We take a look at 25 ways your practice management software could be saving you money.
When you first invested in your practice management software, everyone shared an enthusiasm for learning a new system that would take your practice to new heights of productivity and efficiency. The atmosphere practically crackled with the electricity of new possibilities.
Today your practice management software languishes, laden with untapped potential while doing a fraction of what it could for you.
Sound familiar? You are not alone. Our experts reveal many dental practices have a similar story.
“It’s amazing how underutilized practice management software is in almost every practice I have ever worked with,” says Genevieve Poppe from Poppe Practice Management. “You would think that having all this data at their fingertips people would use it, but they just don’t.”
“Most people use maybe use five to 10 percent of what their software can do,” says Dr. Lorne Lavine, founder and owner of The Digital Dentist.
“A colleague of mine once said practice management software is the least understood, most underutilized power tool in the dental practice,” says Dawn Christodoulou, president of the XLDent, a dental software solutions company. “It’s true.”
Dr. Jason Watts, a general dentist in private practice in Cape Coral, Florida and dental blogger for The Wisdom Tooth, also feels too many clinicians don’t take advantage of all the insight their practice management software provides. “The best way for dentists to save money or focus on being more efficient in their office is by measuring the outcome of their success.
Tija Hunter, dental assistant and vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association, says that sometimes software gets pigeon-holed for an individual function. “So many times I go into an office and they say they have dental practice management software for the front desk. Well, if you have it for the front desk, then you already have it for the back,” says Hunter. “People have the technology; they just aren’t using it.”
Lynette Brodie, Office Manager at a private practice in Los Angeles for the past 34 years, agrees. “Some people will use the appointment book and maybe a couple of other features, and then they will stop,” she said.
Underutilization of practice management software is an area of opportunity for many practices. So how can you change that? What ways can you dive deeper into your system to benefit your patients and practice? And how will that effort pay off for your practice’s bottom line?
We talked to experts nationwide about 25 ways to take advantage of the features you already have on your practice management software.
1. Embrace the cloud and reduce maintenance and security expenses
Cloud-based systems are becoming more mainstream. With so many built-in features that cover vital areas like security and IT support, Dr. Lavine thinks the decision about whether to go with a cloud-based system is important.
“You’ve got programs like Curve, Dentrix Ascend, Umbie and tab32, to name a few. A cloud-based option takes away the need for services most practices needed in the past, like encryption, backup, disaster recovery, maintaining servers and licensing fees,” he says. “A lot of that goes away with a cloud-based option.”
Dr. Jonny Brennan, a private practice dentist in Chandler, AZ, also points out the savings in tech support. “It also saves money on IT costs, like having someone come in and set the system up in a HIPAA-compliant way for remote access by configuring the ability to tunnel into your office securely. It’s all built into the cloud-based options.”
Up next: 24 more tips to help you get the most out of your practice management software
2. Subscribe monthly and spend less with bundling features and services
Many doctors resist cloud-based software because of the monthly subscription fee. However, per Dr. Brennan, an estimated $500 monthly subscription might save a practice money.
“A lot of practices are paying for pay-per-click on the older, installed, I-run-my-own-servers model. With these newer software, you are paying a monthly subscription fee, but that covers all your services. That’s text messaging and email campaigns, and even insurance claims; they are all bundled and covered,” he explained. “A lot of practices might be going over the $500 marker just on insurance claims processing charges alone.”
3. Gather the patient’s email addresses for efficient communication and marketing
Almost all software systems acquire email addresses. Email addresses are not only essential for patient communication but also for direct marketing options that come with the software.
“A lot of practices don’t capture email addresses as part of that new patient information, which is a big mistake. You absolutely want that information,” Dr. Lavine says. “You can then market things like a ‘Use it or lose it’ letter that is built into the software. A lot of people don’t even know that their software can do that.”
4. Engage in selective marketing
Practice management software can pinpoint ultra-specific groups with marketing promotions, including those with certain treatments pending.
“If you just send a mass marketing piece to all patients that you saw for that one month, that’s a lot of money. Now, by being more selective, you are saving a lot of money,” Dr. Watts says.
5. Remind patients of their remaining insurance benefits
Providing relevant information improves the patient experience. Poppe encourages the team to pull the insurance utilization report to remind patients of what benefits they need to use by the end of the year, particularly if they have a treatment plan pending.
“It’s amazing what you can get booked and how strongly you can finish a year if you help people utilize their remaining benefits,” Poppe says. “Patients do not like to waste money that they consider free.”
6. Exploit the benefits of third-party programs
Programs like Smile Reminders, Demandforce and YAPI send out confirmations automatically, cutting down on no-shows. Also, some third-party programs work with your software to put patients’ online reviews directly into Google, which can affect your page rankings.
“While this doesn’t save the practice money, it is going to make them a lot of money to keep track of these things and to increase the new cases coming in,” Dr. Lavine says.
