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The Practice Management Products We've Left Behind (And What's Replaced Them)

Article

Computers and cloud-based systems have replaced many front office tasks, making dental practices more efficient and convenient for patients.

Just as technology has changed the clinical practice of dentistry, the day-to-day minutiae of running a dental practice have evolved as well. (Mostly) Gone are the days of rifling through paper charts and files, sending appointment reminder postcards, and having patients fill out printed forms.

Those tasks have been replaced with efficient computers and cloud-based systems that can pull up a patient's chart with the click of a button, automatically send patients a reminder text message for their upcoming appointments, and allow patients to fill out forms electronically.

Not only are these technologies more efficient for the front office staff, but these conveniences have become something patients expect, just like they've come to expect first-class technology in the operatory. And just as the case with clinical technology, not offering these options for your patients may come at the practice's expense.

We're giving these outdated systems the chance to shine 1 last time, the final bow before the curtains close. Then we'll turn our attention to the practice management technologies that replaced them and, in the process, have moved dentistry forward.



September 1, 2021

Did You Get My Fax?

©piyaphunjun/stock.adobe.com

©piyaphunjun/stock.adobe.com

Are you still using a fax machine?

Really.

Though you may have just raised an eyebrow in disbelief, the reality is the fax machine is still very much alive and well in dentistry. And while we like to think of our beloved industry as being cutting-edge, innovative, and tech-savvy—are we really?

Not too long ago, I had the privilege of temping in a particularly nondescript dental practice down the street. A few hours into the day, I was waiting at the front desk for my already-late patient to arrive. It was at this point that I witnessed something so unbelievable that it still gives me chills—I watched over her shoulder as the office manager sent a text to another office manager of a neighboring periodontist. The text read, “Hey, did you get my fax?”

Really.

We live in a world where a single technological advancement has the power to revolutionize entire industries for the better—not only for patients but for clinicians, teams, and business owners alike. We know this, and yet, somehow dentistry still uses fax machines.

The reality is the fax machine is simply symbolic of the other archaic communication methods dental practices use on a regular basis. Appointment reminder postcards, confirmation phone calls, paper health records, locally based practice management software, and referral emails are just some of the outdated tools found in our offices today.

Do you still use a fax machine?

Let’s forget about dentistry for a moment and think about these questions in regard to your personal life: When was the last time you asked Siri a question? How much of your day today was spent relying on the cloud? How many texts did you send on the fly? How many FaceTime calls did you receive today? When was the last time you used Uber or had food delivered, or logged into your own personal electronic health record to check on your recent blood test or pay a bill?

Now think about your dental practice as you answer these questions: When was the last time you asked Siri to order supplies? Can you access your practice management software from home, from your phone, or other practice locations? How many texts did patients receive from your practice today? How many virtual consults did you complete today? When was the last time you reviewed your patients’ bruxism habits and data through an app? Can your patients access their own electronic health record and payment information?

We routinely rely on these types of innovative communication systems in our personal lives each day—so why have we yet to fully implement them in our clinical and business practices?

Let’s rephrase: Why are we still using fax machines?

Why is dentistry still living in the age of the dinosaur, relying on antiquated communication methods when we have an abundance of innovative tools directly at our fingertips?

Your guess is as good as mine and probably has to do with a complicated mashup of theories, assumptions, and traditions—but whatever the case is, it’s time to literally and figuratively unplug the fax machine and replace it with the technologies we already know and love.

Efficient communication with our patients and teams may be the key to unlocking a successful dental business model and certainly impacts lead conversion, raises the value of proposed treatment plans, increases patient compliance, and helps to retain existing patients.

Here are some of the latest and greatest methods for implementing more efficient communication systems in our dental practices:

  • Implement virtual consults for post-op care, hygiene exams, and quick check-ups.
  • Utilize a real-time team communication system (such as Slack).
  • Increase transparency by purchasing software that allows patients to log in and access their financial and health records.
  • Install a chatbox on your website that pops up within seconds, guiding the new lead into making a virtual appointment.
  • Utilize an app for patients to schedule your practice to deliver mobile services to their home, school, or place of work.
  • Send texts for appointment reminders and confirmation.
  • Screen new patients prior to their first in-person appointment via a video consult with a team member.
  • Send and record video messages between you and your patient to assist in post-op care.
  • Utilize a cloud-based practice management software, accessible via any device, so you have access to patient records on the fly.
  • Implement apps that are both patient-facing and provider-facing, allowing remote monitoring of brushing, bruxism, and more.
  • Sign up for subscription services to reorder supplies.

So, what’s holding you back?

In our pandemic-shifted industry, our patients are asking for convenience, demanding flexibility, and wanting to truly partner with us in their health. Let this be the day that you throw out your fax machine and replace it with the technology that will take us into a bright and successful future.


The Practice Management Products We've Left Behind (And What's Replaced Them)

September 1, 2021

Computer Storage is Better in the Cloud

Floppy discs, castte tapes, VHS tapes. memory disc

©hydraviridis/stock.adobe.com

As a former full-time practicing periodontist and now an internet technology (IT)/cybersecurity/HIPAA expert, I’ve come across thousands of products that I used in the past, some in my practice and many in my IT career. The 1 product line that I never thought I’d be leaving behind but am very happy to do so is discs. Floppies, CDs, DVDs, external drives—good riddance.

When I first got into computers, I was in high school, and the year was 1977. My best friend and I built a homebrew computer to play games and do programming. But there was no easy way to store files—the only system we had was cassette tapes. Younger readers may not have ever even seen these. They were small tapes about the size of a deck of playing cards that we used use to copy our favorite songs and then we played them when we drove around in our cars. As storage for computer data, however, they weren’t the best. The tapes easily became tangled or ripped, which was basically the death of that tape.

