Paradigm Shifts in Dental Software Have Proven to Add Real Value: What’s Next?

As a company that pioneered software for the healthcare profession – yes, we are talking the 70’s – we’ve seen a number of paradigm shifts over the decades in response to an increasingly complex and competitive environment. Let’s quickly review what’s become the standard in dental practice management and look at the next big advances that you can use to your advantage.

First – a bit of history
When we started serving dental offices, our software solution focused on maintaining accurate patient records and reducing the drudgery of billing and financial record keeping – essentially, it eliminated the need for time consuming, manual systems such as One-Write pegboard. Fortunately, dental practices were able to transition from these manual systems relatively quickly and pain free.

Next came the focus on recall and treatment plan management so patients didn’t fall through the cracks and electronic submission of insurance claims to save time and reduce errors. These paradigm shifts were reasonably easy to develop and implement.

The next big paradigm shift was electronic scheduling which proved to be much more challenging. Early versions looked too foreign for most users, had limited functionality and were cumbersome to use due to technical constraints at the time. However, as computer technology advanced, so did electronic appointment books to the point where manual scheduling systems have become completely impractical.

What did we learn that is helpful going forward?
The lesson learned was that, if the rational for a paradigm shift is sound, the benefits will far outweigh any temporary discomfort.

Unfortunately, many practices are still learning this and have not yet capitalized on more recent paradigm shifts in practice automation. One example of this is hesitancy to move to a fully paperless practice by replacing the paper patient chart with an electronic version. This delay is likely due to a number of misconceptions about the costs, benefits and difficulty.

What are other paradigm shifts that can benefit your practice?
How about automated appointment management that’s proven to reduce no shows and boost practice productivity?

There is also increased awareness of the need to track and make use of objective practice metrics for practice monitoring, and better decision making. The best practice management systems produce key performance indicators (KPIs) which quantitatively measure your practice performance in various areas against established targets.

What are the takeaways?

  • If you haven’t gone paperless there’s no reason to delay any longer – the technology has been validated and the benefits are numerous.
  • Automated patient communication tools and practice metric tracking are important things to consider – they boost practice success.
  • Whatever the next dental practice management paradigm shift proves to be, implement it. If you don’t, sooner or later your competition will.

How Cloud Server Platform Can Help Your Dental Practice

Every day, dental clinics across Canada handle a lot of sensitive information. Between patient scheduling, clinical records, financial information, payroll, and co-ordination with other healthcare and insurance providers, dentists and dental hygienists need to know where to find the information they’re looking for at a moment’s notice.  

This means how and where to store information can be a major issue. As anyone who works in a dental clinic knows, the days of keeping patient files in manila folders is long gone for most – but just because clinics use computers now doesn’t mean the storage question has gone away.

As a solution, many clinics have started to backup their practice data in the Cloud. But some practices have told me that they have doubts about the Cloud’s safety. In addition, simply backing up data in the Cloud is only part of the solution and thus only mitigates part of the risk. If the data you access every day to run your practice still resides on a local server, you remain highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. To help, I’ve prepared this brief explanation of how the Cloud works and why using a cloud server is the more secure option for accessing and backing up your dental practice data.

What is the Cloud, Anyway?

In a nutshell, it means that rather than storing and accessing your data from an on-site (local) server, it is stored on powerful offsite servers (known as cloud servers) and accessed via the internet. Depending on the application, it may also be stored and accessed from the cloud server. cloud computing has been around since the 1960s but it’s only in recent years that cloud computing and cloud storage have become widely available. This shift happened when companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google started marketing cloud storage services to businesses and the public.

Chances are, you already use cloud services a lot more than you think – your last Netflix bingeing session of Stranger Things wouldn’t be possible without this technology. But some dental practice owners are still reluctant to access their records from the Cloud and store backups there because they worry that the Cloud is less secure than storing information on their own computers. But are these concerns actually warranted?

Is the Cloud Server Platform Safe?

The short answer to this question is yes – not only is the Cloud safe, but it actually offers more security than other data access, backup and storage methods.

When you store all of your live data on-site, there are a number of risks. Because your data is literally being stored on hard drives in your office, all someone needs to do is remove the hard drives and all the information stored on them will be lost. Even if you have kept a backup of your data on a separate storage medium, it will only be as up to date as the last time you did a backup. Furthermore, you have no way of knowing if your backup is valid. As a result, on-site data access and storage represents a huge vulnerability for any dental practice.

On-site storage also exposes your data to potential accidents or natural disasters. For example, with offices that experience floods or fires, there is a very real possibility that many years’ worth of information will be lost – particularly if backups are store on-site as well. The old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket definitely applies here.

Will a Cloud Platform Affect How My Dental Practice Accesses Files?

Yes and no. When you use cloud servers to store your information, you are taking an important step toward preventive theft and loss of data. But this doesn’t mean it will be more difficult to access.

