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The Big 5

March 1, 2007
Here are five software tools your front desk simply can’t do without

Here are five software tools your front desk simply can’t do without

By Peter T. Lwin Yang, DDS

The financial success of your dental office is, in a very real way, determined by your front-office personnel. As a dentist, your quick work, specialized skills, and great chairside manners aren’t enough! If your practice does not have competent, knowledgeable front-office administrators who are equipped with the tools they need, you will never find the success that you are looking for. Unfortunately, you may be the one who is holding your front desk back from reaching your goals. Don’t make this mistake ­- give your front office staff the tools they need to make your practice a financial success.

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The biggest financial tool you can give your front office is up-to-date practice management software. Unfortunately, many dentists forego purchasing updated software because of the expense, both perceived and real. To be fair, practice-management software can be pricey. However, your staff’s ability to deal with the detailed intricacies of things like insurance benefits and patient recall is so greatly enhanced by software that you cannot afford to ignore this important tool. Fortunately, there are a few companies that offer reasonably-priced practice management software with the features your practice needs.

To achieve your financial goals, it is critical that your front-desk employees have and use these five software tools:

  • Patient Recall Reporting and Tracking
  • Patient Scheduling
  • Patient Insurance and General Financial Reporting
  • Electronic Insurance Claim Functionality
  • Office Communication Capability.

Patient Recall Reporting/Tracking

I am amazed at the amount of money dental offices leave on the table because they simply do not understand or use their computer software’s recall capability. If the software’s recall system is too complicated to use, get a new software system. Otherwise, offer training for your front desk staff to get them up to speed on recall. You can’t afford not to.

It has been said that a good patient recall system is the lifeblood of a successful practice. If patients are not recalled for their periodic exams and X-rays, they are not being diagnosed and, more importantly, they are not being treated.

One of my colleagues is a great example of how a good recall system positively impacts a dental office financially. After some encouragement and staff training on his software’s recall system, my friend was able to increase his revenue by more than $100,000 - year after year. Over half of that money went directly to his profit margin!

The most effective recall system allows your front desk to automatically create a new appointment at the time of patient checkout.
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There are several methods used for recalling patients and a good software system will offer most of them. Obviously, the most important thing is for your software system to include a recall system that your office can understand and use. One common recall system allows your front desk to automatically create a new patient appointment at the time of patient checkout. The software will place the new recall appointment six months out or by whatever time increment you’ve preselected for the patient. You can then easily “tweak” this recall appointment’s time and date to accommodate the patient’s schedule. In addition, the software will provide the insurance “frequencies” as well as other informational items needed to assure compliance with the patient’s insurance plan requirements. Something as simple as your patient coming in one day too soon may shift that prophy appointment expense from the insurance to your patient.

Most offices find their patients can be easily trained to make their recall appointment during their current visit. This is the most effective recall system. However, some offices still prefer to make the patient recall appointment at a later date. Regardless of the recall system you choose, your software needs to allow your staff to send reminder cards or letters to your patients as well as make outbound reminder calls from the software’s recall list. The important thing is for your patients to make and keep their recall appointments.

Patient Scheduling

Have you ever had a healthy daily production total of $6,000 followed by a $1,500 day? You maybe saw as many patients on that second day and even worked harder, but it didn’t matter because your front desk only booked low-production procedures on that second day. Think twice before blaming your staff. Your software’s appointment book might be making it difficult for your office to see the dollar variances between your scheduled days.

DentiMax gives you the ability to view three major cash-flow indicators within a monthly calendar.
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Your software’s appointment book, at a minimum, should give you the ability to quickly see the dollars your daily appointments represent. This type of tool will help your front desk smooth out your daily appointment production, minimizing those peaks and valleys.

One software system’s appointment book, DentiMax, not only gives you the ability to view the true dollar amount that future appointments represent, but also graphically displays two other major cash-flow indicators:

  • The true dollar amount of completed work, and
  • The amount of actual cash your practice has collected.

The ability to view your schedule from a financial viewpoint is important for any office and DentiMax takes this feature to a whole new level.

If you’re like most offices, your front desk probably starts and ends the day while in the software’s appointment book. Does your front office staff find it difficult to move from the patient’s appointment to the patient’s ledger, treatment plan, or other software screens? While collecting money or during other patient interactions, this type of movement capability will greatly enhance your front staff’s ability to quickly and accurately answer your patients’ questions.

