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Exploring Dental Office Technology, part 1: Buying for Efficiency and Profit vs Luxury and Convenience edited by Kevin Wilson

Posted on March 10, 2021 at 12:55 AM

Exploring Dental Office Technology, part 1: Buying for Efficiency and Profit vs Luxury and Convenience

edited by Kevin Wilson

The role of technology in business is deeper and more crucial than ever. Whether it's your communications, web and social media presence, payment options, records keeping and practice management platforms, or just the latest clinical treatment technology, people expect you to have it. If you don't, it may cost you in more ways than one. Expectation and demand, while not synonymous, are closely related. At the same time, investing in technology can be very costly, so it is particularly important to identify if you are buying for efficiency and profit, versus luxury and convenience. Your expectations will be different in each scenario. When you buy for efficiency and profit, you expect some sort of return on investment (ROI). When you buy for luxury and convenience, you expect easier processes and better results, and must accept the expanse and potential cut into profits. Failure to discern your motivation can lead to disappointment.

As important as technology is, you don't need the 'latest and greatest’ of everything. That would be impractical and untrue; moreover, it is exhausting---emotionally and financially---to stay on top of the constant evolution. When deliberating on what technology to implement, the most important factors are either efficiency or direct profit, as both will help get your return on investment more predictably, versus purchasing for luxury and convenience. When adopting technology that requires financing, you need to perform a cost analysis using purchase price, current costs, and potential savings or added expense, and determine the hit to your profitability. Then, deliberate if this is feasible for your current financial situation. Accountants are amazing in that regard and can also determine tax deduction considerations as well.

Once adopted and mastered, technology expands your capabilities and saves time that can be converted to profit. If that is the case, then the technology is an indirect means to improving profitability. For example, if you implement automatic confirmations and re-care calls, the front office has more time to spend with patients and collect at the time of service or call patients to fill openings. Both tasks directly impact the bottom line. Chose technology that is intended to allow conversion and replacement of current processes to increase profitability. Embracing as much technology as is feasible will keep you at the top of your game providing efficiency or direct profit and, in the end, making life easier for patients and staff. Make sure that once the technology is implemented, you ensure that the time savings is allocated, otherwise you can miss out on the profitability part. For example, if your team does not use the freed-up time effectively, you may create cell phone social media monsters or Google surfers.

Be careful of expensive convenient and luxury purchases; remember that a typical dental practice offers a limited variety of services. Sales representatives are highly trained to deliver a 5-minute elevator speech created by psychology experts intended for the close of a sale. A great example of this is the YAG/CO2 laser. The monthly service fee elevates your monthly expenses by a minimum of $2500. Insurance reimbursement may be excluded when the device’s use is viewed as a bundled service. Surgical procedures performed with the laser are typically not frequent enough so you won’t break even, yet the reps provide ROI tables and sheets with ADA codes. Even the diode laser is more of a luxury and convenience. When used for perio management, insurances labeled the laser as an adjunct to typical ADA codes, preventing the provider from charging the patient. Gingivectomies are most helpful in crown and bridge procedures and clinically must be done on the same day as the preparation, but again are not covered when done on the same day by insurances. Frenectomies, crown lengthening, cold sore treatments, and sensitivity treatment of dentin are not performed frequently enough to break even with the monthly payment. So in the end, you’re purchasing the laser more for convenience of hemostasis during crown and bridge and increased success in the perio treatment, rather than true direct reimbursement as stated by the sales reps.

The mental and financial strain of adopting and integrating new technology into day-to-day operations is also an issue and is different for everyone. Age often plays a role. A new-to-practice dentist will likely have more exposure to technology in daily life and fewer mental obstacles to accepting and embracing the ever-changing role of technology in the practice. If you’re ten years from retirement, however, you may have a tougher time dealing with new technology. If this is the case, reliable and trustworthy office staff can keep your practice where it needs to be.

Regardless, some level of technological integration will keep the office from seeming old-fashioned, and this is probably less of an issue with a long-established practice but still matters. The availability of leading-edge treatment options will allow you to provide the best care, though this isn’t practical for everyone and may not make much impact in your market—an issue of luxury/convenience versus efficiency and profitability.

