Make it a team effort

November 2010 | Dental Products Report When we started our practice from scratch 25 years ago, we worked out of a one-room operatory. Computers were not yet high on our priority list, but within a short while we obtained a computer for administrative tasks and eventually grew to using practice management software on a more robust computer network.

November 2010 | Dental Products Report

When we started our practice from scratch 25 years ago, we worked out of a one-room operatory. Computers were not yet high on our priority list, but within a short while we obtained a computer for administrative tasks and eventually grew to using practice management software on a more robust computer network.

Today, we run a paperless eight-room operatory with a network of 15 computers, which we use for both clinical and practice management tasks. We have come to rely on our software to help us run the practice efficiently and productively.

Getting the most out of the software

Because we researched different types of practice management software before purchasing and actually used two different systems in our office, we can offer many practical tips to help other clinicians find the right practice management software for their practice. A sophisticated software will offer countless tools to help a practice run productively, but unless your team members learn about and take advantage of these features, they won’t use the system to its full potential. There are many lessons to learn from the recent recession, including that dental practices must discover and use all of the tools at their disposal to maximize productivity and profitability.

Choosing a system that works for you

After our initial research on practice management software 21 years ago, we opted to install a popular software system that appeared to have the capabilities and options we wanted. We learned the hard way, however, on the day our server crashed 9 years ago that the system’s backup and support were not as robust as we had thought. All of the day’s patient records were lost, and the software company could not assure us the problem would not reoccur.

At that point, we were adding more and more technologies to the practice, so we made the decision to upgrade to a software system that could help us integrate all of our tools together and provide the support we needed. We selected Patterson Eaglesoft Practice Management Software (www.eaglesoft.net), as we had watched it evolve and stay current over the years, and the company was able to provide the support and technical backup we desired. 

When we converted to Eaglesoft, we made the decision to use it not only for practice management, but also for clinical tasks, which would allow us to go paperless. The software also enabled easy integration with our other technologies like intraoral cameras and digital radiography. Since our installation 9  years ago, we have continued to refine our routines and learn about the system’s capabilities.

Time-saving clinical tools

A robust practice management and clinical software system can help an office maximize its effectiveness on both fronts. On the clinical side, our goal as practitioners is to highlight areas of concern for patients and help them understand the recommended treatments.

Many specific features of our software are built for easy use in the operatory. For instance, an autonote feature lets the clinical team store its most commonly used patient narratives, which they can easily input and adapt for individual patients’ appointments. This prevents team members from having to type the same notes over and over. It also is helpful as a checklist, outlining each step in the typical procedure for the clinical team.

Maximizing productivity from the front desk

On the administrative side, Eaglesoft has excellent tools to help us manage patients and the schedule most effectively. One tactic we use is “scheduling by production,” in which we do our best to schedule procedures so we meet our profitability goals each day. Our software makes it easy to see our production goals for each day, as well as the total production scheduled for the day. We try not to schedule simply by filling available times, but rather by considering our production goals for any given day when offering patients a slot. Of course, it is not always possible to keep to this system but we train our administrative team to use it as much as possible. Having the financial figures quickly accessible makes this system easy to manage.

Our software also offers a feature called the “Money Finder,” which lets us query the patient database based on criteria such as appointment status, insurance status, recommended work, planned treatment status and completed treatment status. This capability helps us easily fill an unexpected opening in the schedule, and also proactively contact patients to help them plan treatment or maximize their benefits.

For instance, our office is aware that the insurance benefits for public school employees will be changing soon. Using the Money Finder, we can easily generate a report of our patients who have the relevant insurance, and contact them as a courtesy to schedule any necessary work before the benefits change.

Maintaining a quick call list is another simple task for increasing productivity. Eaglesoft includes a check-box on appointments that we can click if a patient wants to be contacted should an earlier opportunity open up. When a slot opens in the schedule, we can easily sort the list according to factors such as type of appointment and length of appointment.

Empowering the team

While the doctor and hygienists in our practice are technically the “income producers,” the administrative team plays a vital role in keeping the practice running smoothly and productively. We work hard to make sure every member of the front office team understands their important role in helping the office reach its goals. Using the tools our software makes available to us, the administrative team can help ensure the clinical team always has a patient in the chair.

Making the decision

The capabilities and support offered by a practice management system should play a key role in what you choose. Dental offices should consider their goals for future growth as well as their current needs when choosing a software provider and should ensure the company has the resources and support to grow with them. Finally, once a software system is installed, each member of the team should understand their role in using the software to its full potential to help the practice grow.