The CDC’s guidance for dental settings to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread requires dental offices to thoroughly sterilize tools and disinfect operatory rooms between patients. The added time for these procedures means dental offices need to operate at a reduced capacity, seeing fewer patients. Given that every minute is vital for maximizing productivity, increasing your efficiency will help save valuable time, allowing you to see more patients.
Below are ways in which you can tackle efficiency internally and on the patient side to ensure that you can keep productivity up while still keeping your office and patients safe.
Increase your dental office efficiency by reducing time-consuming tasks. This includes scheduling appointments in a physical book and re-inputting information from hand-filled patient forms. Not only is this time consuming, but there is also a chance for human errors and a chance for duplicate appointments. Patient handwriting can be hard to decipher or your staff could input the data incorrectly. Going paperless would solve these issues.
Using a dental management software that has paperless capabilities will give offices more flexibility when scheduling appointments. Patient appointments can be easily found with searches and easily rebooked if needed. Recares that are due can be seen for each patient so that offices can book them in. This saves a lot of time from flipping through a book and missing appointments.
Having patients fill out digital forms will eliminate the need to transfer information from paper to the computer. You won’t have to handle any papers, which can become a high touch surface, and therefore reduce the risk of transmission. Another benefit is that you will reduce the clutter in the office and your staff will no longer have to allocate time to maintaining cabinets of documentation.
Patients need to be screened for COVID-19 at least twice (before booking an appointment and on the day of the appointment) and can take a long time to fill in a paper form and then transfer to the computer. Going paperless with a digital system that lets you fill out a template and save responses will ensure a standardized process across all patients. It will also reduce the work needed as you can save their responses directly into the patient’s file.
Going Cashless with e-receipts
Handling cash is cumbersome and has a comparable risk to touching common surfaces, such as doorknobs, kitchen counters, and handrails. As a pre-caution, offices can encourage patients to pay with debit or credit cards where possible to limit the handling of cash.
Additionally, rather than printing out receipts, send the electronic receipts to them via email to eliminate this touch surface.
Streamline registration and check-in
By going paperless, you can also send patient forms such as registration and consent forms to your new patients before their appointment. This allows the office to process their information early on and save time from patients filling in their details during their scheduled appointment. This also reduces the need for patients to be in the waiting room before being seen by the doctor. Even if the patient forgets to fill out their forms, they can do so quickly on an iPad or tablet, which can be easily sanitized compared to paper.
Virtual Waiting Rooms
Since many offices now require patients to wait outside because of COVID-19, rather than gathering in the waiting room, an effective communication channel needs to be established. If your dental management software has SMS capabilities, you can use it to let patients know when they can come in. For example:
- Hi John, your appointment is in 15min. Please stay close to the office and we will text again when you can come in. Thank you!
- Hi John, we are ready to see you. Please come in wearing a mask and sanitize your hands before proceeding to your appointment. Thank you!
These messages help ensure that the patient is ready to come in and not waste precious time waiting outside not knowing if the office is ready. Take this opportunity to also remind them of any COVID-19 procedures so they know what to do when coming in such as bringing a mask or a reminder to sanitize their hands before entering the office.
Improve internal communication
Writing on a message board or passing paper notes can be unclear when limited details are given. A poor communication system leads to wasted time to clarify a message instead of tending to more important tasks. In some cases, notes may even be overlooked and lead to a loss of profit.
Instead, staff should be adding important notes about patients directly on their files in the database. Anyone in the office who has access will be able to go through the information to gain a full understanding of the situation even if those who took the notes aren’t available. The advantage is that everyone will be able to pick up from when the patient was last handled without skipping a beat.
The RCDSO has recommended dentists to use teledentistry to remotely assess, triage, and provide dental care where possible and appropriate during this pandemic. Not only does this mitigate the risk of transmission, but it also allows dentists to tend to more patients. This is also beneficial for patients who are at risk to determine if they need to come into the office.
By having a PHIPA-compliant videoconference call with your patient, you can more accurately assess the patient’s concerns and be able to provide immediate care where necessary (schedule-allowing).
Dentists should note that practicing teledentistry equates to practicing dentistry and they should adhere to existing Standards of Practice. Records of the appointment must be in compliance with College’s Dental Record keeping Guidelines and be noted that the care was provided through teledentistry.
Enhance patient communication processes
Keeping up with patient communication requires a lot of time and attention. Offices with a large patient base will know how time-consuming it is to call and follow up with each of their patients regularly. However, your dental management software should have features that allow you to automate menial tasks that are error-prone:
Automated batch email/SMS
Recall reminders, appointment confirmations, post-procedure follow-ups – done manually, it can take a long time. Contacting patients individually can easily take a whole day. However, dental management software with SMS and email capabilities can help you lighten the load. Many have customizable templates you can use and set parameters for sending out messages and emails to specific patients.
For example, you can have your system send out batch messages to invite patients cancelled during the lockdown to make a new appointment. A day’s work can be condensed into a few minutes without overlooking anyone on the list. This leaves you an abundance of time to handle patients at the office and more pressing matters.
The circumstances of the pandemic can change rapidly, so being able to contact patients immediately is imperative. Rather than sending out notices to patients one by one, there is software that integrates with your patient database and allows you to pull a list of patients. You can then send a batch newsletter to all of them at once, which saves you a lot of time and ensures all your patients are contacted.
There may be patients who have not consented to receive any SMS or email communication from the office. However, you will still economize your time since the list of patients you have to manually contact will be much smaller.
Regular software training
While you can have the most sophisticated system that provides all the tools to maximize your efficiency, it can only reach its full potential if your staff know how to handle it. Dental management software is complex with many functions and can be confusing to use for those unfamiliar with it. Take advantage of training sessions from your service provider so that your staff know the system inside-out.
Regular software training will also allow you to discover more advanced features that can enhance your workflow. You can also learn how to use new features that have been released to bring even more functionality to your software.
Keep patients satisfied and educated about oral health
Patients often resist treatment suggestions from dentists, as they’re anxious or have misconceptions about the treatment. You can change this by first communicating with patients in a way that shows their wellbeing is your priority. Allowing patients to express their concerns and addressing them will give them peace of mind and build trust between you and the patient.
It can be hard to suggest a treatment without first showing patients the problem. This is where the inter-oral camera will help patients see the problem, such as a fracture in the tooth. Once you build awareness that there is an actual problem with their teeth, it becomes easier to present a solution that would be accepted by the patient.
You can also empower your patients with knowledge by sending regular newsletters. Educational topics can include the benefits of good oral health, common oral diseases, treatments available, etc. Rather than spending a long time convincing patients to get treatment, patients will feel equipped to make an informed decision about their oral health. They will then be more inclined to work with you and decide on an actionable treatment plan.
Finding opportunities to increase your efficiency is no longer optional during this pandemic – offices must evaluate their processes so that valuable time isn’t wasted. The time saved from improving internal communication, preparations and patient communication can increase your productivity significantly. There is no better time than now to start evaluating which areas you can improve on to maximize your efficiency and productivity.
About the Author
Sandro Persia is the Sales Director at Logic Tech Corp, a Canadian dental management software company that has been serving the industry for more than three decades. With over 25 years of experience in the dental field, Sandro has worked with over 1000 dental clinics across Canada to streamline their workflow and increase productivity. To contact Sandro and discuss your dental management needs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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