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Having spent my entire career in dentistry; different roles and responsibilities have allowed
me to develop an appreciation of all areas of the dental practice and see how everyone
must work together to create a both a positive working environment and patient
Having spent my entire career in dentistry; different roles and responsibilities have allowed me to develop an appreciation of all areas of the dental practice and see how everyone must work together to create a both a positive working environment and patient experience. Today’s electronic health record (EHR) can be an important part of that work environment; bringing together clinical information, financial data, practice management systems and patient communications under one umbrella.
Because there are many misconceptions about EHRs and what they can do for a dental practice, I would like to clear the air and set some of the facts straight.
Myth: There is no demand to implement electronic health records (EHRs).
Fact: Many dental schools, dental hygiene and dental assisting programs across the country have implemented or are implementing EHRs because they are considered to be a standard, and may also be part of their program accreditation requirements. Therefore, more and more graduating dentists, assistants and hygienists are most familiar with EHRs as the way to document patient information. This can create a barrier between dental offices not yet implementing EHRs and new dental professionals leaving school and joining the workforce. Practices without a fully functioning EHR system may be compromised in attracting these new associates and team members if they are not utilizing this technology.
Additionally, patients are looking for EHRs in dental practices. They have grown accustomed to the technology in medicine and to see it expand into other areas of healthcare is a natural occurrence.
Myth: EHR implementation is expensive.
Fact: Many certified products (listed on the ONC website) have become very affordable because EHRs are very quickly becoming the industry standard. Competition among software companies is also forcing the prices down, making many systems’ price tag within reach of even the solo dental practice.
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Myth: EHR implementation is going to solve all of a practice’s issues.
Fact: An EHR will resolve some practice issues right away, but it will also uncover other matters that may not have presented themselves previously. EHR implementation will often make a practice run more efficiently, and force more organized record keeping behavior. A customary improvement is with legibility. Think about how often you may struggle to read someone else’s record entry - if not your own? It is important to keep a realistic approach – an EHR can’t fix everything, but it can show you where you may need to focus your organizational efforts.
Myth: EHRs cause dental professionals to focus on the computer screen rather than the patient, creating poor patient communication.
Fact: EHRs actually encourage more communication with patients. While there may be a learning curve, EHRs can integrate seamlessly with many different practice management software systems that subsequently serve as an educational tool, allowing dentists and team members to share information directly with patients while chairside. These educational tools, such as the CAESY Cloud patient education system, put dental terminology in an easy-to-understand format, allowing practitioners to more effectively communicate with patients.
Myth: Installing an EHR in your practice will make you compliant with regulatory standards or future mandates.
Fact: Simply installing an EHR system does not make your practice compliant – your practice must install or upgrade systems to certified health IT products (ONC website). Make sure you implement software from your vendor as it is updated. It is typically not the responsibility of the EHR supplier to ensure you are compliant – the accountability falls on the practice.
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Myth: Data stored in an EHR presents major security risks.
Fact: Regulations have very strict standards for electronic records protection, beyond what is possible with paper documents. Strict login requirements monitor when a user attempts and gains access, and tracks where they navigate within the system. All trails are documented so you can verify dental records are only being viewed by authorized personnel.
Sophisticated back-up systems meet requirements safely and securely. If ever needed, newer technology can restore data quickly and provides protection from natural disasters, fires and floods beyond what would destroy paper documents.
Although the majority of dental practices are not currently mandated to utilize EHR systems, to be a viable participant in overall healthcare we need to be headed in that direction. EHR implementation has become a standard for the future. Practices in need should research various certified EHR systems on the market and utilize the resources provided by many of the companies or private consultants, such as Eaglesoft by Patterson Dental. It is, in my opinion, one of the most user-friendly software systems on the market. The Eaglesoft support team works with your dental practice from start to finish, offering the support you need to complete your transition.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the future – ultimately, an EHR will help set your practice up for future success.