By Danny Chan
When you have been running a successful practice for a long time, you gain more than just goodwill and a loyal clientele. After 7 years of managing Moonee Ponds Periodontics & Implant Centre, Dr Robert De Poi and his wife, Tracey, looked back not only on the accomplishments, but also the fact that they have accumulated a sizeable amount of physical data over the years. It dawned on the De Pois that they had limited storage space – and a dated archiving process – for the paper documents; mainly old and current patient records.
Concerned that it might snowball into a logistical problem, both Robert and Tracey decided it was time for the practice to go paperless.
Tracey avers: “Despite the obvious benefits, it was a major decision for us (to go paperless). Whether in terms of investment dollars or re-training of staff, we were looking at committing valuable resources that would not see any direct returns in the short run.“However, a digital practice promises faster and more efficient use of available resources, which in the long run, can only be good news for both staff and patients alike.”
As Practice Manager, Tracey had the unenviable task of researching and planning the envisioned move towards digital migration.
“The project took us over 12 months; from the time we decided and then researched the best way to achieve this. We decided to implement it in stages so as not to overwhelm the staff and to ensure a smooth transition for all.”
“The main factors to consider were the type of hardware and software that we required; which suppliers to use; and what kind of support we needed from them – while factoring into consideration, the respective needs of the periodontists as well as auxiliary staff.”
Customer Service Par ExcellenceTracey’s research led to several meetings with Big Fish Technology, an IT and network systems specialist, which eventually became the main hardware supplier. The hardware acquisitions include a dedicated business server; three workstations and screens; bar code scanners; x-ray scanner; and a Durr Vistascan phosphor plate system, which comes complete with software.
For software applications, the couple decided on Dental 4 Windows (D4W), Australia’s most popular practice management software (based on ADA 2008 survey). Developed and sold by Centaur Software Development Co., D4W was the first Australian practice management system released for Windows 3.1 in 1994. It became the world’s first Client/Server with SQL database engine practice management system in 1997; and was also the first software of its kind to be available for Windows Server 2003.
Says Tracey: “We decided to purchase Dental 4 Windows because of the support that Centaur Software Development Co. offered.”
Centaur’s customer support team won the Australian Achiever Software Help Desk Award three years in a row and was runner up once. Customers can choose between phone support and a unique service available via the Internet. For the latter, a trained support staff can remotely “take over” the customers’ PC mouse and keyboard (upon receiving secure permission) to either resolve the issue on their behalf or show them how to do it.
It was the technical experts at Big Fish Technology who initially gave the software company the thumbs up, later nudging Tracey to submit her own customer testimonial.
She admits: “Big Fish Technology who supplied all our hardware was impressed enough with Centaur technicians and their customer service that they requested that I give them a positive feedback as well.
“Indeed, Centaur didn’t let us down with their customer service, after-sales service and technical support. We have been receiving regular updates from the company, and whenever we have a technical issue, it is immediately addressed.”
For the practice, Centaur’s excellent customer service was just icing on the cake – the software itself delivered everything it had promised to.
Along with D4W, the De Pois had purchased modular upgrades to their software package, including ‘Media Suite’, ‘Periodontal Charting’, ‘Sterilization Tracking’ and ‘SMS Messaging’.
‘Media Suite’ is an integrated open platform module that affords users the ability to manage digital images including panoramic radiological digital imagery, stills, videos and images from the intraoral camera. An image is quickly captured, viewed and catalogued, with an extensive tool set for enhancement and analysis of images.
“We use a host of imaging programs including digital x-rays, intraoral cameras, digital cameras and OPG. ‘Media Suite’ allows us to capture, store and manage all the necessary imaging information via the D4W practice management software. It’s essentially a fully integrated system that takes care of all our software imaging needs.”
‘Periodontal Charting’ is a comprehensive graphical charting tool that records mobility; furcation grades; probing depths; bleeding and suppuration points; gingival margins; plaque; bone loss; and attached gingival. This creates an efficient workflow to facilitate more effective and clearer communication to patients on the required treatment protocols.
The ‘Sterilization Tracking’ module tracks and documents autoclave cycles and instrument packs – an important tool that answers frequent queries like “which instrument packs were used for which patient” and “which autoclave cycle did it come from”. It also serves as a digital logbook to keep track of important data throughout the various stages of the sterilization process: autoclave used; sterilization cycles; date/time; ID; person who operated the cycle etc.
Calling the sterilization package “a favorite feature with the staff”, Tracey enthuses:
“We have a very busy sterilization room and (the Sterilization Package) has made the sterilization room much more time effective. Tracking details are electronically attached to the patient records and quickly recalled and printed if the need arises.”
Riding the coattails of mobile technology, Tracey also credits her new SMS messaging function as a critical time saver:
“SMS messaging has freed up time at the front desk – it is especially quick and efficient in terms of appointment confirmations. Patients prefer to be messaged and our “failure to attend” rate has dropped significantly.”
According to the D4W website, the ‘SMS Messaging’ module provides instantaneous electronic messages such as confirmations and appointment reminders to patients; as well as notifications to patients if the doctor is running late. It takes a few clicks to send an SMS, regardless of the number of recipients. It helps to reduce the likelihood of no-shows and last-minute cancellations, an issue with daily ramifications for the practice.
Tracey adds: “Patients find ‘SMS Messaging’ convenient and hassle-free. They don’t have to put up with disturbing phone calls and appointment details are readily available on their phone. On our end, tracking information can also be attached to individual patient records for quick and easy reference.”
On hindsight, Tracey considers the main challenges of digital migration as having to train staff in using the new programs and “going live with the hardware”. She compliments the personnel at Big Fish for staying onsite during the transitional phase, which helped to resolve teething problems. Although the project had taken a year to complete, Tracey believes in the old adage of “reaping what you sow”. Asked whether her expectations have been met, the Practice Manager muses:
“Front desk operations have been streamlined; communication has improved between specialists, receptionists and patients; all information is available at our fingertips; patients are attended to in a fast and efficient manner; information, treatment plans, quotes, correspondence, treatment notes are all easily accessible; electronic appointment book is easy to use and read...
“These are the things that bear testimony to the benefits of going digital, and as you can see, they cover pretty much everything.”