Tuesday, October 23, 2012
We are now a little more than a year away from the supposed 2014 deadline to have digital records in your practice. Whether or not this mandate happens, or how it will be enforced, is another subject entirely, but in our own office, we have made every effort to get paper out of our routine.
Now in some ways, we will never be there. It’s impossible to stop all paper from arriving at the practice. EOB's from insurance companies still arrive on a daily basis, and we are still trying to get all the specialists we work with to send us any reports via email. But while those things are not necessarily under our control, we have forged ahead with our own digital workflow.
Has it been easy? To be honest, no. Not even close. Setting up the infrastructure alone has been a huge headache. I am thankful for a staff that is always willing to work hard and try something new, but it was still a huge effort to learn a completely new way of doing things.
But here’s the far more important question. Was it worth it? To answer this one, I’ll put it this way: We would never go back.
While most offices are using some sort of computer program to run their ledger and appointment book, there are a few other systems we now have in place that make it easier to run the business, improve the bottom line, and effectively communicate with patients.
Here’s the full digital program we now have in place.
- Digital X-rays: If you have not taken this crucial first step, forget the rest. There are several resources on Dentalcompare that can help you through any apparent mental or financial hurdle to adopting this technology. Today there is no good reason not to go digital with your X-rays.
- Intraoral camera: This device is all about communication. It helps patients see what you are talking about, and it makes it easy for insurance companies to pay on a claim where an X-ray may not show the whole picture.
- Electronic Claims: Forget mailing these out. We select any necessary image from the database, click submit, and that’s it. It’s easier on the practice, oh and we are paid faster as well.
- Electronic Statements: Still printing out hundreds of statements and paying your staff to stuff envelopes? It now takes us about 4-5 minutes to review the outgoing statements. A warehouse in another state takes care of the rest.
- Reminders: We use Sesame Communications to send most of our appointment reminders. Think about it. A phone call has to catch the person when you or your staff member is ready to chat. An email reminder catches the patient when they have the time, and they can click right in the email to confirm the appointment. They can even download the appointment to their calendar software from the message. It’s easier for us, and more importantly, more convenient for the patient.
- Online payments: Why not use a service that is convenient for patients and gets your office paid more quickly? It worked for Amazon, right? Plus, it’s more secure than mailing a pay stub that has the credit card number written on it.
- Digital forms: In the digital transition, this has been a bit tougher. For a while we were handing the patient a clipboard, and scanning any forms they had to sign. That took time to accomplish, and we were still technically using up paper. We now have our health history questionnaire in a digital format. Here is the basic workflow:
- For a new patient: After they call to schedule an appointment, a welcome email is sent from our office that has basic information, directions to the office, and a link that goes to a secure online health history form. The information is synced to our server, where we can then use the information they typed to populate their file. They key here is that your staff is not doing the data entry character by character. By the time the patient shows up, we have all the information ready to go, including a full benefits profile from their insurance company. If they need any work, we are completely prepared to inform them of what their insurance may cover, and what their co-pay will be for the next visit.
- For existing patients: We hand them an iPad that has all their current information on it, from phone numbers to current medications. If everything is current, they simply have to hit next a few times and they are done. Any changes made are instantly synced to our server for our front desk to review.
We still have our trusty clipboard if that is more comfortable for a patient. While the goal is to become more efficient, we also want to cater to the individual needs of patients. For example, while we have gotten great feedback from patients on our email reminders, there are some that still get that personal phone call to personally check in.
Overall, our office is able to do more, in less time. It definitely impresses a patient to be able to hand them an iPad instead of a clipboard, and it sends a message about the progressive nature of your office. Chances are a high tech office is also progressive on the newest technology and treatments available to a patient. There is a general rule that my business partner follows in the way he does business and treats patients: If roles were reversed, how would I want to be treated? Wouldn’t you personally rather have the reduced radiation exposure from an office using digital X-rays, or have a clearer picture of your own health needs presented to you via an image from an intraoral camera?
Bottom line: The switch to a paperless office was very similar to other difficult tasks in life, such as dental school. It took a ton of effort, but in the end it was worth it.