Also, your software should clearly display all important appointment information in a way that is easy to read. Appointments should display the patient name and phone number, procedure to be performed, as well as the current time of day. If you haven’t bought software or are looking to upgrade to a more comprehensive system, look for software that offers the ability to customize the way this information is displayed on the appointment book.

Patient, Insurance and General Financial Reporting

Too many dental offices spend all of their time trying to increase daily production totals and don’t take sufficient time to make sure that the production dollars are actually being collected! Some of the easiest money a practice can make has already been made - the front office just needs to collect it.

I know an office that was collecting less than 70 percent of the actual monthly production numbers. A new office manager was hired who immediately printed out the insurance aging reports and aggressively went after the outstanding insurance payments. In addition, she started sending monthly statements to the practice’s patients and ended up sending a few patients to collections. What was the end result? For the next four months, the practice collected 20 percent more than what was being produced! This equated to a total net increase of $80,000 that went straight to the office’s bottom line.

Your software’s aging reports should include current, 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day aging intervals.
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My friend was lucky - his software had the reports this high-powered office manager needed to collect his money. Your front-office staff needs the same reports, which include an accurate patient aging report as well as primary and secondary insurance aging reports. These reports should include current, 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day aging intervals which display total practice dollar amounts for each interval. To make things easier, you should have the ability to print the insurance aging reports by insurance name. The insurance aging reports should also contain all the information the insurance companies will request from your office staff (i.e., patient’s name and date of birth, subscriber’s name, subscriber’s Social Security number, etc.).

Also, make sure that your software includes reports that can help your office analyze your patient and insurance payments as well as production numbers. Your financial reports should contain the following information:

  • Patient and insurance payments broken down by payment type - cash, credit card, patient check, insurance check, etc.
  • Production dollar amounts broken down by type of procedures - diagnosis, preventive, restorative, endodontics, oral surgery, etc.
  • Month-to-month comparisons for charges, payments, adjustments, and insurance charges
  • Daily details of payments and charges with a daily total for charges, adjustments, and payments.

Electronic Insurance Claim Functionality

How would you like to bill an insurance company on Monday and be paid on Thursday? Or, when an insurance claim is seemingly late, how would you like to be able to quickly find out the status of the claim - determine if the insurance company received it, find out if and why the claim was rejected, or if and when the claim was paid? Electronic claims processing offers all of these possibilities. Make sure that your office manager has this tool and is using it.

Sending claims electronically will dramatically speed up your insurance payments and reduce your accounts receivable.
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Many dental offices are adverse to sending claims electronically in part because this is something new to them. They can’t physically touch the claim and assure that it was actually sent to the insurance company. Other offices use software that is seemingly too complicated in the e-claim area and so office managers don’t enroll and use this service. Perhaps your software e-claims service is on the pricey side and you have a hard time justifying sending claims electronically when you could send multiple claims in a single envelope. With the ease of use of today’s software and with the low-price offerings from many e-claims clearinghouses, these concerns are no longer valid. Simply put, sending claims electronically is going to dramatically speed up your insurance payments and reduce your accounts receivable. Don’t let your front desk use excuses for not sending your insurance claims electronically.

Office Communication Capability

If you have relegated your front office to rekeying data that your dental assistant collected from your patient exams, you really ought to consider bringing computers to your back office. Wouldn’t it be easier to record your patient exam information chairside with the patient, then share that information with your front desk via your software? Creating the patient treatment plan chairside is a huge time savings for a front desk. Your software system should then allow your front office to use this information for new patient appointments, collecting patient payments, and sending claims and statements. Rather than rekeying hand-written treatment plans, your office manager’s time could be spent on more worthwhile activities, like collecting money from insurance companies.

Creating the patient treatment plan chairside is a huge time savings for a front desk.
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Computerizing your operatories will also allow your office manager to communicate the patient appointment status with your dental assistants and hygienists. Either with colors or symbols, your office manager should be able to update the patient appointment to indicate whether or not the patient has arrived, checked in, is ready to go to the back office, or missed the appointment. These updated appointment statuses can then be viewed by your back-office staff. This type of communication system is quiet and totally transparent to your patients.


Please remember that, as a dentist, you can only personally do so much to assure the financial success of your dental office. You need the help of your front desk. Make sure that your front office staff is trained and using up-to-date practice-management software that will allow them to properly do their jobs. With the right tools, you and your staff will achieve the financial success you’ve been looking for.

Biographical Sketch

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Peter T. Lwin Yang, DDS graduated from UCSF in 2002. He practices in his private practice in Salinas, CA and is also an associate clinical Instructor for the UCSF dental school.