Emmott on Technology: Managing a Paper-Based Dental Practice is a True Juggling Act

Emmott on Technology: Managing a Paper-Based Dental Practice is a True Juggling Act
Thursday, June 6, 2013

We were introduced to Harriett the harried dental assistant and Dr. Paperman the dentist she works for in a previous Dentalcompare article.

Now let’s meet Judy (the juggler) who works the front desk for Dr. Paperman.

Dr. Paperman completes a crown prep and skates off to the next room. The patient, Mr. Straight, wanders up to the front desk. Judy ignores him because she has no idea what needs to be done next.

Finally Harriet, the chairside assistant, brings up the paper chart with some scribbled notes. Harriet has been trained to “hand off” the patient to the front desk, but she is running late and she has to get that room cleaned up, so she “Frisbees” the chart onto the desk and takes off.

Once the chart has stopped spinning; Judy tries to read the notes and determine what she needs to charge the patient. She thinks she has it right and starts to type the treatment into the computer and check him out.

Judy takes a payment from Mr. Straight promising him she will send in his insurance. She then starts to make the next appointment when the phone rings. She breaks off the one-on-one conversation and starts dealing with the person on the phone. The patient on the phone, Shirley Talksalot, needs to make an appointment so Judy runs off to the back to find the paper chart, hoping it was filed in the proper place.

Harriet then runs up and drops a form on the desk. “Call the lab, we have a pick up.” she says.

That reminds Judy she needs to give the doctor the message slip to call the lab back about Mrs. Picky.

The phone call is about half done when another patient, Mrs. Rush, comes striding up from the hygiene room in the back. Mrs. Rush also needs to check out, make an appointment and all the rest. She waits, rocking to and fro, glancing at her watch behind the Mr. Straight who is listening to the phone conversation when the other line rings. 

“Hold please.” “Hello, dental office. Hold please.” Two people on the phone and two people standing there waiting, all needing to make an appointment!

Flossy, the hygienist, is running late, again. Judy looks up from the phone and sees her next patient approaching the desk with a determined look on his face. At that moment Flossy runs by and slaps a sticky note down on the pile, “Where are my supplies?”

Judy is into high juggle mode. How many items can she keep in the air?

Ooops, Judy dropped one of the items she was juggling and the rest of them are threatening to come crashing down.

Judy is conscientious, she is a people person, she loves her job. She loves the patients and thinks Dr. Paperman is the best. But she is totally stressed out and she feels horrible that things aren’t getting taken care of properly.

“Dr. Paperman,” she says, “I think we need to hire another front desk person. We are just too busy.”

“OK” Dr. Paperman replies, “That may be a good idea.”

What Dr. Paperman hasn’t thought through is hiring another person to work with Judy up front will cost him more than $40,000. Dr. Paperman will not just be paying another salary.He will have hiring and training costs. He also will have the ever increasing costs of social security, health insurance, workman’s comp and all the other items which add as much as 30% to the base cost of a team member’s salary.

As an alternative, Dr. Paperman could invest a lot less than $40,000 a year in good practice management software and a computer system with computers networked in the treatment rooms. Judy would be able to do her job faster and more effectively without hiring another person.

In Dr. Paperman’s traditional, paper-based office, the front desk is the data center. It is the linchpin of the practice. All communications and documentation must pass through the front desk.

Once the practice starts using a digital system, the data center becomes the computer. Judy, Harriett, Flossy and even Dr. Paperman can access that data from anywhere there is a computer.

That means Flossy the hygienist can schedule her patient in her room before she even leaves. She can also go online to the supply company to make an order or to check on the status of an existing order.

Harriett the assistant can enter exactly what was done in the treatment room before sending the patient up front to check out. In fact Harriett could even make the next appointment and take a payment in the treatment room.

Dr. Paperman can check his e-mail, see the lab had a question and set up a quick web conference. Using Skype or a similar video conference system the doctor and the lab technician can discuss the case using the chart notes, the lab Rx, photos, models and real time images.

Judy can answer the phone from the front. However, she also can answer it in the back or even at home working as a telecommuter.

Computers and technology are not just about machines and numbers. They are about people and solving real human issues. The future is coming and it will be amazing!

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