How to Foster a Culture of Lifelong Learning at Your Dental Clinic

One of the things that makes dentistry such an exciting industry to work in is the fact that, just like the software industry, the field is constantly changing.

As new research turns up new information, and new software creates new service possibilities, dentistry continues to evolve to provide patients with better care. This means that dental professionals need to regularly upgrade their skills so they can take advantage of new breakthroughs. 

Lifelong learning – continuing education in one’s field – can pay off in a number of key ways.

Enhancing Skill Set

There’s evidence to suggest a direct correlation between learning and improved efficacy in the workplace – after all, learning is much like exercise for the brain. Studies show that continuing education leads to more efficiency, lower rates of absenteeism and equips those continuing to build their skill set with a better ability to meet the demands of a fast-paced workplace (like a busy dental clinic).

Earning Potential

Out of all the benefits continuing education offers, a boost to earning power is one of the most tangible. The good news is that continuous education can often be accessed online which provides a convenient way for busy professionals to build their skill sets.

Curiosity Booster

Many psychologists view curiosity as a crucial factor to happiness, intellectual growth, and overall mental health and well-being. But as we get older, we tend to let everyday tasks and pressures block out or overshadow our naturally curious natures. Continuing education allows to us to tap back into that curiosity, leading to an improvement in mental health and sense of self.

Collaboration Opportunity

Continuous learning encourages collaboration, plain and simple. Whether through actual group work in a classroom setting, learning new software in an online community or shadowing a supervisor in the workplace, collaborative skills are naturally nurtured.

But while most dentists understand the importance of ongoing training in theory, it can be difficult to put this into practice.  It isn’t always easy to stay up-to-date when you have multiple commitments and priorities and it can be even more difficult to ensure that the rest of your staff participate in regular training sessions.

If you are passionate about providing high quality care to your patients, your staff need to be equipped  to use the newest information and the latest techniques. Normalizing regular, ongoing training and lifelong learning as part of the culture of your dental clinic is key.

Here are four ways you can get started.

1. Don’t Make Training a Special Event

When it comes to scheduling training, one of the most common mistakes clinic owners make is trying to fit a year’s worth of education into a weekend retreat. While training can seem like a disruption of the everyday running of the clinic, cramming a lot of learning into a short period of time is simply ineffective and can be a waste of resources.

Numerous studies have shown that training is most effective when it takes place on a regular basis, giving trainees the opportunity to regularly review new information and incorporate learning into day-to-day life. Making training a regular part of your clinic’s schedule increases the likelihood that you will be able to keep it up over the long run. 

2. Incentivize Learning

If nothing else lifelong learning in healthcare is important to simply remain competent – in a fast-moving industry like dentistry, if you aren’t moving forward you’re going back.

Your clinic benefits from having hygienists, assistants, and receptionists who are staying up-to-date on the latest customer service methods and dental procedures, so it only makes sense to incentivize education. Paid time for training and making regular training a prerequisite for advancement are ways to give your staff a reason to commit themselves to developing their skills and knowledge. 

3. Model Good Learning Habits

Your staff look to you for leadership in all areas of work. For example, if you as head of the clinic want to adopt new practices like going paperless,  start by explaining the rationale and what the benefits will be for the entire team. 

The same is true of learning. If your staff can see that you are constantly updating your credentials, following new research, and improving your own knowledge of patient care and patient service, they will be more likely to value these things themselves and respond accordingly.

4. Invest in Learning

When it comes to employee training, the two biggest obstacles will always be time and resources. Most clinics are good about finding time for training staff on new software because this has an immediate practical implication – it’s when it comes to big picture stuff that things get difficult.

You need every hand on deck to help with patients during business hours and staff may be reluctant to pursue work-related tasks on evenings, days off or weekends. The simplest way to deal with this challenge is to schedule some training during regular hours rather than paying overtime. Your staff will be less likely to suffer from burnout and the return on investment should outweigh any lost patient revenue.    

