Is your office technology making you wear the pants in the office?
By Laci L. Phillips
Typically at the front desk, we ladies enjoy wearing suits and heels; however, every time my computer skips a beat, I’m on the floor, crawling under my desk to coddle and pet my tower into feeling better. If you too are crawling around, fear no more, help is on the way.
One question we receive almost weekly at Paperless Technologies is, “How do we go paperless?” This is a rather complex question. However, the more questions I ask the team and Doctor, the more I realize they are each trying to accomplish completely different goals. The Doctor is talking hardware and software, the team is literally asking, “How do we never pull or file another chart?”
Before we talk about how this can happen, let’s talk about what it truly means to be a “paperless office.” Up until 2006, paperless meant printing out a registration form, a HIPPA form, a medical and dental history form, and perhaps the office financial policy and handing them to the patient with a clipboard and pen. The patient then spent time in the reception area filling out this paperwork before handing it back to the front office staff, who then manually entered the data into the practice management program. At this point the paper had to go to the clinical area for a provider to review. Sometimes a chart was made. But more than likely one single piece of paper was sent to the back for review. Once the paper was in the clinical area, a provider, hygienist or dentist reviewed the information, checked for medical alerts or allergies, made any necessary notes and signed off on it. The paper was then sent up to the front to be scanned with the rest of the documents into the practice management program.
Although this is what we had, it is NOT paperless. It is a paper reducer. Paperless means NO PAPER.
Paperless in the clinical area is easier to accomplish since we have great practice management programs that provide offices with an electronic clinical record, perio charting, and digital systems such as radiographs and photos. A good practice management program can even ease the pain in the front office with an electronic appointment book and insurance management. The only paper left in an office is the paper the patient fills out. With the new technology today, that goal can be accomplished as well. Now there really is such a thing as a Paperless Office.
How is this accomplished? We now have a hardware and software solution for all paper that an office puts out. Instead of that clipboard you can hand the patient a wireless tablet PC with all the forms your office is currently using. The patients writes on it just like the paper they are used to, and their handwriting is converted to text and put into appropriate data fields. You have all the information you need, and it is electronic. You can take it a step forward. Direct patients to your Web site where, in the privacy of their home, they can fill out all documentation using a keyboard and mouse. These forms are ready for Doctor’s review before the patient walks through the door.
In the clinical area, when the Doctor needs to review the health history with the patient, they can now pull up those electronic forms in the treatment room using a tablet PC, review the forms, and make any necessary notes such as medical alerts or pre-medications that might be needed. Then the provider signs the forms, instantly making them a legal document. What about consent forms? You can even have electronic versions of these as well. It is also possible to have custom clinical forms in the treatment room. Treatment planning and financial arrangements can be made electronically in the same manner. You can now present a treatment plan with financial options to patients on the Tablet PC, patients read through everything, agree to the terms, and sign right there. No more paper.
One of the most important components to implementing any new technology is TRAINING! Every team member must receive extensive training on each system. This will not only allow you to do the job properly, it will reduce the fear and anxiety associated with technology in the dental office.
Part of the implementation process is to pick a “go paperless date.” Make this an entire team decision, including the Doctor, then move forward toward this date. Do not go back in time. In the first week, take baby steps. The easiest thing to do is to start with all new patients. From this date on you will no longer create or store any new patient information on paper. All business will take place on the computer whether it is a wired station or a wireless tablet. Once you have been doing this for 30 to 45 days and the entire staff is comfortable with the process, you will start to implement existing patients. I usually start my clients with three existing patients in the morning and three in the afternoon. Select those patients ahead of time. Then add a patient each morning and each afternoon to your process. Eventually every patient in your practice will be using this technology and your staff will not think twice about it.
You can scan in letters from specialists, financial arrangements, Care Credit approvals and more from this day on, and the technology is there for Data Exchange between offices, pharmacies, and other institutions. This new technology makes scanning a thing of the past. You can now exchange information via the Internet and have information filed directly into the system you are using. It can happen seamlessly. If you do choose to go the scanning route, I recommend a Panasonic Scanner on the Internet. It comes with its own imaging software, can scan up to 20 pages per minute, and the price tag is about $750.
This is not a simple task, but it is fun and exciting to see your vision come into play. If you need additional information or help, there are some great consultants out there who specialize in this. Remember, you must crawl before you walk, do your research and come up with a plan. Then let the paper go, and welcome to the 21st century.
With the technology we have to offer today, you will not have to worry about wearing the pants in the office. Keep your Hi Heels and your Short Skirts, and go Hi Tech.
Laci L. Phillips is the National Sales Director for Paperless Technologies. Laci brings 15 years of experience in the dental field, which included both clinical and administrative, from a chair side assistant in a government funded health clinic on the Indian reservation to a practice administrator for a boutique practice in Phoenix, AZ. Prior to joining the team at Paperless, Laci spent three years working directly with dentists and their teams around the country. Her responsibilities included Project Management for new office builds, consulting on technology for offices, and training teams to use the technology that was implemented. Laci also brings a public speaking background to Paperless as she has been speaking and writing for many organizations and publications in the dental field for the last four years.