Patients will, however, expect you to have some variety of payment options available, and while you can’t use/take everything---there’s always a new payment app everyone says is great---making payment convenient and accessible prevents patient headaches and helps maintain the revenue stream. A great example of this is Weave. For a low monthly service fee, you can text patient bills and allow payment digitally from phones or workstations, saving you time as well as postage. The system also has a complete patient communication feature, managing appointment confirmations and overdue re-care lists automatically with text and email reminders. The newest, most powerful feature is Google reviews after appointments which will bring your Google ranking organically higher than your paid competitors. For these reasons, Weave is a directly profitable technology as well as a huge improvement in time efficiency.

Electronic communications are more and more essential every day. Reliance on email is environmentally friendly and saves a lot of money on postage as well as time. Many patients can be reached with the click of a mouse button, and the role of what we now call ‘snail mail’ is constantly diminishing. In the office, workstations and messaging apps allow quick communications without leaving one’s desk. Blue Note communication creates pop-up messages on each workstation in the office or sends notifications to a specific provider or room for discreet, non-verbal communication among team members.

Individual tablets allow staff to make changes to records and implement protocols for billing and insurance with the tap of a touchscreen. Studies report that scanning in the workforce takes up 50% of employee time digitizing, scanning, and chasing documents with calls and follow-ups. Most dental software has digital form modules that can be added for a monthly service fee. Tablets allow for the immediate saving of documents. Electronic forms that improve document management make it an efficient technology. This ensures the accurate and complete record of needed signatures and forms for patient records compliance.

For a long time, the Internet was not exactly essential but there’s no staying away from it now. While it may not be necessary to maintain a heavy social media presence, many patients, or prospective patients, will want to use your website. Learning how to manage your online and social media presence, even at a basic level, will provide insight into what people might see when they look for your practice on the web. Some businesses don’t maintain a complicated website, allowing a social media page to serve the same function. And you’ll definitely be rated online, which can be a problem if you become a victim of an unreasonably irate patient or ‘troll’ (someone looking to cause trouble for no particular reason). Handling potentially harmful unfair reviews online will maximize your online reputation, or at least keep it from being a hindrance. Studies show that 20% of the population is basically never happy and you will never please them. Businesses that have real reviews will contain some bad reviews. Sites that do not have bad reviews are most likely doctored and censored. The public knows this, so do not worry about having a few bad reviews. However, be guarded if bad reviews surpass 20% of your overall reviews—or if negative reviews continuously mention the same issue. This will tell you more about the changes you need to make in your practice, as the public has spoken. Again, don’t panic, just listen to your audience and make necessary changes.

Office staff will quickly adapt to technology when it makes their jobs easier. It is common these days for every staff member to have tablet technology for every conceivable application, but if not, workstations are prevalent and paper is virtually nonexistent. Practice management software is old news, but the use of technology to document care for planning (digital chart and notes certainly isn’t, especially as dental insurance becomes more a part of life. In fact, in 2014 dentistry was mandated to go digital for EMR (electronic medical records). The internet is needed to access websites, online portals for insurance-related matters, for benefits verifications, and to obtain EFT (electronic funds transfer) records to enter the insurance checks breakdown. Other useful technologies include dedicated phones with good cameras for taking high-resolution clinical pictures, which can be used for social media and clinical documentation. You may want to utilize Dropbox for Business, a HIPAA-compliant online file storage platform, to easily store patient images for uploading to social media (with the patient's consent). In addition, there are patient stations in-office for convenience (kiosks) to streamline the check-in process. Voice over internet (VOI) service and phones allow for voice recording of conversations, message on hold, logging of missed calls, and reporting of metrics such as call time trends, providing improved functionality at a savings over typical business phone service. Freedom Voice is a great VOI service and quite reasonable, if not less than typical business phone service. Several of these are meant for convenience and luxury and you may choose to hold off on those at first.

There are seemingly endless ways in which technology can make practice life and management easier. Bear in mind that having tremendous technological capability doesn’t change the fact that a human being can only take in and manage so much, and that technology doesn’t make patients, or employees, happy. Embrace technology as long as it works for you and your practice—plan and set goals based on need, profitability, and expense.

Categories: dental technology

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