The importance of ongoing education for healthcare workers – and dental workers especially – cannot be overstated. By holding regular training sessions, incentivizing learning, modelling good behaviour, and investing in learning management software for dental clinics, you are making lifelong learning an integral part of your clinic’s work culture.

Why Dental Clinics Need to Invest in SEO

Why Dental Clinics Need to Invest in SEO

As someone who works in the world of dental software, I regularly talk to dentists about the importance of having a robust web presence and using the best web-based tools to help bring in patients and build patient loyalty. One term that frequently comes up in these conversations is SEO or Search Engine Optimization – specifically, what it is and whether dental clinics need to worry about it.

In recent years SEO has become one of the most important tools for helping businesses of any kind stand out from the crowd online. That’s why in this article, I’m going to explain how SEO works and how it can help your dental clinic generate awareness, secure more patients and retain the patients you already have.

SEO In A Nutshell

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic (site visits resulting from people who find you via search engines rather than through paid ads) search engine results.

How SEO Works

Most already know that when a person types a word/phrase into Google (or another search engine) its algorithms help that person find the content they are seeking by ranking each “match” based on its relevance to the search word/phrase typed.

The other side of this coin is that if you want your dental practice’s website to show up on the first search engine results page (SERP), you will need to convince Google and other search engines that your website contains content that matches the searcher’s needs.

To understand this better, let’s say someone types the words “Toronto dental clinic” into Google and then sees hundreds of potential matches. Google or the search engine they used has already decided which matches are the most reliable based on several factors:

Domain Authority – Having lots of relevant and engaging content on your website will make you appear more authoritative to Google and increase the chances that people who are looking for your product or service will find you instead of your competition.

Stand out from the crowd! Feature content on your website like dental health articles, patient testimonials and interviews with your staff to generate a sense of expertise and great customer service.

Backlink Quantity and Quality – A backlink is any link on another website that points to your website. Backlinks drive organic traffic to you, helping more people find your practice. Backlinks also “tell” search engines that others vouch for the information contained on your site – this makes them very valuable for SEO.

So encourage backlinks! The more expert content you feature, the more likely others will link to you as an authority.

Organic Traffic – It’s important to track how much organic traffic you’re getting month by month so that you can learn which of your SEO tactics are working best. For example, if you feature a guest blog post and you see your metrics surge, consider repeating the tactic.

Guest blog posts and engaging videos are two great ways to boost your organic traffic. To keep track of everything, use everyone’s favourite online tool – Google Analytics.

SEO In More Depth

This video from GoDaddy explains how SEO works and how a good SEO strategy can help you improve your web presence, which in turn helps improve your Google rankings.

A good SEO strategy often requires that you improve other aspects of your web presence as well. Examples of this are your use of social media, your number of reviews and your mentions on other web pages. Many dental clinics hire an SEO professional to help them develop an SEO strategy.

How SEO Helps You Get New Patients

A by-product of a well-thought-out SEO strategy is that it makes your overall web presence more robust and impressive. Remember, patients are far more likely to visit a clinic if it has an extensive online presence that can help them learn about it before they book an appointment. 

In addition to boosting your SEO, regular social media/blog posts and having lots of well-curated online reviews helps show potential patients that your clinic provides top quality service.

Note: Google algorithms are constantly being updated to make them more effective so it is important to be aware of emerging trends so you can maintain a strong SEO strategy.

How SEO Helps with Patient Retention

Patient retention is a major concern across the healthcare industry – doctors, dentists, and rehab practitioners all need to ensure that they take steps to keep the patients they already have.

Investing in good SEO will help build confidence in your current patients by demonstrating the ways that you are staying competitive with other clinics in your area. Coupled with cutting edge patient communication software that helps make appointment booking and patient information exchange more convenient, a good SEO strategy helps keep your patients engaged with your clinic online and more likely to return for their next appointment.

