Use Your Dental Practice Management Software to Dispel Old Myths

Sometimes improving practice efficiency requires challenging long-held myths and procedures within the dental profession. California dentist Dr. Bruce Stephenson gives us some recommendations for using the evidence-based data gained from your practice management software.

For instance, many practices still sort reports alphabetically by last name. It makes more sense to use a logical order that will best determine where to distribute limited time and energy. A few examples of this might be printing accounts receivable reports by oldest or largest balance first so that collections staff can concentrate their efforts, or starting treatment plan reminders with procedures that hold the highest value or that the dentists enjoy performing the most. Practice management software can be used to identify and present the best information.

In the rush to turn electronic, Dr. Stephenson warns against over-adoption. Use paper and electronic means of communication where they are most efficient. Electronic insurance claims insure quicker payment, so stop using paper claims. A paper system that went by the wayside several years ago was having patients fill out their own reminder postcards. If the patient did not respond, they were lost from the system. Today’s patients prefer pre-appointment email or text reminders, and those can be sent automatically and at regular intervals by the scheduling feature of the practice management system, without requiring staff input. On the other hand, paper still has a place on the day of the appointment, when patients prefer to walk out of the practice with a paper appointment reminder card.

Rather than calling to confirm appointments and charging for missed appointments, Dr. Stephenson uses his practice management system to send email (or postcard for those without email) reminders. When the practice shifted to this system, the number of missed appointments and the staff workload both decreased. Patients are sent a reminder if they miss an appointment and the practice has a “three strikes and you are out” rule for firing clients that continue to miss appointments. However, it is important to note than any emails sent to patients need to comply with HIPAA. Not all email programs are secure for this purpose, and practices can open themselves up to legal and patient concerns if insecure email are used.

One key to change in this practice has been using the “Hawthorne effect,” the concept that production increases when individuals know they are being studied, often more than other motivators like financial incentive. Dr. Stephenson demonstrates what staff members are actually doing using Microsoft Excel graphs, though many practice management systems now incorporate similar quality measuring functionality.

“We nagged at our staff for two years to collect email addresses when patients came into the office. The computers showed about 70% staff compliance. But when we graphed compliance over time and shared this with the staff, their compliance improved to close to 100% in about two months.”

While every practice will find what works best for them, this author has seen practices where the front desk has been eliminated with the use of kiosks for check-in and form completion, wireless head-sets, and chairside computers for charting, treatment planning, lab submission, insurance claim submission, and appointment scheduling.

Lessons Learned:

  • Sort reports by logical criteria that will provide the most important information for practice profit.
  • Many practices continue to rely on personal phone call reminders when email or text communication improves client compliance and practice efficiency.
  • Use quality measurements and graphing features of practice management software to help mold staff behavior.

Stephenson, B. Beyond paperless dentistry: The expanding role of computers in modern dental practice.