As managing director of a sizeable business within the dental sector, I must admit I find it difficult to imagine how a practice with say two or three thousand individual patients finds it possible to operate efficiently without a computer system. Although in this day and age we still come across practices surviving on an old record card system happily as owners, principals and practice managers have become increasingly aware of the value of having up-to-date management information. The integration of IT has become more widespread in the last decade and extensive computerisation is now a reality for more than 80% of UK practices.
Of course computerisation brings with it numerous benefits to many aspects of a dental practice’s operational processes. The advances being made on the clinical side thanks to the rapid growth in popularity of digital techniques is very exciting, and I am confident that such technology will help put dentistry into a positive light amongst the general public in the coming years.
Knowledge is power
From a business point of view, the value of computerisation lies fundamentally in the ability to access business information, which provides the knowledge on which strategic decisions can be based, a fact recognised as an increasingly important factor in practice success. George Orwell famously wrote that ‘knowledge is power’, but I would argue that knowledge is more than just power. In fact, deep knowledge of one’s business is the key that can unlock the potential of a practice. So in business, knowledge is not just power, it is a prerequisite that aids decision-making and therefore impacts every facet of practice life.
For dentists, having easy access to this information is critical, as although they are comfortable with the clinical aspects of their profession and have varying familiarity with new techniques and procedures, getting to grips with more than the absolute basics of their business still eludes many.
One of the most tangible benefits of having an integrated IT system is that it improves communication between the front desk and the surgery, makes chairside charting more efficient and ensures that patient records are up-to-date. This final point is now an important consideration for meeting compliance obligations, as detailing all conversations regarding treatment proposals with patients provides a degree of evidence of having gained informed consent. In fact, some practitioners are now taking videos of patient consultations and uploading these to the patient’s file in their PMS, ready to show GDC regulators or for use in their defence should they face any form of patient litigation.
Administratively, computer systems help reception teams to deal more effectively with the vast amounts of data that is involved in running a practice. Being able to find individual patient data quickly or create contact lists for recalls or reminders is an enormous advantage, meaning the reception team is able to deal more effectively with patient queries, or specifically target groups of patients with promotional material.
Not only is a computer system useful for managing existing patient data, but it can also help to monitor new patient enquiries. This type of input is important in helping to monitor the success or otherwise of marketing activity and in assessing the most cost-effective use of resources in this area.
At DPAS our focus is very much on helping to establish and maintain the financial well-being of the practices with which we work and I believe that by harnessing the power of computerisation, we can play an important role in encouraging practice growth and support practices’ green credential by reducing their reliance on and use of paper. As a result of sustained development in this area and as part of our commitment to help practices run better businesses we have developed Supportal. This is an online portal containing all the details of a practice’s plan patients, which managers and dentists can use to keep track of an individual’s plan status and overall plan membership.
Understanding exactly how your payment plan is performing is an important business indicator and Supportal provides up-to-date information on the numbers of patients taking up payment plans. This enables you to see trends and forecast future patient behaviour; meaning decision-making is based on factual data rather than gut feeling.
Supportal gives managers and principals the ability to access patient records in the practice, meaning they can amend or check details without needing to call the DPAS office. The flexibility of being able to view real-time information, online 24-hours a day, seven days a week is a valuable asset for practitioners who spend all day in the surgery and need to keep an eye on their business out of working hours. There is no waiting around for paperwork to arrive by the post, meaning that ‘unpaid reports’ for example can be run and remedial action taken as soon as possible. All of these factors make Supportal a much more efficient, secure and reliable way to access the important information that will mean your practice runs more effectively.
Technology and its use in business has transformed the way we all work and in the same way that clinical elements of treatments have changed, so too has the way in which a dental practice can be run. Currently, nearly 400 of our practices are benefiting from the many features that Supportal has to offer and by harnessing the power of technology we are helping practices to fully understand those aspects of business that are critical to success.
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