Thursday, October 04, 2012
Almost without exception when we first attempt to digitize a process we start by creating a digital version of the old pre-digital process. Then as we begin to realize the possibilities we abandon the system and change the process to take advantage of the power of digital technology.
You can see this evolution in the three phases of online forms.
The most primitive step is to simply create a digital version of the paper form. The most common form of digital paper is a PDF. The dental office then puts the PDF version of the form on the practice Web page, and patients can download and print the form, then fill it out by hand and bring it to the office. The office staff then needs to type in all the information on the form just as they did with the old-fashioned paper form in the office. This is a classic dual entry, double work scenario. Two people doing the same task. In a sense the online PDF is a digital form, but in practice it changes very little.
The next phase is to change the system. Why have the staff member type in the information? If you have a digital system why not just have the patient type it in to begin with and eliminate the dual entry. There is no digital paper PDF. The patient opens the form online and enters the information directly. The data is then downloaded to the dental practice and the appropriate fields are populated in the patient record. No dual entry.
Truly digital forms are not just fill in the blank copies of paper forms but are smart and interactive. For example, if I check the box that says I am a man, the form will not ask me later if I am pregnant. If I come to a question that asks me if I have diabetes and I check no, the form goes to a completely different question. However if I check yes to diabetes a whole new series of questions is launched. These new questions might ask me when I was diagnosed, what medications I am taking and what my blood sugar level is. I would never see this set of questions if I checked no.
A smart form also would offer help to the person filling it in. How do you spell penicillin? What does periodontal mean?
The final phase eliminates the form completely. Our information, both personal and medical, will be stored in a big central medical dental record in the cloud. When a patient makes an appointment as a new patient or even schedules a re-call appointment, our computer will connect with the big database in the sky and all the data we used to collect with a paper form—name, address, insurance plan and medical history—will flow into our system, either creating a new record or updating an existing one.
Of course for this to work we need a very secure system both the profession and the public can trust. There’s the rub.
If you do not have online forms now I suggest you skip the PDF phase and step boldly into the interactive future. The future is coming and it will be amazing!