Electronic Dental Records: A case study

March 30, 2010

By Stephen Thorne

As patients become savvier about their healthcare and more frugal with their money, it is of utmost importance that dentists have the latest, greatest, and most innovative technology. In particular, moving from paper records to electronic dental records (EDRs) can boost a practice’s bottom line, while directly benefiting patients. For those who may have doubt about whether or not EDRs are worth the investment, here is how Dr. Lance Rygg, the owner of Santee Town Center Dental Group, successfully incorporated EDRs into his practice.

Dr. Rygg converted to EDRs in 2005 as an owner dentist associated with Pacific Dental Services (PDS), a dental business support services organization. PDS was able to evaluate the vendors and negotiate fair prices as well as offer technology training sessions to ensure a smooth transition. Dr. Rygg made certain that his staff understood how EDRs could benefit the practice, which helped to build excitement and anticipation for the conversion. As a result, there was no hesitation from the staff that would be responsible for using electronic records on a daily basis, and office morale remained high through the transition period.

The integration from paper records to EDRs was done gradually in groups. Each group consisted of patients with scheduled appointments in the upcoming two to three months, which allowed for the records to be converted in advance of their appointments. Overall, the most active part of the ongoing process lasted about nine to twelve months. Because the process was done gradually, the office did not have to shut down for any period of time and continued to function as normal. Dr. Rygg reported there were no major glitches with the EDR integration process, other than initially it taking a bit longer for patients to check in due to the staff familiarizing themselves with the EDR system. To help the process run smoothly, a support center run by PDS seven days a week helped the office troubleshoot remotely on any questions or technical difficulties.

Benefits to the practice and patients
The greatest benefits of EDRs are the convenience and the amount of time saved with each appointment. EDRs can be integrated with Web-based registration and digital X-rays, allowing dentists like Dr. Rygg to have instant access to patients’ complete information from anywhere with a secure Internet connection. The time saved allows Dr. Rygg to see more patients without compromising quality of care.

For example, if a patient has an after-hours emergency, Dr. Rygg is able to locate that patient’s dental record to determine the immediate best course of action. Additionally, electronic records provide a layer of security by prominently displaying any patient allergies or other safety concerns. New patients appreciate the ability to register from home at their leisure so that the office knows their insurance information as soon as they walk in the door. This helps tremendously when determining treatment and payment options.

Dr. Rygg’s office is fully digitized, so he is able to show patients their X-rays and other information on screen, allowing for a more interactive appointment and a more robust dialogue about care. Case acceptance improves because the dentist is able to build trust when patients understand the procedure and why it is necessary. With a fully digitized EDR system, Dr. Rygg can also help his colleagues, located throughout California and the United States, on challenging cases and give instruction for complex procedures on a confidential basis without leaving the office.

Modern dentistry
Dr. Rygg’s office is just one of over 200 PDS-affiliated offices that are benefiting from an electronic records system. Just like a corporation could not survive without using e-mail, the dentists that do not bother to integrate digital technology are going to be left behind. Patients are demanding more from their healthcare providers, including dentists, and have greater flexibility in choosing their providers. State-of-the-art technologies such as electronic dental records help dentists provide the absolute best in care and keep patients coming back for life.

Author bio
Pacific Dental Services President and CEO, Stephen Thorne, BA, MHA, founded Pacific Dental Services in 1993 when he entered into his first dental practice-management contract in Costa Mesa, Calif. Stephen received his BA from UCLA and his Master's in health administration from Chapman University.