This is especially important if you operate in an area with plenty of other clinics around. Remember, patients can easily be convinced to move to a rival clinic if they feel it is making a better pitch or seems more responsive to their needs.

We live in a digital age and just about every dentist I talk to understands that having a robust web presence is essential to maintaining and expanding his or her patient base. To succeed against your competition, develop a good website and follow an SEO strategy that helps people find your site first when they’re looking for care.

Easily Produce New Reports and Dental Practice Metrics with these Productivity Tools

You’ve probably viewed hundreds of reports by now from your dental practice management software – production totals, collections, receivables, and maybe even a missed appointment list if possible. (In a recent blog, I provided samples of these types of standard reports as well as specific transaction tracking features that are essential for running a well-informed, financially successful practice.)

Yet, have you ever wished you could change the format of some of your reports or wondered whether you should be getting more out of the software that’s holding so much practice data in its database? This blog will address these issues by outlining some external reporting methodologies you can employ to shed new light on how your practice is performing.

1. Enhancing Your System’s Standard Reports

One of the limitations of the standard reports is that the output format is essentially fixed – what you see is what you get. As a first step to producing more revealing reports, contact your dental software vendor to find out whether you can export your report data to a folder on your computer. If so, you should be able to view the folder’s file content in other programs such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel.

With a little knowledge of these applications, you will be able to perform additional calculations on your practice data and benefit from using news ways of presenting the results. For example, with Excel you can get sums or count totals for any chosen set of data and that can give additional context to the original standard report. You can also use Excel or Word to format the report according to your preference. Let’s look at a simple example to illustrate the possibilities:

From the above example, you can see that the same data from a standard report can be used to provide metrics with additional context. In this case, after utilizing the capabilities of Excel we now have a patient count well as the total and average production by provider.

In short, your practice management software still performs the work of gathering and compiling the data but by using these powerful productivity tools, you can produce new metrics that help you better manage your practice.

2. Visual Reporting with Power BI

Would you like to go a step further by transforming your practice data into easy to read visual reports?

Microsoft Power BI is a business analytics platform that can monitor and read the important data from your dental software database. It provides tools to quickly analyze, transform and visualize data into meaningful reports, key performance indicators (KPIs) and dashboards.

Note: You will need some basic Power BI training and assistance from your software vendor to ensure you extract the data you require. Here are two sample reports that illustrate the possibilities:

3. The I’m not that Technical” way of producing KPIs

If you don’t want to invest time learning how to use the above mentioned tools to produce the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you need, don’t fret.

With a few simple manual calculations you can likely produce at least some of the customized reports that you require.Below is a list of financial based KPIs I mentioned in a previous blog:

In short, the exercise involves manually extracting one or more numbers from the relevant standard reports and then performing simple calculations as described in the above chart. For a list of Operational KPIs, check out this previous blog and for Patient Satisfaction/Service Level based KPIs, try this blog.

In summary, your ability to extract the information you need and produce the metrics for running a better practice depends on four main factors:

  • Your comfort level for using the productivity tools at your disposal
  • The number and quality of the standard reports your dental software produces
  • The ability to extract information from your dental software database
  • The degree of assistance you receive from your software vendor

On a parting note, simply producing dental practice metrics is not enough. To compete in today’s dental marketplace you need to compare your results to industry benchmarks. And, then make corresponding behavioural and operational adjustments in areas where you are not satisfied to improve those results – but that’s a blog for another day! 

Dental Clinical Charting Features To Look For

Have you decided to bite the bullet and replace your paper patient charts with electronic ones? Or, have you already done this and are disappointed with the results?

First let’s quickly review why it’s still a good decision and then look at what software features are essential to make electronic charting work as smoothly as possible.   

