4 Features You Should Be Using More on Your Practice Management Software

You have them, but do you use them? These practice management features are a few that you should be using more of in your practice.

There are numerous features you use on your practice management software, and that’s been working great. But what about the ones you don’t use? There are a few practice management software features that you might not be using but could help your practice, and we found out how.

Feature #1: Online Scheduling Portals

Online scheduling portals are a feature that is underutilized by many dental practices, according to L. Michael Badger, DDS, FAGD, FACD, DICOI, a cosmetic dentist at a Heartland Dental supported dental practice in Orlando, Florida, and an international speaker on advanced dental techniques, communication, and emerging technologies. However, Dr Badger believes this feature's convenience is an essential part of the patient experience today.

“We live in an age of convenience at our fingertips and the ability to schedule appointment times that fit work and lifestyle preferences are becoming more the norm,” Dr Badger says. “Online scheduling portals that seamlessly integrate with practice software are practice builders for the productive doctor and their teams that capitalize on the opportunity this can afford.”

One reason that practices don’t use online scheduling more is that it is not as easy as just having the software in place, Dr Badger says. Plus, he thinks many practices fail to recognize the benefit that comes from a lack of marketing investment required to get that patient into the practice, address their motivations for scheduling, and then, creating an experience that they may not have had before so that they elect to return or share their experience with friends and family.

When it comes to ways that a practice can successfully integrate the online scheduling portal into their daily workings, Dr Badger believes identifying and planning for those scheduling opportunities early is key.

“Additionally, securing as much patient data and communication prior to the visit is not only impressive, but it is an efficient practice-building necessity,” Dr Badger says. “The patient is the most important part to you, and they should feel like it.”

Feature #2: Billing Features

Billing is one essential area of dental practice. However, many practices do not utilize billing features enough, according to Charlotte Skaggs, founder of Vector Consulting and The Dentrix Office Manager Columnist. As a proponent of Dentrix QuickBill Premium, she believes it could help practices manage their bottom line.

Skaggs says it is beneficial for practices to send patients statements using mail, email, or text. In particular, texts fits more conveniently into patients’ daily lives, and encourages patients to view their statements in a timelier manner than statements sent using traditional postal mail would allow.

“Subsequently, patients will pay their balance more quickly, which results in healthy cash flow for the office. Maintaining healthy cash flow is a critical part of a successful dental practice,” Skaggs explains.

Dentrix tracks the history of electronically submitted statements which allows practices to easily see which patients received statements and when they were sent. Practices can also view a copy when a patient calls with questions about their statement. Answering billing questions quickly and confidently can help to encourage patients to pay their balance, Skaggs explains.

“One of my favorite features in QuickBill Premium are the statuses for emailed statements which will show you if the emailed statement was opened, viewed, and paid by the patient. This provides you with confirmation that the patient received their statement, which is something you can’t get with statements that are sent in the mail,” Skaggs says. “Another benefit of using QuickBill Premium is that the doctor saves money on the payroll when sending statements because the dentists don't have to pay administrative staff to print, fold and mail statements manually, which can be a time-consuming process.”

Skaggs understands why some practices might have skipped this feature in the past. She felt similarly when she started, too.

“Years ago, when I first started using QuickBill to mail statements, I was hesitant to use the feature because I was nervous that I would no longer have the ability to go through the statements and pick and choose the ones I wanted to send. There were typically a few accounts that I didn’t want to send a statement to if there was an issue with that account during that billing cycle. When I speak to dental offices, I find that many of them are hesitant to use QuickBill Premium for the same reason,” Skaggs says. “But you have just as much control of which statements are sent as you would if you printed and mailed them from your office.”

With QuickBill Premium, practices can choose which statements they want to send and how to send them, either by mail, email, text, or a combination of those delivery options.

“You can view a preview of the statement, and also have access to the Dentrix Ledger from the verify statements window if there is an account you need to investigate before sending a statement,” Skaggs says.

Skaggs believes integrating QuickBill Premium can be easy. She recommends asking patients how they would prefer to receive their statements. Then, patients get them in the way that’s most convenient for them. That preference can be selected in the Dentrix Family File, and those settings will be used the next time statements are generated, she says.

“When it’s time to send statements in your practice, you would create them the same way you normally would in the Office Manager and select the Electronic Billing Submission Icon. Then you can verify the statements you want to send and how you want to send them,” Skaggs explains. “You can view the Electronic Submission History in the Office Manager, or you can view the statement history in the Family File for an individual account.”

Feature #3: Scheduling Tools

Scheduling patient appointments has traditionally been a manual process for practice staff. However, scheduling tools can allow automation and self-service scheduling by patients. Debra Horn, marketing communications supervisor for Open Dental Software thinks that their Web Sched eServices, which includes Web Sched Recall, New Patient, Existing Patient, and ASAP scheduling features, can greatly benefit practice staff and their patients but are sometimes not utilized to their full potential because dental practices don’t know about them.

