May 29, 2019
by Alex Zlatin
For years now, the word “paperless” has been an ongoing fad in the entire dental industry. It seems like everyone is “going paperless” and everywhere you read about it, the recommendations are always to do it. Well, it is about time that someone talks about the hard truths of what is so-called “going paperless”.
To be honest, I am not against implementing software technology tools within a clinic. There are many benefits to it: saving on postage, maintaining an up-to-date image of yourself and your practice, time savings and increased accuracy and safety of your health records – just to name a few. Having said that, I am a true believer that everything in life has its own pros and cons and advantage and disadvantages. It works great for some and poorly for others. The most important part is knowing what it entails to make the proper decision for yourself, your staff, your patients and most importantly, your clinic.
I’d like to uncover some of the risks and challenges that come with “going paperless”:
1. You are not going to be really and truly “paperless”
The reality is there is no such thing as being completely “paperless”. Some insurance companies are still not fully on par with electronic claims, some patients still like a piece of paper in their hands and some regulations require sterilization to be documented on paper. All you can accomplish is to minimize the amount of paper is being used and (almost) eliminate postage. There are some efficiency benefits with utilizing digital records and digital processes but it is important to not be misled by the name that has been given to this journey.
2. The “going” part is accurate; it is a lengthy process
And what a journey it is. Although there are many ways to undergo this process, it is definitely a process and does not happen overnight. Not only that you have to turn your charts at least once to get to a fairly full database of electronic charts, there is a fairly steep learning curve for staff. It is not uncommon for change-resistant staff members to quit throughout this journey and for tech savvy ones to get incredibly frustrated with their less-savvy counterparts.
There are benefits that include a revision of processes, saving some time for front staff and more accurate records. Best practices dictate pulling charts the day before these patients come in and enter the relevant information into the software. This allows more practice for staff and the time benefits when the patients come in.
3. Savings VS additional expense
You’d be surprised to learn that the software expense is the least of your concerns on this journey. What you should be looking at is a loss of production when you are closed and training on your new tools and processes. An important expense to note is the hardware equipment needed when putting computers in your operatories (in case you have yet to implement digital x-rays). The expense of cabling, the computers themselves and the IT tech time is a hefty expense that must be evaluated. There is more of everything to maintain, anywhere from more computers, bigger network and a secure backup solution (crucial). When looking at this journey, you must look at the savings that “going paperless” will bring to you and your team and compare it to the expenses that you’ll require to optimally implement these tools.
4. Electronic health records are not foolproof
Paper charts burn, get wet, become illegible and yellow with age, get lost, etc. But, if you think that nothing can go wrong with electronic ones, think again. Various types of ransomware are on the loose and it won’t be stopping any time soon. Whether you lose one image or all 2000 of them, the administrative headache is the same. Only think about the reputation impact if this happens to you. It’s not all that gloomy. Proper training of staff, to not click anything that looks “funny”, will do the trick and minimize the risk of being hit by ransomware. Proper backup system, including periodical checks that the backup is not corrupt in conjunction with a knowledgeable and fair IT technician/company are great ways to mitigate the risks of being the custodian of health information in the online jungle of 2019.
5. Control VS dependability on third-party vendors
The less paper you use, the more you rely on third-party vendors to make sure your practice is operational. If you have solid and reliable vendors, you have little to worry about. However, I’ve been around enough to know that especially in the IT technician field there are a lot of self-proclaimed “specialists”. If you are “chartless” or “paperless”, the impact of an unreliable vendor to your clinic is disastrous. It is the difference between delaying your patients for 15 to 30 minutes and sending everyone home for two days. For clarification purposes, when I say “vendors” I mean your chair technician, internet supplier, software provider, IT technician, etc. They are all instrumental to keeping your clinic open and your patients receiving the services and treatments they need.
I would like to note, again, that I am not against implementing technology tools to enhance your patient’s experience, assisting staff with some task automation and ensuring your team focuses on what matters most (the patients of course). After all, I am a CEO of one of these “third-party vendors”. My company’s purpose is to empower dental professionals, so there is no way I am going to stand silent when clients make the wrong decision because they did not know what this process entails. As there are successful dental clinics who use paper, there are ones that are successful with a more advanced set of technological tools at their disposal.
You have to be sure to get all the information, have clear goals that you’d like to achieve, consider all the information that is available to you and then the most important part – if you decide to do it, do not let anyone stop you.
Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to discuss the above-mentioned concerns. Please email my Executive Assistant, Monica Trimble (firstname.lastname@example.org), to book some time in my schedule (there is no charge if you mention this article).
I look forward to helping you achieve your goals and learn from other people’s experience and not your own.
About The Author
Alex Zlatin is the CEO of dental practice management software company Maxim Software Systems (MaxiDent). He helps dental professionals take control and reach the next level of success with responsible leadership strategies. He leverages his experience in “Responsible Dental Ownership – Balancing Ethics and Business Through Purpose”, a detailed guide providing practical tools and a
unique, proven approach to running a successful dental practice.