The Benefits of Electronic Clinical Records

Fully electronic patient records consist of four main components:

  1. Restorative History – pre-existing conditions, new conditions and restorative treatment
  2. Periodontal History – pre-existing conditions and periodontal condition over time
  3. Clinical Notes – recording of observations, medical conditions/history, additional factors and recommendations
  4. Recommended treatment plan/s

Here’s why it makes sense to store all of the above electronically:

  • Full Patient Record Integration – Administrative (already in electronic form), and clinical information can work in concert to enable optimal treatment outcomes, streamlined workflows and improved communication – this synergy is simply not possible with unconnected, multiple paper systems.
  • Accessibility – The patient record is available at any place on the network and can’t be misplaced like paper charts.
  • More Complete and Legible Records – Electronic information promotes more thorough and legible recordkeeping without the investment of extra time.
  • Labour Savings – Pulling, organizing and refiling patient charts is no longer required.
  • Space Savings – Electronic systems free up valuable space for more productive use.
  • Reduced Costs – This saves the money formerly spent on labour, paper charts, stationary and storage.
  • Increased Security – Electronic charts can be backed up and protected from catastrophic events.
  • Longer-lasting Records – Electronic charts are impervious to wear and tear.
  • Chart Integrity – Electronic charting systems can automatically name, date, and time-stamp entries which ensures data integrity and regulatory compliance.
  • Dynamic records – A new and separate cumulative historical chart is created with each patient visit making easy to see all of the treatment a patient has received. This is more convenient than searching through the sheets in a paper chart.

Getting Started with Electronic Clinical Records

Now that we have confirmed the benefits of electronic clinical records, let’s look at the conversion protocols and system functionality that make the transformation as easy to do as possible.

Quick Method – to save time vetting, all patient paper charts and related clinical documents are digitally scanned and loaded into the practice management software. New transactions are then entered electronically via the interface to the dental software’s graphical representation of the patient dentition (odontogram).  

Analytical Method – The Analytical Method is a stepped approach that starts with the vetting of paper charts to determine which patients are high priority for conversion (typically based on their current level of activity). Similarly, for each patient selected, additional time is spent to determine the essential information to scan for the electronic patient file and which documents can remain archived in their paper file.

To give more context to the odontogram and to reduce the need to refer to the archived paper chart, existing conditions can be plotted on the odontogram prior to adding electronic entries of new transactions.

Assessing Restorative Charting Features

Start by looking for software with odontograms that illustrate the dentition as realistically as possible. Accompanying sidebar icons typically present a comprehensive list of choices for entering graphical representations of existing conditions, planned treatment and completed procedures. Most systems will allow you to simply apply a condition or treatment by clicking the on the appropriate icon and then applicable teeth. Where necessary, additional options should appear for marking surfaces and specifying materials.

Plotting of treatment plans should produce corresponding treatment fee estimates along with the necessary series of required appointments to produce time-saving administrative synergies and ensure chosen treatment plans get scheduled. Similarly, completed work entered on the odontogram should feed the patient ledger for billing and provide the ability to enter payments.

Customizable clinical note templates save time with data entry and ensure key information is entered consistently. Finally, proper chart sign-off protocols should be in place to ensure date integrity and regulatory compliance.

Assessing Perio Charting Features

This function should allow the recording of measurements for all the standard periodontal conditions including recession, pocket depths, attachments, and furcations as well as plot conditions for bleeding, suppuration, plaque, calculus, and mobility.  Users should be able to choose the order in which they would like to enter data.

The ability to compare results over several visits facilitates the evaluation of patient progress. Voice input functionality has the potential to save time and free up staff resources with recording of conditions, but only if the technology employed is sound. If considering this data input option, make sure you view a demonstration to determine if it will be practical to use in the context of your own operatories.

Conclusion

The benefits of moving to electronic clinical records include administrative synergies, cost savings, and increased efficiency and productivity. Before making the transition, it is important to ensure that your practice management system is capable of handling electronic clinical records to your satisfaction and to have buy-in from your dental team. Making the transition does require spending some time and money but the ongoing gains for your practice will far outweigh any initial investment.