By Anthony M. Puntillo DDS, MSD
In my last few posts I have focused my discussion on intraoral scanners and 3D model printing. Currently, these technologies can allow a practice to eliminate impressions and truly represent the cutting edge when it comes to the clinical practice of orthodontics. However, I am constantly amazed by how many orthodontists are still not incorporating the most basic of technology into their practices. My partner and I recently acquired an orthodontic practice from an orthodontist approaching the end of his career. After spending the summer merging our systems, I thought I would take a step back and discuss a few of the systems every orthodontist should be using right now to improve the efficiency in their offices.
Computer scheduling with appointment templates
There is nothing more inefficient than a paper based scheduling system. Most orthodontic offices using paper based scheduling systems could comfortably eliminate at least one patient day per week and maintain the same level of productivity. Many orthodontists have purchased software management programs that already include scheduling modules. They simply have not taken the time to set them up and use them. If you do not feel comfortable setting up a computer based scheduling system yourself, hire a consultant. You will easily see a return on this investment in no time.
An automated scheduling confirmation system
This goes hand in hand with computer scheduling. The days of paying an employee to spend their day pulling charts and calling each of your patients to confirm their appointment for the following day should be over. If your schedule is computer-based you can easily incorporate programs that will not only electronically call, but also text and email appointment reminders to all of your patients. This will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the process and your staff will be happy to give up this tedious task.
I am going to stay out of the 2D/3D debate in this post. However, orthodontists still taking 2D radiographs should only be doing so digitally. The move to 3D machines has led to a secondary market for 2D digital machines at reasonable costs. You can easily pay for a 2D digital machine with the improved efficiencies that they provide i.e. no film or chemical costs, no staff time processing the radiographs, decreased need for retakes, overall improved image quality, and lower levels of radiation for your patients.
The amount of data generated for each patient we see is simply too great to efficiently manage using a paper based system. All hospitals and medical systems have been mandated to move to electronic health records and all orthodontists should do the same (see post by Dr. Kirt Simmons 3/2/2013). We have all received the call from a patient that has been out of treatment for a number of years that now is now experiencing some relapse. It is simply much easier to pull up the final records and treatment history that accurately documents the patient’s lack of cooperation from your electronic database, than it is to search your basement files or storage unit for the chart that has “disappeared.”
In short, while the impression-less practice will soon be the norm, it is now time to be paper-less and film-less. If you are not, it is costing you money. Change is usually uncomfortable and rarely easy. I am certain, however, that if you commit to incorporating these four basic systems into your practice, they will improve the orthodontic experience for you, your staff, and your patients.