out, he or she can go to the operatory.

    Mark E. Hyman, DDS, who practices in Greensboro, North Carolina, says he does it in three ways: in advance, in the reception area on a tablet or on paper. “For some patients who aren’t comfortable with it, we’ll go old school — though I’d rather not,” he says. The paper form is then scanned and imported into their software.

    Related article: The 4 key questions to ask before investing in new technologies

    Going paperless means that all charting, imaging and impressioning is done digitally.

    “Our radiology is all digital,” Dr. Hyman says. “We can take a panorex and a full series on the patient. We also have a CBCT, which we will take when that’s appropriate. When we do the charting on the patient, we’ll have our hygienist do the full-mouth periodontal probing. And we do a tour of the full mouth with our intraoral camera. It’s a neat way to engage the patient in their own learning.”

    Next: How paperless helps makes multitasking easier


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