7. Automate scheduling
Appointment texts and email reminders are intrinsic to many programs, while others integrate with third-parties that provide them. Pair it with a portal on your system where patients can change or add an available appointment to the schedule online. Dr. Brennan’s practice sets automatic reminder campaigns and the appointment portal on their Dentrix Ascend system for certain patients, like those on a three-month recare schedule.
“It texts that patient when it hits the three-month mark and reminds them when they should come in. Patients can also confirm through those as well, which helps because patients can communicate with our office without us having to employ anyone,” he says. “It’s very automated, and saves us money and time to let them just pick a time that works for them.”
8. Fill last-minute schedule holes
When you have a cancellation, many systems can contact a list of patients most likely to be available, cutting down on open appointments on the schedule.
“Let’s say you get a cancellation on a Tuesday morning,” Dr. Lavine explains. “You can easily pull a list of all of the patients that said you could call them on Tuesday morning and they could be available to come in.”
Brodie, who has been using her Eaglesoft system for nearly 20 years likes this feature as well. “It eliminates the one-on-one calling that takes a lot of time,” she says.
9. Organize patient conversations to enable systematic follow-up
Dr. Watts also recommends creating a tracking code for the different conversations you have with patients, so you stay organized for follow-up calls. For example, if you talk about Invisalign treatment, enter the code for that conversation. At the end of the month, run a report to see who you need to contact to schedule the next appointment or follow up. “You can call them if you are having a special,” says Dr. Watts.
Dr. Brennan, a self-described data nerd, also tinkers with custom reporting on treatments. It allows the doctors to follow up with patients that might need treatment but chose not to move forward.
“We find it very powerful to have the doctors take part in that and let the patients know, ‘I was reviewing your case. I noticed that ____ was going on. I would recommend we circle back with you and see if we can figure out a better way to approach that,’” he explains.
10. Address patient concerns
Use your data to discover significant trends in patient interactions to recapture some of the outstanding cases. Dr. Brennan and his team mix and match the data to address unaccepted treatment plans with common characteristics.
“We might run a report that says, any patients that were shown a treatment plan greater than $4,000 and didn’t accept. We want to see that list and go back to those patients and offer an incentive or a modified treatment plan that’s a little cheaper, to get them started,” he says. “For example we might do those kinds of campaigns around any patient’s treatment planned for orthodontics but never moved forward.”
11. Be proactive with unscheduled treatment plans
Focus on booking treatment that has already been presented. Poppe instructs offices to run reports on outstanding treatment plans for the last 30 days and calling to schedule the appointments.
“Many offices will be shocked when they run 30 days worth of unscheduled treatment that sometimes it’s $20,000 to $50,000 they didn’t capture,” Poppe explains. “If they could even capture 10 percent of that, what a difference that would make over the course of a month or a year.”
Dr. Brennan’s team runs that report every week to follow up for recare appointments. “Those that were due that month and don’t have an appointment, the no-shows, the cancellations, all of those patients can get overlooked. Sometimes practices get busy, and let that fall by the wayside,” Dr. Brennan says.
12. Solidify the new patient relationship
While many offices value seeing new patients, many don’t retain them. Poppe counsels her clients to run reports of new patients seen in the last 90 days but don’t have an appointment on the books today.
“If you are growing with tons of new patients every month and your hygiene schedule isn’t growing, you have a retention problem. I like to see how many have scheduled their next appointment, be it hygiene or treatment or anything else,” she says.
13. Reinvigorate existing relationships that have been quiet
Everyone tracks how many new patients they see, but they don’t always track how many of their existing patients they see-or don’t see. Poppe says that is the biggest missing piece of data for most offices. She drills down to see which patients have been in the last 12 to 24 months but don’t have an appointment scheduled.
“People can be a little loose about what is considered active,” Poppe says. One office she worked with converted to Dentrix in 1986 and hadn’t marked anyone inactive since. “Cleaning up their info was worth it,” she said. “What can be yielded from the ability to stay on top of patient acceptance and retention is significant from a dollars’ standpoint.”
14. Shorten the billing lag with electronic billing
Electronic billing is included in most software systems. Electronic billing reduces the payment cycle by way of its immediate delivery to the recipient. Brodie likes the electronic billing feature for the practice she manages.
“We do it all electronically, billing and statements,” she says. “It’s really helpful.”
15. Make it easy for patients to flex-spend with you
Some systems allow for line-item accounting, which allows you to show what the patient paid for each service. Brodie likes how this feature ensures all the figures will match up for patients using reimbursement with a flex spending account or paying with a flex-spending account card.
“With the flexible spending account, everything must match up, otherwise they kick it out,” she explains.
16. Collect what you already billed
An excellent way to generate revenue is to collect what you already billed. Hunter compares her AR report monthly to the previous month to ensure it is on target. She said practices should also know their collection ratio percentage, which measures bills collected versus produced. Both numbers can also serve as a harbinger for problems in their system, such as lack of follow-up or insurance denials.
“People need to know this,” Hunter says. “Everything is in there you just have to know where to look for it.”
