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7 common questions about dental EHR


What you need to know about electronic health records in the face of their growing popularity.

It seems that as electronic health records (EHR) become more of a mainstream tool in dentistry, I get more questions related to their evaluation, purchase and implementation.

So, I thought that I would share a few of the common questions that I receive concerning EHR.

What is the difference between dental charting programs and “next-generation” EHR?

When we use the term EHR, we are not just talking about electronic dental charting capability. I have talked to several practices and groups that believe they have EHR systems, when, in reality, they just have components of an EHR system. A true EHR system should capture the data in discrete or structured format so it can be used for numerous clinical functions and patient analytics.

It should also have advanced features such as treatment planning, protocols, electronic prescribing, clinical workflow, clinical alerts and other features that have become standard for EHR is in the medical world. Hopefully, they will also have tools to analyze treatments and outcomes of their patient population. The ability to import and export clinical data in a standard format will be essential in the future.

Related reading: 5 EHR tips that could save your dental practice

Can an EHR system help with communication between clinical and administrative staff members?

Yes, and this is apparent in the workflow within the practice. The system should be able to electronically hand off the patient between various touch points and pass along information between administrative and clinical areas. A good EHR system has a very robust internal messaging capability that can also have a task-management component. The claims processing process becomes more streamlined and efficient because there is less manual intervention, and claims flow electronically from procedures done in the operatory through the claims processing system. From a clinical workflow standpoint, a well-designed EHR can manage task lists, including alerting for overdue tasks. 

How long does implementation and training typically take?

This depends on a number of factors, including the level of buy-in that a staff has regarding the new system, the willingness to use the system on a regular basis, and the resources that have been put forward during the training process. An implementation can fail if the practice or group does not provide staff resources and commitment to training. 

Related reading: The benefits of EHR in group practices

Could EHR increase collaboration between dentists and physicians? 

Absolutely. When a patient is sitting in the operatory, a dental provider could have a need to contact the patient’s medical provider to find out about medications, procedures, medical history and other clinical factors that weren’t provided by the patient, so that they can best serve their patient. With EHR, the medical information they need should be at their fingertips. With the burgeoning growth of interoperability and health information exchange, the medical provider in turn should be able to receive similar information electronically into their system from the dental provider. Thus, EHR helps facilitate this collaboration and team approach. This type of collaboration would be much more difficult if it wasn’t for EHR technology 

Does EHR help with medications?

It’s becoming more standard in EHRs to use ePrescribing. Basically, all the prescriptions a patient is given-no matter what the source-go through a clearinghouse to the pharmacy, and in turn these lists can be shared almost in real time when the patient’s chart is opened. The system can automatically check for any interactions with prescriptions that you are contemplating and update the overall med list with your Rx. Some vendors are even adding functionality to check for patient compliance.

More from the author: How to take charge of your software implementation

How can EHR make the referral process more efficient?

The referral process is becoming more electronic, and you can refer a patient out from within the electronic chart. This sends an electronic message to the referral, along with information they may need from the patient’s chart. As interoperability and health information exchange (HIE) becomes more standard, this information would go right into the EHR system of the provider you are referring to. These HIEs are big routing networks through which information from various systems, general providers and specialists passes. Standards are being adopted by EHR systems to facilitate this.

Trending article: How dental EHR can streamline referral processes

How will EHR support more efficient patient education?

This is a perfect application of EHR technology. It should be possible to, based on a diagnosis and treatment, have the system automatically present patient education materials (videos, images, etc.) to the patient during the encounter. In addition to presenting this information at the point of care, the system should be able to print these materials out upon check out.

Web portals are becoming more popular, where the patient can log into a browser and receive patient education materials that have been specifically loaded into their account. This is especially helpful when a patient forgets the patient education they have been presented. Patients will have the capability to, at any time, review the patient education that was prescribed to them


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