By Emily Nix, DA
In the dental office, it can be easy to fall into an established pattern or role. We might do things because “that’s the way they’ve always been done,” and it can be hard to break out of this way of thinking. But in order to develop professionally and help the practice advance, it’s important for assistants to look for ways to push their boundaries and contribute all they can. One effective way to do this is by learning how to take full advantage of clinical and practice-management software.
For the past eight years, I have worked at a practice that uses Patterson Eaglesoft software, and have learned firsthand how helpful this tool can be to the dental assistant. By learning a dental software and exploring its advanced capabilities, assistants can become much more efficient in both the operatory and front office. Software systems vary, but here are some of the key features that I make use of in my office:
- Charting — Our clinical software has a number of tools that help staff members record tooth and perio charting efficiently. If I am assisting a hygienist with probing and charting, it’s simple to record the information digitally. The software also allows users to color-code treatments according to whether they are proposed, existing, or completed. Color-coding is also available for clinical conditions. It’s easy to move from one area of the patient’s record to another, which helps the appointment flow smoothly. The clinical software lets you easily move from a patient’s chart, to the health history, to X-rays, and any other information you are trying to access.
- Clinical notes — The notes feature in the software is also very helpful. One step that is particularly helpful for assistants is setting up auto-notes, which let users customize a standard note they can quickly access and record on a patient’s chart. For instance, with orthodontic patients in my practice, I can use auto-notes to pull up a standard list of questions we ask during the appointment and quickly note their responses in the chart.
- Treatment planning — Our software allows us to create and print treatment plans to send home with patients that show them our recommended treatments, as well as estimates of their insurance coverage and their estimated responsibility. We use this tool to break treatments into phases and show patients a long-term plan, which helps them see their treatment in achievable steps. It’s also simple to adapt and update the plan as treatment progresses.
- Preparing for the day — Another feature of the software that I enjoy is the ability to see scheduled treatments from the appointment screen. With this tool, when I come in and begin preparing for the day, I can see at a glance the kinds of procedures that will be performed, and thus can more efficiently prepare the necessary tools and supplies.
- Billing — On the practice-management side, assistants can use software to access billing information and discuss a patient’s account with him or her. This can be done right from the operatory, which is much more convenient if a patient has questions about the account while in the chair.
- Reporting — Practice-management software also has very helpful reporting capabilities, which let the practice run a variety of reports based on different criteria. For example, I can use the software to create a report on patients who have not followed up with a specific type of necessary treatment. The office can then be more proactive about contacting patients to schedule them for the procedure.
These features are just a sampling of what is possible with dental software, and new capabilities are being introduced regularly. For example, the newest version of Eaglesoft — version 16 — will make it even easier to access patient information and view providers’ schedules at a glance. In addition, a new help menu function will make it easier to access frequently asked questions.
With these tools, assistants have a valuable opportunity to expand their skills and make themselves indispensable in a practice. By learning a software’s tools on both the clinical and front office sides, assistants can become an even more helpful resource for other team members.
My practice is currently merging with another office, after which we will have three dentists, four hygienists, and five assistants. In a practice of this size, it will be even more important that all members of the team are able to efficiently communicate with each other and coordinate their days. Fortunately, our software is able to help us achieve this goal. I encourage other assistants to fully explore the capabilities of their software systems, or if a system is not in place, encourage the practice to adopt one such as Eaglesoft. The added organization and efficiency that can be achieved with dental software makes a difference not just for assistants, but for the entire practice as well.
Emily Nix graduated from Wayzata High School in 1995 and received her associate's degree in dental assisting from Globe University / Minnesota School of Business in 2001. She has worked for a number of dental offices throughout the Twin Cities area and currently works as a registered dental assistant for Smile Design Dentistry in Plymouth, Minn.