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Removing the Chaos from Dental Office Communication

by | Nov 3, 2021 | Dental Practice Management, Office

Do these scenarios sound familiar? The doctor flies into the operator for a hygiene check, unaware of the concerns that the patient shared with the hygenist in the hour they spent together. Or the scheduling coordinator leaves the phone unattended to let the doctor know that her patient is late, missing an important patient call. Or the hygienist keeps coming to the front to check if her patient has finished filling out paperwork and ready to be seated.  

As an established dental practice, you likely have some growth goals for the new year. Maybe you’re excited to expand your team, grow your patient base, or start some marketing plans. But before you get too far down the planning route, you’ll need to address poor communication processes and workflows that will hinder long-term dental office growth. 

For example, many offices think they are paperless but are really using a duplicate system. Patient charts are digital but the information is received via printed forms and input through scanning. Talk about wasting time! Plus, manual data entry means you’re more prone to human errors that can make your practice look unprofessional and hurt chances of growth. And if you think that you can keep up with the paperwork, consider that keeping up with “easy” administrative work often comes at the price of tasks that affect profitability, such as collecting past-due accounts and filling holes in the schedule. 

Digitizing your practice—that is, automating paperwork (and removing paper charts) and other manual or analog processes—addresses the root cause of most issues of efficiency and communication. A 2020 Roland Berger study found that “digitalizing and automating manual tasks can reduce labor costs for traditional dental labs by up to 30%.” Many dental labs and practices are already embracing technology in treatment and diagnosis, so why not do so in the rest of your practice? Let’s explore how digitizing your workflow and eliminating paperwork can improve your practice management and support dental office growth. 

Simplify front and back-office communication

According to a 2018 survey on the modern workplace done by The Economist, “communication barriers are leading to a delay or failure to complete projects (44%), low morale (31%), missed performance goals (25%) and even lost sales (18%)—some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” And we can see these implications in the dental world as well: the front office uses walkie talkies to notify hygienists that their next patient is ready, but the hygenist doesn’t get the message or turns off the device so a patient is kept waiting and writes a bad online review. So while use of walkie-talkies, headsets, and scribbled-down notes may not seem like a big deal, they could be seriously costing your business in many ways. 

By digitizing your office with an intra-office communication software system, for instance, you can access tools such as HIPAA-compliant direct instant messaging, allowing your team to message each other discretely and ask and address questions in real time. Some systems can even integrate with wearable devices so that team members can receive alerts via their smartwatch or mobile device when they’re chairside. No more walkie-talkies, writing notes on pieces of paper or interrupting hygienists when they’re with a patient. By improving your communication processes, your practice will be better positioned to handle more patients and ensure the team isn’t overwhelmed by a busy schedule.

Here’s What Can Result from Communication Barriers

According to Survey results from a 2018 study conducted by The Economist

  • Delay / Failure to Complete Projects 44% 44%
  • Low Morale 31% 31%
  • Missed Performance Goals 25% 25%
  • Lost Sales 18% 18%

How Is Your Dental Practice’s Communication Stacking Up?

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Easily locate patient records 

Imagine this scenario: A patient checks in at the front desk and a team member asks, “Have you reviewed and updated your medical history?” Asking this question signals to the patient that the filing and patient record system isn’t as organized as it could be. As a result, the front office can spend up to 10 minutes sifting through paperwork to locate the patient file and discern whether it was updated and when. Ten minutes may not seem like much, but over time this can add up to more than 500 hours spent annually looking for lost or misplaced files and doing data entry. 

In any customer (patient) interaction, seconds matter. The longer the patient is kept waiting, the more they may lose faith in your practice and its ability to operate smoothly, especially those who are already wary of the dentist. Plus, the extra wait time eats into time spent treating the patient, which is a recipe for patient attrition. 

An electronic health record (EHR) system can relieve the front office of digging through a pile of paperwork. These systems can date and timestamp patient records each time one is updated, creating a detailed audit trail. An automated dental system can also provide a patient dashboard with a list of all the patients coming in each day; this way if a patient has a question, their record is accessible with the click of a button.

Digitized patient records also make life easier for the back office as well. Important patient information, such as treatment history and allergies are easily accessible and can be shared and reviewed through direct message in advance of an appointment. 

Automate the mundane to save time and money

A digital, paperless system can help your practice identify and address issues before they become significant problems, such as outstanding balances. A 2018 athenahealth network survey found that 39% of large patient balances ($200 or more) remain unpaid after five months. And the average dental practice loses 9% of their production to uncollected revenues; so if you produce $100,000 a month, you could be missing out on $9,000! 

Using a virtual huddle report, for instance, during a morning meeting can help your front office team quickly identify patients with outstanding balances. PMS systems such as Dentrix already offer these kinds of reports. At the start of the day, carve out ten minutes to skim through your schedule and patients due to come in and see which ones have an outstanding balance. By catching these instances early, your team has time to create a plan to address patients and resolve the issue, while making everyone feel at ease.  

With a digital system, patients can also fill out forms online and then submit them electronically so they can be processed and stored in your PMSa sound automation software system should be able to decipher even the most cryptic handwriting! Plus, only 13% of patients prefer paper forms to electronic ones. Insurance submission can also be digitized: patients can upload a picture of their insurance card as part of their  patient intake process, making insurance verification much easier and less time consuming. Another bonus? Your practice can 

Save up to $18,000 a year by eliminating paper charts and emailing (rather than printing) patient forms and any other information they need instead. As for what to do with the savings, you can reinvest them in your dental practice, perhaps in a growth marketing campaign or referral program. 

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