Written by Debra Gray King, DDS Saturday, 31 December 2005 19:00
We all want happy patients who are satisfied with their treatment and are gladly referring others; we want them to believe in the practice and the treatment plans we present. Through tracking and measuring case acceptance, patients’ confidence in our practices can be quantified, to an extent. Also, the successful practice must properly manage patients’ expectations and strive to exceed them. Personalized, one-on-one attention along with the right high-tech tools can be invaluable in helping a practice achieve these goals.
It is not new information that certain technology tools can elevate today’s dental practice to new heights. But with so many choices for technology, what are the key components to build around? In our practice, we use 3 tools every day on every patient that I wouldn’t want to do without: our practice management and clinical software, patient education system, and digital cameras.
BENEFITS OF SOFTWARE
|Illustration by Brian C. Green|
Our practice management and clinical software (Patterson EagleSoft) allow the whole office—our front office, back office, and other support operations—to use the same software system; thus we all are “on the same page,” so to speak, without using a patchwork of different software systems to manage patients’ data. The software captures and stores patient information to networked computers located in the operatories, where tooth charting, perio charting, and PSR information can be recorded. It also manages and sends eReferrals and records, and manages notes in both text and audio format.
In fact, our software comes into play at our office even before the patient walks in the door for his or her first appointment. At the concierge’s desk, we use a feature called OnSchedule. It helps us manage appointments and creates an efficient and profitable work schedule. The toolbar gives quick access to the Day-at-a-Glance or Week-at-a-Glance views, the Quick Fill List, and the Appointment Search feature. Appointments can also be moved easily using the Appointment Queue.
One software feature we are very fond of is that when you move the cursor over the patient’s name on the schedule, a full-face photo of the patient is displayed. This allows the receptionist to recognize even newer patients and be able to use their names when they visit. Not all patients are rock stars, professional athletes, or beauty queens, but everyone still likes to be treated like a VIP. With this feature, local businessmen and soccer moms down the street just looking to improve their smiles don’t realize the technology behind it; they just know that their arrival is anticipated and they are warmly greeted by name, like an old friend, even by a newer staff member.
We use the treatment plan modules to spell out our “smile designs” for patients. The plans show work that needs to be done and work that’s been completed for a patient. We’ve found that this actually helps increase case acceptance. We also can add images to the treatment proposal. We’ve found that using visual images is generally the best way to help patients co-diagnose and understand the situation. When patients see the condition and understand the problem and the proposed solution, they immediately begin to build the trust that prompts them to proceed with treatment. At our office, we rely heavily on multimedia and visual images to educate patients. We take a full series of digital x-rays on each patient, and a full set of photos using the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry sequence.
Our practice management software allows us to load and store all the images in a single patient record, which we can then show and discuss with the patient. This means we can easily pull up new screens without having to exit others. Digging through computer files can make it hard to listen at the same time. Doing it this way, however, allows patients to receive our team’s full attention. We always sit down with the patient, view the screen with him or her, and talk about our findings and the proposed treatment plan.
I like that when I come to do my part, I sit side-by-side with patients and look at photos of their teeth with them. The images are enlarged, which means they’re so much bigger than the images displayed in the days of the little mouthpiece mirror. We can zoom in on decay or cracks, and the patient can see exactly what I’m talking about. I can have a very effective conversation with patients about their condition and their options when they don’t have to hold their mouths open. When patients see their teeth and gums on the computer screen, almost as if they were viewing those of another person, they get a sense of ownership of their condition. Many of them say, “I had no idea my teeth looked like that.”
When one of my patients has temporaries in place, for example, I will pull up his or her photos and x-rays and show the “before” screen. When patients look at the temporaries in their mouths and compare them to the screen, they see the improvement right away. We can point out all the changes we were able to make using temporary restorations. This is important when managing patients’ expectations, and it helps to ensure patient satisfaction with the process and final result.
Patients who choose to hold off on proposed treatment will typically have concerns regarding finances or factors they feel are beyond their control. When I talk one-on-one with them, however, and show them why they should be excited about their dental care, finances become less of an issue because value in our services has been added with the help of technology.
Of course, educating patients about their options is very important, which is where the CAESY Education Systems comes into the picture. I’ve been using this patient education program in my practice since the company first introduced its software in 1993. We currently use the computer network version, which offers multiuser, multitasking features that are beneficial to a practice of our size (we have about 25 to 30 staff members in our office).
We use the software every day to educate patients and begin by showing the “co-diagnosis” presentation. Before using the program, we had some patients with reservations about x-rays. After watching the co-diagnosis presentation, however, they understand why x-rays are important, and I can’t remember the last time a patient objected to them.
We also use CAESY in our operatories and consultation rooms to explain our diagnosis, our proposed treatment, other alternatives, and postoperative care to our patients. More than 200 presentations are available, and they cover virtually every dental topic imaginable. The newest release is interoperable with our practice management software, so now we can open the patient education program right from our office workstation.
Patient education increases case acceptance by empowering patients to make informed decisions about their dental health. The presentations provide them with reasons why we’re recommending a particular treatment, and when patients are confident in the dentist’s recommendations, case acceptance naturally follows.
Patients also watch “The Goal” in the Esthetic Dentistry section. Then we have them watch the specific segments related to their case; hygienists also use the presentations on brushing and flossing. We document as part of the patient’s chart the date and the specific segment he or she viewed.
Our patient education software also comes with an additional feature that can benefit a practice’s case presentation program. It allows us to create sharp-looking, high-tech case presentations that include the program’s multimedia modules and patient treatment plans. We can show the case presentation chairside or burn it onto a CD for the patient to take home and show his or her family. The take-home CDs also are powerful marketing tools; they are branded with our practice name, address, phone number, and Web address, so when a patient shares them with friends, our name is getting in front of potential new patients.
Showing patients impressive images of their teeth clearly depends on those images being high quality, which is why I put my digital camera (Canons D-60 or D-10) on my list of the most valued high-tech equipment. Images must be clear and crisp in order to see small cracks in a tooth or catch the whiteness of a smile (or lack thereof). This calls for a high-quality digital camera.
What I especially like about the technology discussed in this article is that it simply and seamlessly allows our staff to be focused on patient service and allows the doctors to be interactive during each appointment. Years ago, before these technologies were available, patients struggled to see what we were talking about as they squinted into mouth mirrors. Now they are interactive with understanding, diagnosing, and designing their own care. They can see what I’m explaining, and they are more directly involved in the dialogue about their care and results.
Dr. King is the founder and president of the Atlanta Center for Cosmetic Dentistry. She is accredited, a fellow, and director in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. King is also a clinical instructor of cosmetic dentistry, teaching dentists internationally the art of cosmetic dentistry. Her work has been covered extensively in the media by CNN, FOX News, Wall Street Journal, Time, USA Today, InStyle, Vogue, ABC’s Extreme Makeover, and Movie & A Makeover on TBS. She can be reached at (404) 847-9711.
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