Dental Hygienists Benefit from Paperless Office

Dental hygienists play an important role in a patient’s dental health. They are often the first responders in the dental visit. They gather patient information, take x-rays, do perio-charting, clean teeth, and schedule appointments. Patients may see the hygienist for routine visits that do not require the dentist. The tasks performed by dental hygienists are extensive. Transitioning and implementing practice management software (PM), electronic health records (EHRs), and digital radiography improves their abilities to provide effective dental care.

The benefits of a paperless office are described by Jana Berghoff, a trained dental hygienist, in the article cited below (2009). She discusses the role of the dental hygienist and how a dental office would benefit with paperless and digital technologies.

A significant part of their job and possibly the most important involves maintaining the patient’s dental record. The EHR is the place where the dental hygienist documents the patient’s dental history, updates medications, enters the current examination information and provides treatment planning.

“Preparing for appointments is also made simpler with a chartless system. After pulling up a patient’s record, hygienists can easily consult all the previous notes, and can even filter the notes to see items only they have entered. Furthermore, critical notes such as allergy warnings can be stores in the system so that they pop up automatically when the record is open. No longer do they have to page through the paper chart to get a sense of a patient’s history and important reminders.”

This aggregation of information into usable views reduces errors and increases efficiency.

Practice management software is used to schedule appointments and estimating costs. Hygienists often schedule patients for routine cleanings exclusively. Accessing the PM system allows them to personalize their schedules for these types of visits.

“The scheduling ability also gives hygienists an important way to demonstrate their value to the practice by building their own patient base. If they develop a good rapport with patients, the patients can make sure their next hygiene appointment is with the hygienist they prefer.”

Dental hygienists take x-rays and this can often be cumbersome. However, instant “development” of images using digital systems allows for immediate corrections, as well as providing visual demonstrations to patients of the health of their mouth. Digital imaging systems are often smaller, produce less radiation and take less time from start to finish.

Overall, software can improve dental hygienist’s efficiency and accuracy, while allowing them the time to focus on the patient. For a hygienist unfamiliar with software, there will be a learning curve where it may not feel as if improvements are being made. However, with practice, and for all digital natives, dental practice management and EHR software offer improved accuracy, quality of care and efficiency.

Lessons learned:

• Dental hygienists need to access and use EHRs, PM software, and digital radiography to effectively treat patients.
• Dental offices need to convert to paperless and digital technologies for meaningful use as well as for efficiency and modernization.
• Patient care is improved when dental hygienists have aggregated, current and updated information in the EHR.
• Dental hygienists’ productivity and time are better utilized with digital technologies that benefit the whole practice.

Berghoff, J. (2009, Aug. 1). Paperless office: how to address the transition to electronic health records. RDH. Retrieved July 25, 2012 from http://www.rdhmag.com/articles/print/volume-29/issue-8/feature/paperless-office.html.