How "going digital" in your dental practice will benefit your senior citizen patients

December 16, 2013

When I was looking at transitioning my first office from paper charts to digital (of course it was the office at which I was working), the one thing that concerned me the most was the reaction of my patients. How would my patients take to filling out their forms from home on a computer or confirming their appointments from their mobile phones? My office is on an island with a large population of retired and elderly people and 32% of our patient base was over the age of 61 at the time I started the transition. I look back now and wonder what I was so worried about. In fact, according to an April 2012 study by Pew Research Center, 53% of people over the age of 65 use the Internet or email and, of those who are using the internet, 82% say they use it on a daily basis. Also, seven out of 10 people in this age group own a cell phone, up 57% from 2010. Even with my office being well below the national average, we are having extreme success with electronic forms and correspondence.

We started out using email and text message for confirming appointments. One of our long-term patients came in and the first words out of his mouth were “I LOVE THE TEXT MESSAGING!” By the way, he is 80 years old. Now 67% of our patient base is using an electronic method of confirming appointments and an average of 85% of our new patients are filling out forms online through our website.

I share this story for one reason: If your office is thinking of transitioning from paper charts to electronic records, don’t use your elderly patients as the excuse not to make the switch. Don’t let them hold you back. Remember, you train patient behavior and the way you react to this new process will be how they respond to it. Here is how you will be rewarded if you are encouraging and excited about the possibilities of using electronic records.

If your office is located in an area where retirement living, adult family homes, or full-time care facilities are the norm, you are at an advantage because these facilities have all the information you need and they have people on staff who will assist if needed. Patients in this age group are typically taking several medications, have a list of physicians, and multiple medical conditions that you need to know before you can treat the patient. If your office is using electronic patient forms, the caregiver can log onto your website and fill out the medical history form accurately and thoroughly because he or she has all the information readily available. I don’t know how many times patients would come in and not know half the medications they are taking or completely forget to bring in the list to their appointment.

Having this information ahead of time helps you give the patient better care. Your doctor or hygienist can review the medical history, medications, and allergies before the patient comes in and can have a game plan available because they are more informed. If your office can treat the patient without having to wait for medical information, you can not only save the patient another trip but also help expedite any recovery he or she might need.

You can save caregivers time by allowing them to fill out the forms at their convenience. New patient forms for an elderly patient can sometimes take 30-45 minutes to fill out. If caregivers can schedule that into their day where it fits best for them, they will be very happy. I remember sometimes a new patient would come in and the time it took to fill out the forms in the office would creep into the appointment time. This could cause us to run late with the next patient.

Your patients will embrace it if you embrace it. Think of the possibilities instead of the possible roadblocks.