Taking a look at what tasks your practice should automate and how to get them up and running.
The ever-wise Oprah Winfrey once said, “Are we limiting our success by not mastering the art of delegation? … It’s simply a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” In addition to doling out cars, this advice-giving legend also recommends doling out responsibility.
For dental practices, the ultimate opportunity for delegation is here—but not in the form you might expect. Yes, practitioners should rely on their teams to complete tasks so that they can focus on the business of dentistry. But there’s also another team member that can take a lot off your plate: automated technology. Taking advantage of it is akin to mastering the art of delegation, but many dentists have been slow to embrace this ultimate tool in their practices.
“Dentistry is so behind when it comes to adopting new technology,” says Laci Philips Newland, a practice-management speaker and coach and founding partner at Practice Dynamics. “Yet dentists use technology outside of the office. So, we have these dentists who are very technologically advanced outside the dental practice, but inside the practice they don’t even have electronic forms. It doesn’t make sense.”
Adopting automated technology does make sense for dental practices. Automated processes save time and money, and free up the dentist to prioritize clinical care while allowing team members to focus on more important tasks while the computer handles the mundane day-to-day details. But what should practices automate first—and how do they go about implementing it?
Automation in motion
The bottom line: gone are the days of paper—or at least, they should be.
“You should be using e-dentistry,” Phillips Newland says. “Everything from your practice-management software to insurance eligibility, verification, breakdown of benefits, integrations, electronic forms… It’s 2021 and we still have so many offices that are charting on paper. You should be taking advantage of the technological resources available to you.”
Phillips Newland says practices should start by getting reliable practice-management software, and then from there explore the add-ons and third-party systems that allow you to dig really deep. The first step, for practice’s that are behind, is to transition to paperless patient forms. By automating paperwork, patients can fill out forms ahead of their visit, and the information is automatically stored in the practice-management software. This simplifies things for patients and also streamlines the front-office workflow, allowing team members to focus more on patient experience and care.
“Technology takes customer service to a whole new level,” Phillips Newland says. “You have to find a way to make the mundane things that you have to do day in and day out the most effective and efficient you possibly can be. Then, that gives you time to really truly give your patients everything that you have, so you are actually connecting with them on a human basis. You’re able to do this because the technology we have in dentistry takes care of the rest of it for you.”
Automation can also come in handy when getting the patient to the appointment and building a relationship before the patient even enters the office. Confirmation-software systems send out automated appointment reminders via text, calls or emails, and can also be used for other patient communications. Platforms like SmileSnap allow practices to send recorded or live video to patients, from personalized video introductions to virtual visits and specialist introductions, leading to increased patient conversion and case acceptance, and a higher standard of patient engagement.
“Patients need a way to engage that is simple and quick,” says Gary Pellegrom, cofounder and CEO of SmileSnap. “SmileSnap connects your practice to patients wherever and whenever they are available. This saves doctors time and frustration by delivering patients that are qualified, informed and ready to accept treatment. It’s a win-win.”
And a win-win it is, as systems like this can provide benefits for patients as well as clinicians.
“Imagine you're a brand-new patient and you've booked an appointment with a dentist you've never met before, and the week before your appointment—or maybe even right after you book the appointment—you get a text message or an email with a link,” Phillips Newland says. “And it's a video from that dentist saying ‘hey, thanks for making your appointment. I look forward to meeting you.’ It’s an extra touch that can go a long way.”
Technology like this can also be used with existing patients to increase engagement. Perhaps new decay has been diagnosed and the doctor determines there’s work that needs to be done. Software can send a video message via text from the doctor saying they are concerned about the patient’s health, and encouraging them to set up another appointment to address the problem. Practices can also use platforms like Refera to send referrals to the patient digitally, and then allows the dentist to track whether or not the patient follows up with the specialist.
In addition to communication, practices should be automating electronic forms and insurance eligibility. A 2021 report from CAQH found that automating healthcare administrative transactions related to verifying patient insurance, obtaining authorization for care, and submitting claims reduced annual costs by $122 billion across the healthcare industry. In dentistry, CAQH found that each fully automated claims status inquiry cost $10.92 less. Converting eligibility verification from manual to electronic saves $8.75 per transaction. Multiple this by every patient using insurance, and the impact for the industry is significant.
When it comes to paying out of pocket and collecting payments, Phillips recommends practices also add electronic billing statements and payment options.
“We pay with CashApp and Zelle outside of the practice, and you should do something similar in your practice,” she says. “Allow them options of payment. ‘Here, I’m going to text you your invoice, you can pay on your phone. We need to think like other industries and think how consumers buy.”
Mobilizing the team
Despite these obvious perks, some practices are reticent to embrace automated technology. Dentists should examine what is holding them back—is it an unfamiliarity with the software? Insecurity amongst the team about job stability if tasks are automated? General laziness? Pinpointing—and addressing—the holdup is the first step.
“In making the transition, you first have to find out what's holding the practice back,” Philips Newland says. “First and foremost, you have to identify that obstacle and get through it. One thing I've learned over the years, dentists and their teams are not quick to make decisions. For the longest time, our biggest standstill on electronic forms was nobody was doing it well, but almost everybody's doing it now. So, start with baby steps. Identify what your priorities are: Priority number one would be going chartless, priority number two is maybe ‘let's go electronic insurance’, etc. You've got to set up baby steps, and then accomplish it.”
Even if you have embraced automated processes in your practice, it goes without saying that it is only truly effective if they are actually being implemented properly. This means taking the time to actually learn how the software works. Without a good understanding of its capabilities and functions, automated processes can hurt more than they help.
“First and foremost, I think the key is knowing how to use the technology,” Phillips Newland says. “Almost every practice-management system out there will do what we're talking about, so now we have to figure out how to actually use that software. One of the biggest downfalls in our dental practices is that we invest in this technology and then we don't really know how to use it.”
If the dentist doesn’t know how to use it, the rest of the team won’t either. If team members aren’t properly trained, they’ll push back against using it since they don’t understand it. While it may take time upfront, providing proper training, whether that be with a company rep or a front-office lead who has worked with the software before, will save time and money down the road.
“You’ll get team members that say, ‘I don't have time to implement it,’” Phillips Newland says. “But implementing it will save us time in the long run, so yes, there’s a learning curve now, but it's going to make us more effective and efficient in the future. Emphasizing this is so important.”
Dentists should work with their teams to ensure everyone understands the software’s capabilities as well as the benefits it provides and how it can make their jobs easier and simplify their workflows. Making sure that everyone on the team understands all aspects of the software is also critical. This allows a hygienist to proves a payment chairside so the patient can leave directly from the operatory, or lets a front-desk team member add a note to a chart for the doctor based off of a conversation in the waiting room.
“I think absolutely we everybody should be cross-trained,” Phillips Newland says. “Everybody should understand everybody else's role in the practice. It also creates empathy, so you don't have that great division of the clinical team and the business team—instead, we're one big team, and without the other ones, we can't make this happen.
As technology helps practices transition into 1 big team, it also constantly pushes the team forward as it evolves.
“Technology changes literally every day,” Phillips Newland says. “It's a matter of us as human beings embracing that and deciding what part of this we can use in our practice.”