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Dr. John Flucke is in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He also serves as technology editor for Dental Products Report magazine and keeps an active blog filled with thoughts and tidbits on the world of technology at blog.denticle.com.
How electronic health record software can enable your practice to reach a new level of efficiency.
Sometimes at the end of the day, I’ll look at my schedule and just be stunned at what the office has accomplished in the previous 8 hours or so.
Some of the greatest ways humans have created to help each other involves efficiency and the ability to do more in less time-which usually revolves around our ability to continue to improve efficiency through innovation.
Think about that for a moment. How many patients could you help in a day if you were suddenly forced to practice as they did in the 1870s? Local anesthetics didn’t exist. There was no way to create radiographs. Rotary instrumentation was done by pedaling a bicycle-like contraption, if it existed at all. That meant all dentistry was done with hand instruments. The restorative materials were amalgam or gold. I have no idea how they took impressions and doctors actually mixed amalgam by hand!
When Henry Ford first started making cars 100 years ago, they were creating one car every 12 hours. When the company then invented and implemented the assembly line process, the production increased to one car every 90 minutes. This phenomenal increase in productivity also created a tremendous cost savings, which allowed Ford to drop the price of the Model T from $850 to $300. That’s a savings of over 70 percent!
This savings allowed the Model T to be available to the masses and Ford’s profits soared. And even though they were incredibly efficient and profitable, the company continued to focus on innovation, eventually reaching the point they were churning out one Model T every 24 seconds.
The lesson in all of that? The best continue to innovate. Just because you have adopted digital radiography in the last year or because you are now doing your impressions digitally does not mean that you’ve reached the pinnacle and can spend the rest of your career resting on your dental laurels. Not hardly.
When I was getting near graduation from dental school, one of the instructors told the class that a diploma was just a license for a lifetime of continual learning. While I totally agree with that sentiment, I also think that clinical practice is a commitment to continual study of efficiency and improvement.
No one wants a dental procedure to take longer. The patient certainly doesn’t and with the physical toll that practicing dentistry has on the doctor and the clinical team, shortening dental procedure time is better for everyone’s overall health.
For these reasons, efficiency is a good thing for the patients, the doctor, the staff and the practice. There are dozens of ways that efficiency can be boosted, but let’s look at how you can do this through your dental software.
Next: The clinical advantages
Electronic health record software has many benefits. For starters, the federal government is encouraging all medical professionals to use EHR. From the government’s perspective, utilizing computers will enable all of a patient’s health data to be kept in one common repository. This will mean less time spent gathering data and fewer overall mistakes made due to unknown or missing information. By doing this, the government hopes to keep costs down and decrease the percentage of our GNP devoted to the health care sector.
From the standpoint of the individual practice, the efficiency and time savings are substantial. I estimate that by using chart notes that are typed instead of handwritten, I save at least 30 minutes per day, based on how much time I spent on chart notes before and after digital conversion. I can now get home to my family 30 minutes earlier thanks to digital chart notes. I can also tell you that typed notes make a much more professional chart. As chairman of the Missouri State Peer Review program, I get to see chart notes on a regular basis. Handwritten “chicken scratch” is much harder to decipher and looks a lot less concise and much less professional.
The next benefit comes from the advantages of co-diagnosis. My operatory layout puts a patient monitor on an articulated arm. This means that no matter what angle of patient positioning, my Exorvision monitors can be put at the perfect viewing angle. This allows the staff or myself to show radiographs, photos or anything else to the patient so that he or she can fully understand the clinical situation and the benefits of treatment. These images are stored in the digital chart to help keep a complete record of diagnosis and treatment.
The co-diagnosis process is dependent on an excellent patient monitor. The Exorvision 24-inch DenClarity monitors have much higher brightness so the images, especially radiographs, are easily seen by the patient. These monitors are also glass sealed, so they can be wiped down and disinfected between patients. They are also low voltage, remote controlled and have built-in TV tuners for patient entertainment. Check them out at www.exorvision.com.
Digital storage of data means an incredible amount of time is saved when searching for past information. In my office, perio charting, tooth charting, lab prescriptions, medicine prescriptions, radiographs, pictures, chart notes and signed treatment plans are all stored in the database. Needless to say, we don’t lose copious amounts of time looking for things in the patient record. Also, since we do take and store numerous images to document diagnosis and treatment, we have a very good medical and legal record of everything we’ve done. This is a tremendous advantage in case of a lawsuit.
Next: The front office advantages
Simplifying front office tasks
The administrative team also sees tremendous benefits in efficiency. All our electronic claims are sent digitally by Renaissance and any needed images are attached to those claims by NEA Fast Attach. By digitally submitting to third party payers we have increased the turnaround on payment by about 66 percent.
Scheduling is also a major component of efficiency for the admin team. Rather than paging through an appointment book to find an open slot, a simple matter of a couple of mouse clicks solves the problem in seconds rather than minutes. This allows the team to move on to other tasks that require their attention. The scheduling is also made much easier through integration with SolutionReach. The company uses a connection to our server and contacts our patients via text messages to remind them of upcoming appointments (they also provide online surveys and lots of other services). Through the office’s digitization, SolutionReach frees up the admin team to get more done and, most importantly, give more attention to our patients who are in the office.
Using it all to our advantage
I don’t do much external marketing. What we do instead is focus on our patients when they are in the office. I want my team present and engaged in every patient interaction. I’ve found that by doing this, referrals from existing patients have increased dramatically. Patients want to know how much you care and we show them this every visit by being on task every moment of every visit. Of course, you can’t give the patients that kind of an experience unless you have the time to do so. By utilizing our software to perform as many functions as possible, we use that time savings to make the patient experience as extraordinary as possible.
A totally digital office offers so many advantages over analog that a book could easily be written covering the amazing benefits. I’m constantly on point to find the best and most efficient ways to do things and by far, the best thing I’ve found is to use my office software as much as possible for myself and the team. Because EHR reach into every aspect of the practice, the benefits are enjoyed by every member of the team. There really are not any other technologies that have such a far-reaching impact on everyone in the office, including the patients