Online Portals Enhance Dental Practice Productivity

Online patient portals have the potential to make practices much more efficient. So why aren't more dentists using them?

From computers to dental equipment to practice management software, dentists face considerable challenges when it comes to keeping up with evolving technology.

But if you’re looking for a place to start, an adoption of technology that will have the most positive impact on your dental practice, replacing paper forms, phone calls, and mail with online portals might be the way to go. According to Matt Martin, manager of the electronic outreach department for Scion Dental, a dental benefit administrator, using online portals can help dentists run their operations more efficiently while delivering better service to patients.

So why aren’t more dentists using them?

“If you’ve always had to chase down claims and go after payments, that’s all you know,” Martin says. “But once they open their mind a little bit to see what the possibilities are, [dentists] are absolutely taken back by what they can do.”

Time Is Money

Martin says that dental practice staff spends “obscene amounts of time” on the phone trying to track down a claim, trying to get payment, or simply checking eligibility on a daily basis. The process can last as much as an hour.

For example, Martin recalls one provider who was phoning into Scion Dental’s call center an average of 400 times a month just to check eligibility and claim updates.

“If you look at the math on that, even if it was a short phone call lasting eight or nine minutes, you’re looking at 46 hours every month spent on the phone,” Martin says. “I went out and did a complete training with all of the locations, and now they are down to fewer than 60 calls a month from 400. That’s a reduction of 39 hours spent on the phone.”

To illustrate, Martin explains that Scion Dental’s system updates information instantly. So if a practice needs to check a patient’s eligibility, the staff is literally two clicks away from verifying the patient’s status. The process can be done in a matter of seconds compared with about seven minutes on the phone.

“I have one provider who on a regular basis checks roughly fifteen hundred claims a month on a portal and twenty-two hundred authorizations on the portal a month,” Martin says. “If they didn’t use the portal, they would have to call in and check on each one of those. You’re looking at hours spent on the phone.”

Training and Costs

Martin explains that when it comes to cost, you can’t get much cheaper than free—there is no cost to use Scion Dental’s portal. He compares that to approximately three cents for every page you might otherwise be printing out, and for a large dental practice that’s a lot coming out of pocket.

“And since we’re web-based, there’s no software to put on your computer,” he says. “It’s all free. Training is free. And as a provider, you get paid much faster by using the portal—anywhere from five to 12 days faster.”

Martin relays the impact on dental staff as experienced by one woman at a practice in Massachusetts. He visited the practice and asked if she had time to meet with him regarding the portal. The woman, who had attended a seminar Martin had given earlier that day, smiled and began jumping up and down.

“I could physically see the excitement on this woman,” he recalls. “She told me that she submitted an authorization during that training, and she had already gotten a response to that by that afternoon. She was absolutely blown away because normally that would have taken weeks to get back, and now she has that back in five hours. And she was just so pleased with not only herself learning the technology, but how fast the technology worked for her.”

Eliminate the Fear

Scion Dental’s own statistics indicate that 64% of their payees have registered for their provider web portals, meaning that a little more than one-third still have not. Martin says therein lies the challenge. And the challenge is nothing more than helping them overcome the fear of technology.

“We still talk to providers who, crazily enough, don’t even have computers or the Internet in their offices,” Martin says. “But with our approach, being able to train people one-on-one, we try and break down those walls.”

Faster authorization of services, getting paid faster and reducing errors on claims, and increasing productivity by reducing time spent on the phone are sound reasons to consider portal adoption.

“Speaking completely away from the company, if you have an opportunity as the provider to become electronic, you at least have to give it a shot to see if it works for you,” Martin suggests. “Because you’re doing not only yourself, but really the people who work for you and the people coming into your office a huge disservice if you don’t.”