Dental EHRs provide DSOs and groups with improved patient care

August 22, 2019

EHRs will likely improve your cash flow and profitability as well.

DSOs and dental groups have over the years had to fight back against the public perception of “corporate dentistry,” which elicited the images of impersonal, profit-focused organizations that cared more about making a buck than providing exceptional patient care. That’s all changing with the rapid adoption of dental Electronic Health Records (EHRs), which are providing increasingly more advanced features and functionality in the clinical setting.

With the use of a multi-faceted dental EHR, a DSO or group can provide a greater level of patient care than their competitors and win the “corporate dentistry” perception battle. A side benefit of a dental EHRs is, in addition to providing exceptional patient care, they can actually improve the financial and operational aspects of the business

Structuring clinical information

The power of a “true” EHR comes from its ability to capture individual pieces of data from a well-designed exam and procedural templates and store them in an organized way within the EHRs relational database. This is referred to as structured clinical data. Not all dental software products do this and many still just save the documentation in an unstructured textual form as you would see in a PDF or Word document.

When you hear the term “paperless” associated with a dental software application, more times than not it’s referring to capturing and storing documentation in the unstructured textual form instead of in a “true” EHR. There are many ways a dental EHR can improve your overall patient care. Here are just a few.   

Clinical decision support

With EHRs, you can use a patient’s problems and issues to automatically retrieve related courses of evidence-based treatment. There’s a growing amount of information regarding oral health best practices. Suggested ways of handling cases come out of clinical evidence and research.

An EHR can give you information based on research on how you might handle the problem. No provider can keep up with all of the research being done, so having a tool that can offer clinical decision-making support helps providers make intelligent decisions about their patients based on evidence and information in the database. There’s never any requirement to follow guidelines presented, but it’s helpful to have evidence-based information while you’re making decisions.

Standardize clinical care

A number of clients have told me as a DSO or group expands into more and more locations, it becomes difficult to standardize patient care within the organization. A well-organized, template-driven EHR supports the notion of standardizing exams, procedures, and clinical workflows within the group.

Through a clinical committee using the power of EHR, a group can develop libraries of templates, protocols, and plans that can be reused by each provider regardless of which location they’re in. This gives an important level of control for the DSO or group regarding how it standardizes patient care across multiple locations.

Clinical analytics

With the utilization of structured data within EHRs, an intelligent organization can use the clinical data from past visits to improve outcomes for their patients. With exam and procedural data residing in a relational database coupled with the use of analytics tools, a DSO or group can improve patient care based on how it has done things successfully or poorly in the past.

Although the use of analytics and business intelligence is becoming more commonplace when it comes to the financial and operational aspects of a DSO or group, we’re just starting to see the rise of the use of EHRs and analytics when it comes to clinical patient care.

Interoperability

Dentistry and oral health shouldn’t be thought of as a silo by itself but as a major component in the overall health care of patients. Over the years, and at an expanding rate, oral-systemic health research has shown this to be true. Yet, whereas in medicine, patient data can be shared between hospitals, primary care, and specialists through the use of EHRs, we typically don’t find dentistry and oral health being part of this network of information.

Why is this? For the most part, dental organizations are just starting to embrace EHRs as a critical part of their operations. Contrary to the belief of some in the dental industry, there actually are standards in place for the sharing of patient information between systems in healthcare supported by structured data-based EHRs.

This EHR interoperability isn’t just for sharing clinical data between medical and dental groups. Isn’t it just as important to share patient data within the dental industry between general dentists and specialists?

As an anecdote to this, for the past few years, I’ve been helping groups and practices obtain federal subsidies for purchasing and using certified EHRs. Yet, the subsidies dental groups have applied for is just a small percentage of subsidies applied for and received from medical groups. One of the reasons is because thus far we haven’t seen the preponderance of “true” EHRs in dentistry. But, this is all changing.

Better business

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that even though dental EHRs provide many routes to improving the patient care within DSOs and groups, there’s an advantage to using “true” EHRs to improve the financial operations as well.

This is seen in the fact that with structured data-based EHRs, procedures and their associated codes can migrate directly from the point of care all the way through claims processing without manual intervention or transcription. Also, any associated documentation required by the insurance company for reimbursement can be automatically attached, thus EHRs can also improve cash flow.

The bottom line is the negative public perception of “corporate dentistry,” so many times being unfairly associated with groups and DSOs, can potentially be eliminated by providing state-of-the-art, high-quality patient care with the use of modern dental EHR technology. What should be most interesting to a DSO or emerging group contemplating purchasing an EHR is along with the improved perception from the patient care side comes a potential improvement in cash flow and profitability as well.

Just remember, when you evaluate an EHR for your DSO or group, you really need to know if the vendor is offering a “true” EHR or just another “paperless” solution.