Column - Hygiene Touch: Save a Tree

Jan. 1, 2005
You might be surprised to learn some trees are farmed specifically for paper production while others are cut into lumber for construction.

You might be surprised to learn some trees are farmed specifically for paper production while others are cut into lumber for construction. Those trees grown strictly for paper goods are harvested as if they were bumper crops of beans or corn. As a tree-preserving measure, much of the paper industry relies on recycled paper pulp mixed with new pulpwood fiber chips for standard paper production. New trees must be harvested, despite recycling measures. Dental offices contribute to paper demands, however, by using paper charts. Dental teams stuff pages upon pages into alphabetized patient charts that must contain complete records. Consider how many hands a patient record passes through during its daily flow and how frustrating it is when a paper chart is nowhere to be found because of misfiling. There is an easier alternative: Patient information can be accessed chairside by your hygienist - without paper charts. If your office relies on paper charts, consider some paperless advantages.

Going paperless might be a hard tree to climb for anyone who has worked solely in a paper-chart office. For many hygienists, easily retrieved, chairside data means delivering more complete hygiene services. Electronically stored patient records allow easy keystroke entry, rather than demanding a team member wear a file-cabinet pathway each time she needs a chart. For a paperless practice on a network, in-office communication flows seamlessly from the front office to chairside. Trained team members can easily maneuver through several dental software programs. At any time during the recare appointment, staff may enter performed services while chairside. Clicking on the print icon generates a treatment plan with service fees that is ready to present to the patient upon completion of the visit.

Office business coordinators run information paper routes when they have to use paper charts for payment arrangements. It’s difficult to track daily ledger entries that wait stacked in the operatories until corresponding charts make their passages to the front. Financial coordinators, wanting to make treatment-plan proposals, find themselves peering over hygienists’ shoulders at service-sheet codes or straining to hear treatments before treatment plans can be formulated. For hesitant patients - especially those who need to make substantial investments in their mouths - some may find the information handoff disorganized and haphazard if it’s not handled smoothly, and thus defer treatment. In contrast, a computer-generated treatment plan awaits patients for consultation because information was entered chairside and the front office team had time to calculate payments. On the treatment plan, you also may list potential breakdowns of insurance ­­co-payments from received claims. Presenting an organized treatment proposal allows you to answer questions and schedule appointments efficiently. Electronically locating uncompleted treatment also is much easier than skimming and pulling charts from a file cabinet.

Chairside computers in hygiene operatories lend confidence in care delivery as hygienists may access patient information at a button’s touch. Scrolling health histories list current medications and may be updated with little effort. Changes may be entered immediately, and histories are available for routine review. What’s more, pop-up boxes alert clinicians to premedication requirements, latex allergies, and other warnings. Adhesives keeping those bright, sticky, alert labels mounted to the outsides of paper charts lose their bonding power over time, eventually peeling away and placing clinicians at risk for treatment challenges.

Chairside clinical notations remain legible. Multi codes are built in, and frequent entries are bundled to aid standardized note taking. You can save even more time by assigning specific keystrokes to common procedures such as oral hygiene instructions and cancer screenings. Electronic access to perio information makes updating nearly effortless. Gone are the days of squeezing three numbers into an impossibly tiny box and using a red pencil to reference bleeding sites. Fabulous color graphics change numbered oval entries to red, indicating hemorrhage points. Hygienists who use voice-activated systems will gain even greater freedom away from keyboards.

Electronically charted notes toggled with full-mouth, intraoral images add to a comprehensive, computerized hygiene chart.

Merely writing the size or shape of a festering ulceration confers the needed documentation. Using a camera to capture the image as it presents during the visit precisely depicts and records the presentation once it’s uploaded to the computer.

Going further, consider integrating a digital radiography system with instant-image sensors. When X-rays are captured electronically, they may be managed efficiently and enhanced through diagramming and magnification modes.

Chairside scheduling from the hygiene workstation is highly effective, especially when your goal is to increase patient retention.

Patients may preappoint to reserve time with a rapport-building hygienist. Hygienists are familiar with the specific time increments required to ably schedule for the practice. Having Internet access at workstations allows hygienists to email patients appointment reminders (when requested), inquire about products, or answer patient questions.

Computers have become an integral component for chairside hygiene efficiency. Consider how well an electronic chart will function with radiography- and periodontal-management software. Patient records, treatment planning, and medical updating will be achieved using a keyboard concept.

Paper charts are subject to limitations. Get out from under the cumulative forest of pages from paper charting and go out on a limb - go paperless!