In the mid-1980s, I was thrilled when they came out with floppy discs, which at the time seemed to have unlimited storage. The 5.25-inch discs I used at first had 1.2 MB of storage and were truly floppy—you could bend them easily. Their replacement, the 3.5-inch disc, had a hard shell and a whopping 1.44 MB of storage.

As we soon came to find out in dentistry, this storage was woefully inadequate. When I opened my practice in 1992, we were using a DOS-based version of SoftDent. Digital x-rays and other digital imaging weren’t available yet. However, that DOS-based software still required at least 20 to 30 MB of storage for the data. When I backed up data every night, I’d have to insert the first disc, wait for the data to be copied over, then insert the second disc, wait for that data…you get the picture. A typical backup took me 30 to 45 minutes. You couldn’t run the backup until the program was closed out of each workstation, so it made for a very long day.

As time went on, we transitioned to CDs, DVDs, and eventually external hard drives, all faster and with far more storage, but they still were a pain in the rear and slow.

We now live in an online world. Dental software and updates are distributed from a website, and backups still have a local component (for quick restore) but can and should be combined with an online backup. Today, most of the computers my clients order don’t even have a DVD drive because that allows for smaller and cheaper systems. The days of removable discs are coming to an end; no complaints from me.



September 1, 2021

We Went Online With Referrals After 20 Years of Paper

Refera

Louie Mendoza's, DDS, private practice in Kensington, California used paper referrals for over 20 years. But, per his office business manager (and wife) Cecie Mendoza, it was an analog system in need of disruption. Now, the practice uses Refera, a free, contact-free, and HIPAA-compliant online referral platform for referrals, and business manager Mendoza couldn't be happier about it.

"We had an expandable folder with a million and one paper referrals in it. It had a lot of wear and tear on it. So, we would either use that or go to each specialist's website to download a referral form," Mendoza explains. "But it was always a mad search."

With Refera, Mendoza says, she goes on to Refera's online portal and handles the referral process there, including uploading the x-ray.

"It alleviated a lot," Mendoza says of the Refera online platform. "Whether it was a referral for endo, ortho, or oral surgery, you could do it all from one desktop. That was the beauty of it. I threw away that expandable folder because we don't need it anymore."

Mendoza says once the Kensington Dental Team submitted the referral, the patient gets a text message, a feature she describes as "very cool." At first, she says, they didn't realize there was a text option. Then, the front desk manager noticed it and used it one day. The patient showed them the text of the PDF referral on their smartphone.

"It was the exact PDF we were going to put into the documents folder in the practice management software so we could keep track of it in their charts," Mendoza says. "That was a cool function, saving paper and giving the patient immediate information to where we're sending them and why.”

Another feature Mendoza likes is the dashboard. By June 2021, the practice had 138 referrals in the system after using the platform for only a few months. In addition, Kensington Dental Care's team can see where the patient is in the process with those specialists that are also using the system and updating the referral on their end.

"We have one oral surgeon who is fully enrolled. So, we could see if a patient made an appointment, where they are at with it, the specialist's notes," Mendoza says.

She says Refera's online referral platform saves time. Also, the information is all at your fingertips, whether you are in the front office, back office, or even the operatory, which makes it efficient for the practice. Mendoza thinks that Refera has made a significant difference for the better for the practice, and intends to recommend it to her clients. She recognizes that many offices feel too busy to try something new, but Refera's interface makes it easy to learn and use. Plus, it's free.

"You were going to write it down on a piece of paper," Mendoza says. "Why not do it on a computer?"



September 1, 2021

Server-Based to Cloud-Based Software

Fuse Practice Management Software

The right practice management software is imperative to the success of a dental office. At Trinity Dental Centers, we started off with a server-based software for our practice management software. With fewer locations at the time, it met our needs with patient scheduling, insurance claims, and an easy interface. As our locations continued to increase, it was clear we were limited with what a server-based software could provide. We needed an upgrade that allowed us to sync data from all locations and simplify the operations. The cloud-based software, Fuse, enabled us to connect all location and patient data and had additional benefits that were ideal for a multi-location practice like ours.

We started onboarding Fuse last fall and right away we loved that it was cloud-based. The team is now able to access Fuse from anywhere at any time and it’s extremely user-friendly. The ability to see all of our locations’ performances in one report is convenient and a must-have for a business with multiple locations. The smart screens also make it easy for our teams to work by bringing information together on a single screen, such as accounts receivable or insurance, so you know what you need to prioritize without running reports.

Truly the highlight has been connecting all practice data and patients into 1 database. For example, we have patients who start at one location and then end up visiting another. We previously would have to create a new chart at each individual location because there was no option to merge. This caused a lot of difficulty for staff and an inconvenience for the patient. Once you log in with Fuse, you can access any patient record from any location. They could visit all our 17 locations and we can easily pull up their patient record including all their treatment plans, clinical history, images, and account information.

It's been a learning curve switching to a new software, but the 24/7 support we get from Patterson and the initial training from our technology advisor has put us at ease. Any issues we run into are immediately diffused by a quick call or chat to the support team and a trainer walks us through a solution. There is no question they can’t or won’t answer. Fuse also has a built-in WalkMe step-by-step trainer so anytime you need a quick refresher, or a team member is stepping in for someone, you can search WalkMe for a live, guided walk-through within Fuse showing you where to click and what to do as you work in Fuse.

If you have more than 1 location, Fuse should be a no-brainer. Between the ease of connecting all practice data, working from anywhere, and the support—upgrading to Fuse is changing Trinity Dental Centers for the better.


The Practice Management Products We've Left Behind (And What's Replaced Them)

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