Having patients fill out paper forms before an office visit is costly. For patients, it costs time and effort. For your practice, it costs hours of clerical work — plus the cost of buying paper, printing off forms, and storing documents. Online submission forms can save your practice from those costs, as well as bolster patient satisfaction.
Types of online submission forms
Online submission forms allow the dental practice to make medical history and other forms available for patients to complete and submit online. There are a few varieties of online forms available.
● Forms built into dental software — Some dental EHR or practice management systems like those I’ve reviewed offer online forms that integrate with the software. These forms typically integrate seamlessly with a patient’s electronic chart. Dr. Joseph Maniscalco uses forms provided by his EHR solution, Dentrix. When new patients make appointments, the scheduler records their name and date of birth in the Dentrix software. Patients are then directed to the online form, which automatically syncs with their dental chart after they enter their information.
● Proprietary forms — Some large practices that are able to employ a web developer may build their own forms. Dr. Chad Denman says his dental EHR provided some basic forms, but they didn’t give his practice everything it needed. So their web developer created custom forms tailored to the practice’s needs. Patients complete and submit the forms online, which triggers an email to the staff, which then uploads the forms to their EHR.
● Purpose-built web forms — Some web services offer forms designed specifically for dental practices that can integrate with various forms of dental software. These solutions work well for practices using dental software that doesn’t offer forms. The Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinic at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) uses a web service called PBHS TruForm. TruForm is dental-specific and integrates with many dental practice management systems so that forms completed online are automatically entered into the practice’s software.
● Generic web forms — Other web services offer forms that may not be specific to dental practices and don’t integrate with dental software. These forms store patient data for you as well as email patient-submitted forms to you. Dr. Rich Hirschinger uses a Web service from FormSite.com, which allows him to create secure, custom HTML forms for patients, and automatically emails completed forms to him that he can attach to the patient’s electronic chart.
To decide what’s best for your practice, consider how much time and money you’re willing to put in up front, compared with how much time you’re willing to spend on each submitted form as part of your daily workflow. For example, using a generic Web service is often cheapest and easiest to implement, but may require more time processing each submitted form.
Benefits to online submission form users
Regardless of the type of online submission form being used, practices see many of the same benefits. One advantage is cost savings, both in reduced printing and storage costs and saved time.
Keep in mind that how long it takes to realize a return on investment will depend on the type of form being used. For example, building your own forms requires the biggest initial investment and therefore takes the longest time to achieve cost savings. Dr. Denman said he should see a true return on investment about three to four years after implementation of his proprietary forms.
Forms save significant clerical time for office staff. Dr. Maniscalco says his online forms allow him to be more productive with the same amount of staff, and the time that it saves is also saving money.
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Online forms can create efficiencies in other areas of a practice, such as scheduling. For example, Dr. Hirschinger uses his online registration forms to anticipate no-shows. If a patient has not completed the forms the day before the appointment, that is a red flag they may not show up. They are notified by Dr. Hirschinger’s office, and about half of the patients reschedule and some cancel. This allows the practice to offer the time slot to a different patient.
For many practices today, being environmentally conscious is a priority. Paperless registration helps practices go green. Online forms help Dr. Denman’s office meet its goal of being as environmentally-friendly as possible.
But the dentist and staff aren’t the only ones who benefit. Patients are happier with online forms, too.
Patients often have to use vacation time, miss lunch, or spend time away from their family to see the dentist. Dr. Denman doesn’t want his patients to have to spend their valuable time in his office filling out forms. Online submission forms save about 15 minutes for every patient.
Jake Blackshear, Department Manager at UCSF’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinic, echoes that sentiment. If a patient does the online form, the check-in and registration process takes five minutes. Otherwise it may take 20 to 45 minutes.
Integrating online submission forms into your workflow can save your practice time and money, increase your efficiency, and make dental appointments less painful for patients. This is a win for everyone involved.
Melissa McCormack is an analyst and managing editor at Software Advice, where she reviews and writes buyers' guides on dental software and publishes primary research. She writes about ways medical and dental practices can improve efficiency, profitability, and quality of care.