Understanding Digital Workflow
There’s so much more to it than CAD/CAM
Daniel G. Butterman, DDS
What is a digital work-flow, and why should it matter to you? We see and hear this term being used constantly, especially in relation to clinical workflows. Efficiency, profitability, patients' impressions of your office, and whether or not they return can all be affected by your understanding and use of a digital workflow. Yet, unfortunately, many dentists only hear it being used as a buzzword to promote a product or service, which only sheds light on a part of what digital workflows can do. It's not about being "paperless," it's about being purposeful.
A digital workflow, including digital clinical workflows, is in essence, any interaction between your practice and a patient in which the information involved is in a digital format. This includes interactions that occur before the patient actually arrives at your physical location and ones that occur after they leave.
By defining digital workflow in this way, we can reach commonality and begin to understand not only what digital workflows really are but also why they are important and whether or not the ones that we use are achieving their intended purposes.
For example, as patients and their information journey through your practice, they experience you, your care, and your systems and technology through these workflows. These digital "hands" carry patients from one point to the next in what can be a seamless and enjoyable experience. However, this is not always the case. In fact, I would argue that most of the time, it is not.
If a patient is looking for a local dentist and performs a Google search for dentists in his or her area who can fix a broken crown, do you have a digital workflow in place that will allow this patient to first, find you in local Google listings and second, understand that you specialize in fixing broken crowns? Do these workflows exist at your practice, and are they tied together seamlessly?
In a recent survey, 94% of respondents said they consulted review websites or search engine results with some frequency to help them choose a healthcare provider.1 Using practice marketing solutions like search engine optimization tools, review postings, and website design and function tools can help introduce your story to potential patients. And it's important to ensure that these tools are able to pass critical information on to your practice management system for later use in areas such as case acceptance, insurance, billing, and patient loyalty.
Assuming that you have the patient acquisition part of your digital story perfected, how do you get them to commit to making an appointment? Do you have a discount or other offer for those who are looking to get new crowns that potential patients can see? Do you have a way for them to book an appointment immediately without needing to call your office?
In a 2013 Accenture survey, 77% of responding patients agreed that the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online is important.2 Make sure that your website provides online appointment scheduling and that it integrates as tightly as possible with your practice's scheduling software.
The workflows discussed thus far can result in a wide array of both good and bad experiences for patients, and they have not even walked through your front door yet. However, even if your digital marketing game is good, it should not stand in contrast to the experience that your patients have in person once they arrive at your office. Do you provide them with the ability to fill out their personal and insurance details online before their appointment? Using online forms that feed information back to your patients' files can help you prepare for their visits. Do you have your schedule optimized so that patients do not have to wait long to be seen for their appointments? Your practice management system's scheduling features should allow you to fine-tune your schedule to minimize patient wait times. You should follow scheduling best practices to avoid under- or overscheduling.
Once a patient is in the operatory chair, are your front-end and clinical systems tied together so that image capture, if it is needed, can quickly occur and be automatically associated with the patient's chart, medical alerts, and financial information? What about insurance codes for those images? Your practice management software should automate the workflows between the front office and operatory. This helps make appointments better experiences for patients and your team as well.
Do not let your patient's great experience end when the appointment does. Make sure your patient communication software can help you follow up with patients afterward to help them understand that you care about them, not just their teeth.
So, what does all of this mean with respect to digital workflows? Remember that digital workflows are really just discrete digital tasks that, when working together, improve your patients' experience. And that experience will depend not just on your team, but your practice management software as well. If your system isn't automating and integrating those discrete digital tasks, then your patients' experience will suffer. Your team and your software must tell a cohesive story that your patients will remember.
About the Author
Daniel G. Butterman, DDS, maintains a private practice in Centennial, Colorado.
1. Hedges L. How patients use online reviews. Software Advice. https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/how-patients-use-online-reviews/. Published February 11, 2019. Accessed October 2, 2019.
2. Accenture. Accenture consumer survey on patient engagement. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/accenture/conversion-assets/dotcom/documents/global/pdf/industries_11/accenture-consumer-patient-engagement-survey-us-report.pdf. Published September 2013. Accessed October 2, 2019.