September 20, 2012
As many dentists are well aware, there are numerous integrated technology systems that are part of the modern dental practice. Few will argue that the Practice Management Software (PMS) is the most important component, as it ties many of these different systems together. PMS systems continue to improve themselves, but as most dentists know, those changes are often incremental and don’t address the needs of every user. Fortunately, there are a number of “third-party” programs and services that can fill these gaps where the practice management software may fall short. These include charting, online confirmations and scheduling, progress notes, digital signature pads and paperless systems, patient education, appointment reminders, in-office communication and fee analysis. The goal of this article is to present an overview of the main types of systems out there. In future articles, we’ll explore these in more depth.
Online Confirmations and Scheduling
Of all the areas in dental software development, this seems to have generated the most interest. When it comes to confirming patients, there are various companies that have taken different approaches. Some use a system of voice calls in the office manager’s voice that are tracked through a computerized management program, allowing offices to know if the patient was reached, how long they stayed on the phone, and giving them the opportunity to confirm. Solution Reach works on the premise that most of our patients have cell phones and all cell phones since 1998 can accept text messages, so the software will send out text reminders to the patient. DemandForce focuses on sending automatically generated emails and allowing the patients to click on links in the email to confirm the appointment. DemandForce also permits the practice to send email surveys to the patients to gauge their satisfaction with the practice.
Many of these products are now exploring ways to develop some type of online scheduling system. They may face some resistance from staff members who are reluctant to give up control of the appointment book, but a hybrid system that would allow patients to request appointments based on certain criteria should prove to be an added bonus for the practice.
Paperless Systems…the Missing Link?
I am not a huge fan of the term “paperless”, as there are still many systems that use paper, such as insurance forms, walkout statements, and printed images. However, more and more practices are doing away with the physical paper chart that needs to be carried from room to room. The problem for many of these offices is that they had no way to deal with the numerous forms that required patient signatures, such as Informed Consent and Medical History. Enter Dentforms. Dentforms allows the practice to create digital reproductions of all of their paper forms. The patient can then sign either a digital signature pad or a Tablet PC in order to enter their signature into the record. Not only does this system work with most of the practice management software companies, but they also have an online component so that patients can fill out their medical and dental history forms before they arrive at the office. The online forms are then downloaded into the practice’s server, bringing all the necessary information to the practice automatically.
For offices that wish to be paperless or chartless, there’s no doubt that there has to be an effective and easy method to enter progress notes into the clinical record. While many PMS programs have similar systems in place, they are often clunky and difficult to use. For example, any system that uses exploding codes and that requires the user to go back and edit the teeth, surfaces, anesthetic, etc. will be time consuming. There is an excellent alternative in Easy Notes Pro. Developed by a dentist, it integrates with almost every practice management software on the market. Rather than use macros that need to be edited, this software reduces the entire clinical note to a series of mouse clicks, where the practice can customize the options so that the choices are specific to that practice. Most offices will be able to enter an entire procedure’s notes in under one minute with a program like this.
While we want and hope that our PMS programs can “do it all”, the reality is that for the immediate future, practices that want to go completely chartless will likely need to consider use of some third-party programs to get there.