Not only do cloud server solutions store client information more securely, coupled with data encryption, they enable secure integrated, automated, patient communication solutions. These provide a safe and efficient means of information exchange between the practice and patients via email and text, particularly for appointment reminders and confirmation.

Another advantage of cloud computing is convenience: because data is stored in the Cloud rather than on local hard drives, your team members can access information from anywhere, on almost any device. And should there be a data security breach, access devices are not affected. If your workstations are damaged in a natural disaster or fire, all your information is already safely backed up remotely in the Cloud.

For these reasons, cloud-based practice management software is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for dental practices.

Don’t take any chances with your patients’ data; consider switching over to a cloud server solution specifically designed for use by dental practices. If you decide to stay with a local server solution for data storage, at the very least, make sure your practice data is regularly backed up in the cloud.

Take a Closer Look at your Dental Practice Practices

“Another last-minute cancellation… why does this keep happening?”

“I wonder how other dental practices promote preventive treatment.”

“What are the chances that patient will call back?”

A recent conversation with a Dental Office Manager revealed a few nagging complaints she regularly overhears from her staff. We were discussing common day-to-day frustrations in running a patient-reliant business, looking for ways to rise above them. I am a champion of practice management software – that’s a given – but it goes further than that. Any program can only be as effective as you make it, with trained staff who understand its potential and ensure its consistent, client-centric application.

The topic of internal processes and appointment scheduling effectiveness always brings to mind one of my father’s favourite quotes, loosely: How can you expect different – improved – outcomes if you keep doing things the same way?

Every aspect of your interactions with patients presents an opportunity to build positive perceptions. From the moment they arrive in your waiting room until the door closes behind them, each touchpoint is an opportunity to display empathy, direct communication, smooth processes, knowledgeable advice, and future focus. It is a mindset that can become intrinsic to your service.

Under the umbrella of ABELDent’s Practice Management By Objectives™ methodology, we developed a series of relevant KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – to assess your Internal Processes and optimize Appointment Scheduling protocols. You can easily extrapolate the data you will need from within your existing ABEL software database.

Here are seven quantifiable measures that will help you zero in on areas of opportunity. The formulas presented assume all parameters used are for the same time period.

Internal Processes KPI Chart

If you find your own numbers falling short of industry benchmarks, consider some of these short- and long-term initiatives:

  • Track patient appointment history and be proactive in bookings, confirmations and reminders
  • Communicate and apply cancellation policies
  • Book next appointments before the patient leaves the office
  • Emphasize the value of preventative measures with patients
  • Monitor production reports
  • Follow up regarding outstanding treatment plans and recalls
  • Establish and follow strict diagnostic protocols
  • Provide effective case presentations
  • Employ in-house specialists as much as possible
  • Provide advanced clinical training/continuing education
  • Provide and refresh staff customer service training

I hope this detailed information is helpful, or that at least it gets you thinking about your own internal processes. These KPIs are just one of the categories of the strategic practice management we champion. I invite you to continue this conversation by attending one of our webinars or by reaching out to a member of our team at any time.

Getting Down to Business: Boost Your Dental Practice Financials

I have written in this space about the importance of managing the performance of your dental practice through analysis of cold, hard empirical data. Facts rule. Numbers don’t lie.

At the end of the day, after you have demonstrated clinical excellence, professional achievement and patient satisfaction, the success of your business comes down to financial viability. I may be preaching to the choir: Rarely if ever do I come across a Dentist or an Office Manager who is not interested in improving productivity and profitability. Yet the nagging questions persist:

What should we be measuring?
Where do we start? Where do we sit today? Why?
How do we accurately monitor results and progress?
What is the industry benchmark?
What specific steps can I take to improve and grow?

For us at ABELDent, the answers unfold within our Practice Management By Objectives™ methodology. We have developed a series of KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – to guide your progress. The foundation of the program is the fact that all the data you need to identify and monitor your vital numbers resides within your existing ABEL software database; it’s as simple as generating the relevant reports and performing some quick calculations.

Here are eight quantifiable measures that will get you well on your way to analyzing, managing and ultimately improving your financial performance.

Key Performance Indicator Chart

If you find that your own numbers are below industry benchmarks, consider some of these short- and long-term initiatives:

Improve cash flow

  • Be clear in your communication with patients regarding financial terms and guidelines. Always inform before you perform
  • For costly procedures, ask for a deposit or upfront payment
  • Offer financing plans; limit payment plans to 60 days
  • Accept credit and debit cards
  • Use electronic claim processing
  • Provide statements and/or do regular collections follow-ups
  • Run frequent, regular A/R reports
  • Track patient payment patterns and address any issues proactively

Increase revenue

  • Focus on higher end dentistry
  • Monitor and improve case acceptance
  • Pursue outstanding treatment recommendations
  • Raise fees

Decrease overhead

  • Source less costly supplies, equipment and services
  • Evaluate all purchases based on ROI
  • Increase productivity of staff through training

Build your patient base

  • Ask your patients for referrals
  • Initiate or reinforce marketing efforts
  • Track the effectiveness of each marketing activity

I hope this detailed information is helpful, or that at least it gets you thinking about delivering more focus on your bottom line. Financial KPIs are just one of the facets of the strategic practice management we champion. I invite you to continue this conversation by attending one of our upcoming webinars or by reaching out to our team at any time.

