Streamline Your Office Workflow for Success
How technology enhances communication and the patient experience
Steven McConnell, DDS
Patient care is always the most important aspect when it comes to running a dental practice, but what’s the second? It can be hard to identify when so many different things are important to your business, such as time management, great support staff, marketing for new patients, increasing return on investment, etc. As someone who has been practicing dentistry for more than 35 years, I know that your focuses will shift, but in the long run, an efficient workflow in the office should become your ultimate goal above all the rest.
Make Your Technology Work for Everyone
One of the easiest ways to get organized at the office is by using a practice management system. We have used Eaglesoft from Patterson Dental for more than 20 years and nobody in my office could operate without it. It is integral to every component on both the business and clinical sides, as it shapes what we do and how we do it. Keep in mind that the real benefit to a practice management system is that it allows us as dental professionals to better care for our patients. Any bit of information associated with patients is recorded in one central location. This makes administrative tasks easy to accomplish and allows more time to interact with patients during their visit.
It is important to me that I am constantly using the most advanced software that will help me be both a better practitioner and more effective business owner. Every few years, I approach my software as if I am looking to purchase a new system. I ask myself, “How is my system performing?” and I identify the areas with which I am happy, those aspects I couldn’t live without, and the features that I think need improvement. I look at what a variety of companies are doing with their products and make an assessment based on what will best serve my practice overall. It is good practice to consistently assess your office’s needs—you can clearly see problems that need to be addressed and areas that need improvement.
Something that has always been important to me is looking for “proactive” systems as opposed to “reactive.” To stay organized at the office, I want a system that will work with me and help support my end goals and not simply serve as a place to store information. Our current system helps set the streamlined workflow of the office. This is something that is easily attainable for all offices. Start thinking about how you want to operate and look for systems with great support teams to help guide you to those goals. I am always surprised to learn how little some dentists and staff are using the resources and capabilities that are built into many of their current systems. There is so much you can be doing to set your practice up for success by using the system as it is intended.
Assess Your Business Performance
One of my key goals is to have a solid business model so that when I meet with patients and practice dentistry, the last thing on my mind is the business. To make this a reality, I use the tools in my practice management system to make a quantitative assessment of our quality. In essence, these features, like the Trends Report, help us plan for the future. We can track our productivity and case acceptance and see how well we have done compared to our goals. This information serves as the basis for making improvements. Ultimately, this information not only serves as a record of our history, but it allows us to project forward and plan for our upcoming days, weeks, months, and even years.
Get Organized with Streamlined Documentation
The schedule is the most dynamic and fluid component of any practice. Consequently, it is vital that our schedule is organized, streamlined, and easy to understand. The biggest organizational component in my office is pre-blocking all of our appointments. We book by appointment type and schedule and track our goals within the system. The fact that we can set so many individual parameters within the schedule makes the organization simple—anybody scheduling appointments knows exactly where an appointment should go.
Another great aspect to help streamline your office workflow is becoming completely paperless. My practice committed to being fully paperless about 12 years ago and it eliminated the wasted time spent trying to locate all of the necessary files for patient appointments.
For management of patient charts, again simplicity is key. I love that everything related to a patient in my system is basically one keystroke or one click away for instant access. Whether it is patient history, information on a certain tooth, or previous x-rays, all information is neat and gathered, helping even more to streamline the process of finding this information. Consequently, before I even go into the operatory to meet with a patient, I have already looked at their images, health history, periodontal chart, and any other relevant information. This gives me more time to visit with the patient and focus my efforts on their needs when I am in the room.
This ease of accessibility with patient information is not only important from a clinical perspective, but from the administrative side as well. The same sort of quick links exist for anything my office staff needs, like insurance forms, appointment types, and upcoming appointment schedules, and it is all linked together. Again, this streamlined format helps to completely transform your office and introduce efficiency in many new ways.
Communicate Effectively and Efficiently
Depending on how you handle internal office communication, it can become one of the biggest time-savers for your practice. We use something called the Messenger feature within our practice management system in my office, and it has become integral to every appointment we have. Every computer in our office is linked and we are able to send messages in a very streamlined fashion. We also use the built-in pop-ups and alerts to help us notify each other about key patient or appointment information.
The last thing to note is that while a practice management system is clearly needed to run an efficient office and take care of patients, it is also one of the most important tools to create an amazing, cohesive team. To achieve an optimal patient experience and a streamlined workflow, it is imperative that all members of the team completely understand every aspect of patient care, starting with administrative details all the way to documentation and rationale for treatment plans. Our practice management system truly is the cornerstone of our office and helps solidify us as a united team that is prepared to put patient satisfaction first in every visit.
Listed above are just a few simple things you can do to help streamline your office workflow, many of which you probably already have access to within your practice management system. I encourage you to use the technology that you possess and work towards simplifying your practice in the months to come.
About the Author
Steven McConnell, DDS, has been practicing dentistry for more than 35 years. He graduated from the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry and opened The Marin Center for Restorative & Cosmetic Dentistry in Novato, California in 1978. Dr. McConnell integrates advanced technology, minimally invasive techniques, and non-toxic materials into his patients’ treatment plans, all while maintaining a paperless office. Recently, the Consumers’ Research Council of America selected Dr. McConnell as one of “America’s Top Dentists.”