Paperless makes for less stress

March 21, 2012

Doctors Allen and Kelly Smudde of Valencia, CA-based Smudde Dental decided to go paperless in 2007. The improvement in efficiency for the 6,000-patient practice has been noticeable. The same patient exam that used to take between one and a half hours to two hours now takes 45 minutes.

Doctors Allen and Kelly Smudde of Valencia, CA-based Smudde Dental decided to go paperless in 2007.

The improvement in efficiency for the 6,000-patient practice has been noticeable. The same patient exam that used to take between one and a half hours to two hours now takes 45 minutes.

“If we had to go back to paper I don’t think we could,” said Melissa Forness, Marketing Manager for Smudde Dental.

Many dental practices still rely on pen, paper and file folders for tracking patient care and other tasks. According to Merry Cosgrove, a Senior Management Consultant at Pride Institute, these practices can greatly improve efficiency by adapting to electronic records.

Cosgrove says the reason why some practices still rely on paper records is simply because it is what they are used to. 

“Some people don’t like computers and they have a tendency to love the charts they learned on,” said Cosgrove.

At Smudde Dental, patients are greeted by a check-in kiosk furnished with a computer. They enter their basic medical and insurance information. Forness says incorporating this simple step is a big time-saver compared to handing patients paper forms and pens and having them enter their information by hand.

“It cuts down on the time patients are waiting,” said Forness. “We’re able to help patients much more quickly.”

While patients are in the chair, dental staffers enter doctor instructions, patient comments and other pertinent health information into desktop computers. These notes and other information are backed up every day before the office closes.

Retrieving patient information is easier than going to a metal file cabinet and hunting for it.

“It’s a couple clicks of a mouse and then you’re there,” said Forness. “It’s easy to find information about the patient and we can store digital X-rays in there, too.”

Like Forness, Cosgrove sees numerous benefits from electronic records including its easy to key-in insurance codes. Also, there is never the problem of trying to decipher someone else’s handwriting.

“One of the purposes of electronic records is for consistency,” said Cosgrove. “It’s also good for documentation of legal purposes and is a great communications tool.”

Cosgrove says electronic records can be used to educate patients about what further treatments may be needed. For instance, a treatment plan with teeth that are targeted for additional care circled or otherwise highlighted can be provided to patients.

“They have a copy to take home,” said Cosgrove. “It can have areas circled or pointed out in different colors. You’re using it as (an educational tool).”

Electronic records also can improve communication among the staff and specialists working on a case because less time is spent on asking and answering questions.

“The document can really be a guide for a specialist without a lot of additional questions or time,” Cosgrove says.

To find the software package that would be most useful to a particular dental practice, Cosgrove says visiting several vendors at a convention is a good way to get an idea of the different products available. It’s also a good idea to invite a potential vendor to the office for more in-depth analysis.

“Different software companies provide different solutions,” says Cosgrove.

Installing electronics record software is a step toward achieving efficiency, but Cosgrove says employees need to be trained on how to use the software and need to be allowed the time on a daily basis to enter information. Cosgrove recommends that practices set aside a short time daily that is solely for staff who can focus on updating patient charts.

At Smudde, new staffers are trained to input data into the software using a mock patient. Cosgrove says staff should  be trained to enter only information that is pertinent and purposeful, but Forness says the more information they have about the patient the better.

“There isn’t too much information that we can gather about a patient,” said Cosgrove. “We can note the bad experiences they had with past dentists so we can give them the TLC they need.”

Forness says patients appreciate the time-saving aspects of electronic records.

“We live in a world nowadays where time matters,” she says. “It’s a great way to provide customer service.”

Another benefit associated with going paperless is the interactivity that can be provided to patients who can reduce their claim on staff time by using a website to make appointments, cancel appointments or make online payments.

Forness said going paperless means Smudde no longer has to keep file cabinets stuffed with patient records to be in compliance with the legal requirement that they keep records for 10 years.

“Paper gets lost. Paper gets faded. Electronic records are more efficient and our office runs smoother,” Forness says.