Is there Room for Improvement in your Practice Productivity?

“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Do you ever revert to this time-tested pearl of wisdom in your dental practice?

Are those busy people the same ones who have taken the time to fully understand the ins and outs and full potential of your practice management software? The ones who know exactly where to find the information you need on the spot? I’ll bet they are.

The more I speak to Dentists and Managers about office productivity and workflow efficiency, the more I feel the need to champion the critical impact of knowledge on practice performance and growth. Mastery of your software builds confidence, and proficiency with organizational aids like ABELDent’s Patient Manager and Treatment Manager can make the difference between an average and a superior employee.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. So what’s the differentiator between “can do”and “no way”?

Top performers don’t necessarily work harder – they work smarter.

I came across this conclusion in an article by Santi Arnaiz summarizing a recent study by leadership training firm VitalSmarts. A few highlights:

    • Employees rated by their managers as 9s and 10s on a 10-point performance scale are not only three times more valuable than the average employee, they are responsible for 61% of the total work done in their departments.
    • 83% of managers and 77% of peers say these top performers are less stressed than their coworkers.
    • Asked to describe the work habits of these staff, respondents used these phrases most commonly:

    So how can you make all your workers your best workers? Help them embrace a few productivity practices.

Down the final fiscal stretch

Now that summer vacations have wound down and the annual back-to-school routines have been played out, the beginning of Fall may be a good time to settle back and refocus on how your practice is performing.

Where have you excelled and where have you fallen short of expectations? How do you determine what you need to do to change course if necessary, to reach your goals and grow your business?

We have all heard the adage “If it can be measured, it can be managed.” So true.

It starts with having a routine in place to make this review as effortless as possible. You’ll need to establish the practice benchmarks to target and the appropriate measures to be put in place to track your progress. If you’re a member of the ABELDent community, you’ll know I’m referring to Key Performance Indicators – KPIs – that are the heart of our Practice Management By Objectives methodology.

Defined as “a set of quantifiable measures used to compare performance over a specific period of time”, clearly articulated KPIs allow business managers to keep their finger on the pulse of the practice.

During a seminar we recently hosted with Microsoft Canada, the discussion of KPIs was a popular topic. It resonated with the audience that strong, well-defined KPIs contribute to better decision-making, more appropriate goal-setting, resource optimization and, importantly for many, a more objective, quantifiable valuation of a practice.

We walked through a few examples of how to develop KPIs that support specific practice objectives and demonstrated how they can be produced from within ABELDent software. Our expert then showed how to develop benchmark targets based on the practice profile and goals. These benchmarks can in turn be compared to actual KPI results to determine gaps in performance and the appropriate operational adjustments necessary to improve results.

This is another example of how a project that takes a small amount of time and thought can lead to increased efficiency, tighter management and better ROI on your practice management software.

It’s the best way to accurately examine how your practice has performed in the past, understand where it is today and help predict – and control – what it could do by year end.

A truly rewarding business trip

As a regular follower of my blog and member of the ABELSoft community, you probably know that my company has long been a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. It is definitely an honour to be invited to their annual premier event for partners around the globe, this year newly titled Microsoft Inspire.

When I boarded the plane en route to Washington, DC with my colleagues, I had no idea that we would end up on centre stage at the main event just a few days later.

Indeed, there we were during the awards banquet standing in front of a big screen announcing our company’s award as the 2016/2017 Microsoft Dynamics ISV of the Year for Canada!

This level of recognition is momentous.

While we have always believed in the power and value of Microsoft’s products and services, we worked in extra-close collaboration with them over the past year to optimize the use of Dynamics 365 for ABELDent users.

As a result, ABELDent software is now integrated with Dynamics 365 for Financials. We’re even providing a free license to customers to underscore the value of better and faster service and richer enhancements. Today’s ABELDent users can manage their practices with real-time business information at their fingertips:

  • Advanced analytics
  • Integrated accounting, clinical and financial reporting
  • Streamlined Human Resource management
  • Patient acquisition and retention management
  • Inventory management

Partnering with Microsoft helps us maintain our pivotal role in the digital transformation of the dental practice. We’ve always known that our innovative solutions and services exceed customer expectations, help them surpass business goals  and deliver unparalleled value.

Clearly, Microsoft agrees.