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Growing a Practice: Smart Use of Digital Tools Can Increase Revenue
Over the past decade, I have come to know many dentists. The types of practices they run vary as much as their personalities. Some are high-tech, state-of-the-art operations featuring the latest digital equipment. Others have been much slower, even somewhat reluctant, to embrace new technology. Most practices are somewhere in between, using typically one or two digital sensors, an intraoral camera or two, and computers in every operatory. While many of these “in between” practices are successful, there are those that have not only adopted the newest technology, but have truly embraced it and are using it to its fullest potential.
There seems to be a common theme among dentists who are keeping their schedules full, promoting high-end cosmetic treatment plans, and collecting the dollars that they are billing—the use of new technology. It’s not so much the clinical procedures they are performing that make the difference, rather it’s the systems they have in place.
Of course, there are ways to use technology to improve efficiencies from a practice management standpoint. For example, use of a tablet computer can help practices obtain patients’ medical information digitally, resulting in very little, if any, paper at all. Patients can fill out and then digitally sign medical history, financial responsibility, and HIPPA forms, and then return the tablet to the front desk where this information is then stored electronically directly in that patient’s record in the office’s practice management software.
Another smart practice management strategy is to maintain a patient’s credit card on file. This is done in most types of businesses, and in the dental practice it can potentially make case acceptance easier for the patient and also make it easier to collect on those procedures, especially with patient finance services that enable a practice to establish an account while the patient is waiting to be seen.
Digital Intraoral X-Ray Sensors
A primary means of increasing output in a dental practice with technology is through the use of digital imaging systems. Digital intraoral x-ray sensors are a key to success. Many practices are using just a single sensor. These are often busy practices with multiple hygienists working at any given time along with the doctor and assistants. With only a single sensor in the office, scheduling is often done based strictly on its availability—an inefficient way to do business. While a practice may not need a sensor for every operatory, it may make sense to have one for every doctor and hygienist.
Conversely, having a sensor for every operatory may indeed make sense, because this can eliminate the wear and tear that comes from constantly moving it, and can also help reduce accidents. By not having to move a sensor from room to room, there is less chance of damaging it. This strategy can help increase the longevity of the equipment and maximize the investment in it.
Furthermore, having a sensor for each dentist and hygienist eliminates the need for the dentist to have to wait for a unit when needed. For example, if the hygienist has just started a full-mouth series (FMS), the dentist could be waiting a full 10 minutes or more for the sensor to become available. This wasted time puts the practice behind schedule at the very least, but also costs money. And while the dentist is using the sensor, the hygienist cannot work on patients who require x-rays, and, therefore, procedures must be scheduled that do not require them.
Making sure that all of the producers in the practice have the necessary tools to perform their tasks at all times allows the front desk staff to schedule for maximum patient care instead of scheduling around the sensor. Adding another sensor (or two) to an existing digital practice to ensure that everyone who might need one has one available when needed could be the answer to growing the practice. While the high initial cost may be prohibitive to some practices, in a busy dental office, digital sensors can pay for themselves in a short period of time.
Digital cameras and intraoral cameras are another key area of technology that are often under-utilized in dental offices. Many practices do, in fact, have an intraoral camera, but they only use it to show patients “before” images. This is certainly useful, but it can be even more effective to, for example, show patients photographs of the removal of old amalgam out of their mouth and what the tooth looks like before the temporary crown is put on. These detailed visuals provide the patient assurance that they have made the correct choice regarding their oral health. Using these imaging tools to educate patients during the procedures not only reinforces that they have made a good financial decision, but it also establishes trust with the dental practice. Thus, when the dentist discusses the next procedure that the patient may need, the patient is considerably more inclined to accept the diagnosis and treatment plan than a less educated patient. Moreover, this use of digital imaging is likely to prompt patients to return for further treatment and to recommend the practice to their friends and family.
Use of a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera to take photographs of a patient’s current condition can also be an effective tool. Not only can dentists show patients the “before” images and explain to them the plan for improving their smile, but with programs like cosmetic imaging modules, they can use the patient’s actual image and create an entirely brand new smile for them quickly and easily. With cosmetic imaging modules, dentists can use on-screen side-by-side before and after images to enable patients to see how they will look upon completion of the procedure. Such tools require only a minimal amount of time to fine-tune the images.
An example of a benefit of using cosmetic imaging software is tooth whitening. The patient can watch the anticipated results of the proposed treatment, as the dentist easily shows them how they will look with their teeth three, five, or even more shades whiter. More complex procedures such as closing a diastema or creating an entirely new smile can also be shown. Again, side-by-side before and after images of the patients themselves can be used to show them exactly how they will look after the procedure. When patients, viewing their very own images, see how much better they can look, they will likely be more apt to accept treatment.
The Consult Room
Lastly, a consult room is an important element for a successful digital dental practice. When a complicated cosmetic treatment plan is to be discussed with a patient, a chairside presentation is often insufficient when attempting to convey the message to the patient and convince him or her to spend upwards of perhaps tens of thousands of dollars on their appearance. Utilizing the images taken with the SLR camera and using the digital imaging software to its fullest allows the dentist to prepare an impressive presentation with true-to-life before and after images of the patient. By seeing their own images, patients can visualize the dramatic improvement that the dentist will be providing.
Getting hygiene personnel more involved with digital imaging and making sure the office is equipped with the necessary tools at all times can be a major factor in scheduling for maximum service as well as practice-building procedures. Adding one or more digital sensors to an already existing digital practice can be an effective way to quickly increase production.
By adding higher-end cosmetic procedures to the schedule, utilizing imaging software tools to their fullest potential to create presentations for patients using images of themselves, and generating an impressive presentation for them that can be shown in a dedicated consult room, dentists can effectively generate increased revenues while providing their patients higher-quality service. Digital imaging can be maximized with intraoral and SLR cameras. Combining these devices with cosmetic imaging applications can help convince patients not only to accept the treatment plan but, in many instances, they may want to schedule it as soon as possible.
As technology continues to advance, dental practices that have yet to go digital may want to consider it. The use of technology can not only help improve patient care, but it can increase the practice’s productivity as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James W. Ramey
Director of Digital Imaging, DentiMax, Mesa, Arizona