Like Dr Badger, Horn says that scheduling tools are valuable time-saving tools for dental practices, especially for a process like a recall that is integral to patient care and the practice’s revenue cycle management. Open Dental’s Web Sched Recall eService automates patient recall scheduling by sending patients an email or text so the patient can click on a link and schedule their own appointment, which shows up immediately on the practice’s schedule.

“It saves the practice a ton of time because phone calls can be labor-intensive and inefficient,” Horn says.

Two other online scheduling features are Web Sched New Patient and Existing Patient. Web Sched Existing Patient allows current patients to schedule online appointments where there is a more urgent need for care. Web Sched New Patient manages the onboarding process for patients’ first-time visits through a website button or email link. When a new patient schedules, the system also automatically makes a new patient record for them, and the team can then manage the additional information needed before the appointment. The system can also prompt a new patient to fill out needed paperwork, removing the need for staff to manually follow up.

“Once the online paperwork is filled out and submitted, the practice imports that into Open Dental, eliminating the data entry issues,” Horn says.

The Web Sched ASAP feature allows practices to fill canceled appointment slots quickly with patients who have asked to come in sooner if something becomes available.

These scheduling features can be bundled for greater savings, and when a practice uses the eServices Bundle, Open Dental’s team helps the practice set up so they can enjoy those benefits with less effort.

“We run through everything with them and help them get everything set up so that the intimidation factor of having to set up something new goes away,” Horn says.

In addition, the bundled eServices features are developed by Open Dental, so Horn says they integrate seamlessly. New features continue to be added and will work without interruption through software upgrades, which happen three to four times a year.

“We want practices to know these tools are here for them, and we can help them get it all setup,” Horn says. “The benefit of using Open Dental eServices is we develop them, so they are fully integrated and maximizing all the different tools that open dental has to make sure you are getting your money’s worth out of these tools.”

Feature 4: The Claims Management and Insurance Aging Drill Down Screen

It is essential to remember that when you break down the administrative portions of a dental office, all roads lead back to 1 topic, money, says Alicia Dieujuste, managing director of practice management for DentiMax. Money is then broken into 2 categories, insurance, and patient responsibility. Utilizing the claims management screen is 1 of the most important things a dental office can do to ensure their cash flow keeps flowing, Dieujuste says.

Some software systems, like DentiMax, offer a robust interactive screen to lend transparency to outstanding claims, and organize the information in a way that the staff can more easily manage them, which Dieujuste says, “is a huge benefit and certainly underutilized by many practices.”

“The patient's responsibility, unless you have a true fee for service practice, is typically contingent upon the insurance payments, adjustments, or lack of. This makes managing your insurance claims probably one of the most important duties a dental office has,” Dieujuste says. “If the insurance isn't collected, applied properly, or the claim is not closed, it affects a lot of aspects of your dental software.”

The standard software system comes with an insurance aging report, Dieujuste explains, which leaves the front office clicking through multiple screens per patient to gather all the necessary data to follow up on the dental claims. Then, the front office makes notes on a printed report, only to go back and make notes somewhere in the software. However, new software features simplify this for these team members, Dieujuste says.

“DentiMax, for example, offers an Insurance Aging Drill Down Screen, which compiles all the relevant data of the claims, organized by insurance plan—so you don't have to call the same insurance company eight times in one day—into selectable buckets based on age. This screen allows you to make notes about the claim status, who you spoke to, or how you investigated the claim, and what action was taken without clicking into another screen for any info,” Dieujuste says.

Deciding to take on change because of habit is a significant reason some practices don’t use this feature more, Dieujuste says.

“Depending on the software your practice uses, you may not have a screen that compiles all the claim/patient data into one screen for you, making it hard to divorce yourself from the old school method of printing a report and flipping screens,” Dieujuste says. “Alternatively, the one thing that tends to hold practices back in implementing helpful solutions is their comfort level and understanding. It's important to take the time needed to learn a new process in order to really see the benefit of the feature.”

To integrate this feature into the daily workflow, Dieujuste suggests training. For example, if the practice’s software has a screen that allows you to minimize screen flipping and printing reports, software training helps someone understand what the screen shows, where the pertinent data is, and where to make notes, among other things. Dieujuste also suggests printing the report that the team is comfortable using and then, while looking at the practice management system screen, asking questions that help associate the screen the team member sees with the information on the report.

“Most importantly, start using the screen and ask follow-up questions,” Dieujuste says. “Implementing something new into your workflow is almost impossible if you don't get your hands on it and give it a try. In the long run, utilizing a feature such as this will make your office more organized, improve your cash flow, increase patient satisfaction by preventing bills months after treatment has occurred, and helps the office go a bit greener by ditching the paper.”