17. Create a dashboard triggered by login to aid collections
Widgets can help organize the practice management tasks for your team members. Dr. Brennan set up a cover page that populates with the different logins to the system highlighting open projects and necessary tasks, from unattached procedures to unconfirmed appointments and even problematic payers.
“All of those stats can fuel our front office staff and our office manager to go hunt down which claims they need to work in the process of getting it all the way through collections,” he says.
18. Avoid redundancy through awareness and training
Some offices have a practice management software system in place when they buy a third-party software. Unfortunately, many times the practice management software they have can already do what the third party does, causing a redundancy.
Also, when the two systems don’t work together, the team must input the information manually. Dayna Johnson, Principal Consultant of Rae Dental Management and Certified Dentrix Trainer, finds these situations negatively affect a practice’s bottom line.
“Redundancy will kill you,” Johnson says. “It will cost your team time and time is money. If your team is having to input data into a third-party software, that’s precious time they could doing something more productive, like calling in recare patients or following up on unscheduled treatment.”
19. Research what your present software can do before you invest in a new one
Everyone has their favorite, and sometimes when a new associate or team member comes on board, he or she will want to switch practice management software. Johnson warns practices to compare the systems thoroughly, because making the switch is expensive and time-consuming. Making a snap decision can cost you.
“Just because someone thinks this is better, it doesn’t mean it is. The grass isn’t always greener,” Johnson says.
20. Let patients do the data entry
Some systems allow for the patient to check themselves in, freeing up your front desk staff to perform other tasks. Patients also input their pertinent information that becomes a part of their patient record.
“We have fast check-in at a kiosk,” Brodie says. “They fill out all their information and it goes right into the system.”
21. Move to paperless charts
Few practices that adopt paperless charts regret the move. It enhances communication, reduces clutter and helps with infection control. It also streamlines patient flow and communication between team members. Dr. Brennan is in practice with two other doctors that work on different days of the week. They use Dentrix Ascend to stay in communication about patient cases.
“We love to be efficient and to coordinate care, sometimes for emergencies or sometimes for scheduling convenience for the patient. There are times I see patients for a second visit that I didn’t see on the first. Because we are cloud-based and always accessible from any device, our system is incredibly helpful for the doctors as well as the staff to communicate and be HIPAA compliant, without requiring additional add-on software to do that.”
Brodie also appreciated her paperless charting when they moved locations eight years ago. “We have been in business for 33 years. If we had to bring 33 years of charts, there is no way we could have done it,” she says.
22. Get smart about documents
Even though a paperless charting system has many benefits, everyone still has not made the leap. Paper documents come in that need to be with patient’s files. Brodie’s Eaglesoft system allows her to scan documents directly into the patient files, making them easy to locate and saving the team time they could use in different ways.
“Anything comes in, we can scan it and it becomes part of that patient’s record. You don’t have to worry about paper or something that came from another office,” she says.
23. Measure your case conversion rate
There are different ways to track acceptance rates or case conversions, whether that’s running recent unscheduled treatment plans or using a manual tracker. Some systems include a built-in case-conversion tracking function. Dr. Watts recommends running a report monthly to check what your percentage of acceptance is.
“Let’s say I see 500 patients this month and 200 of them had a treatment plan that included crowns. But I only did 50 of them. My acceptance for crown cases is 25 percent, and that’s very poor. Only one in four patients is accepting my work. What that says is there is inefficiency in my communication,” Dr. Watts explains.
24. Address long-term goals
With the various reporting features available, Poppe thinks practice management software can report on some of the practice’s big-picture goals, including identifying areas of improvement or areas that are missing altogether, an effort she feels is lacking for many offices.
“Very few practices have someone thinking big picture. It’s amazing how many of them just get through and don’t think about what they could do better or what is missing,” Poppe says.
Dr. Lavine explained that most systems could show which procedures are most profitable, which have the highest number of no-shows and even whether your hygiene department is a source of revenue. “All that can be tracked if you know how to analyze it and play with the numbers,” says Dr. Lavine.
Christdoulou agrees that understanding the reporting functions are essential. “It can help you consolidate job functions, reduce double entry and streamline workflow,” she explains.
25. Review whether your current system meets the needs of your practice today
In all parts of our lives, we assess whether something is working for us. From cars to wardrobes to houses, we periodically review whether the status quo is adequate for our needs. The same should be true for your practice management software.
Christdoulou’s company, XLDent, facilitates this kind of software analysis for their clients. However, she believes that doctors need to have some training on the software, too, and not just rely on staff’s experience and knowledge to dictate that for the practice.
“Don’t assume that the way staff used software in other offices is the way it should be used in your dental practice,” she explains. “You should use practice management software in your office according to your business model and your established standard operating procedures.”
Dr. Brennan suggests that practices review their practice management software systems every three to five years.
“There are plenty of people that are running practice management software that isn’t optimal for their business, and there is probably a better solution. Even though that’s an investment, that would automatically make things a lot easier for them to save money. I am running that optimal software, so that’s why I say that,” Dr. Brennan says. “Sometimes I look around and feel like it’s a secret weapon.”