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Optimal Software Usage for Hygienists

Dec. 1, 2007
In today’s dental environment, the computer has become a crucial part of the hygienist’s treatment room.
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by Jana Berghoff

In today’s dental environment, the computer has become a crucial part of the hygienist’s treatment room. Hygienists benefit from software tools as much as they do from any other dental office equipment.

Patient Education Software

Foremost among the tools that the computer offers is patient education software. As we try to fit more and more into the time allotted for each patient appointment, patient education gets shorted or left behind entirely. Patient education software can demonstrate proper brushing or flossing techniques, consequences of poor oral hygiene, and explain the more complicated crown and bridge, implant and TMD treatments and procedures, all in record time. One- to three-minute audiovisual presentations make a surprisingly deep impression on patients. Patient education software allows patients to watch these videos while the hygienist is scaling – maximizing chair time. After the patient has viewed the presentation, we can spend our time explaining and answering questions pertinent to the individual’s situation. Our patient education software (CAESY) has more than 200 different presentations available, so there is always one to benefit your patients.

Patient education software offers third party credibility to procedures, educates in audio and video format, consistently educates with enthusiasm, documents that the patient has been educated, and maximizes appointment time. Hygienists today are given about the same amount of appointment time as when I began my hygiene career in 1976. However, since 1976, informed consent, HIPAA forms, extended note requirements, and more detailed health history information have all become strictly regulated, adding to the list of tasks that need to be accomplished in the same period of time. Patient education software helps us keep our patients educated and motivated while staying on schedule.

As a dental professional, it is difficult to consistently and repeatedly instruct and motivate patients about the same topics many times a day, every day. Demonstrating proper brushing technique at every single appointment can be tedious and lend itself to a lack of enthusiasm, which will be noticed by the patient. If you are not enthusiastic, how can your patients be? When you get discouraged, take action with programs designed to facilitate everyday dental hygiene responsibilities. Cutting-edge patient-centered technology can breathe new life into the practice and bring a fresh approach to patient motivation.

It is often the responsibility of the hygienist to fully explain to patients the diagnosis, treatment process, and consequences of not moving forward with treatment. It is critical for patients to receive and understand all the appropriate information about treatment. A lack of understanding can keep patients from moving forward with necessary treatment, and maybe even result in legal repercussions if patients do not fully understand proposed treatment or the consequences of not moving ahead with that treatment. Patient education software allows hygienists to protect themselves and the practice while educating patients. Our practice management software (Patterson EagleSoft, Patterson Dental) automatically records in the patient notes when a patient watches an education video. The program creates informed consent forms listing the proposed services and documenting which patient education videos were shown. This may be presented to the patient and his or her signature may be captured electronically for storage within the patient record.

Educational Digital Images

Digital X-rays taken with digital sensors also help to ensure a timely appointment. This technology saves time otherwise spent at the processor or mounting film, while increasing the patient’s ability to see and understand what the X-rays show. Patients could never fully see what we do on a tiny X-ray film. Digital imaging allows patients to clearly see detail on a computer monitor of such things as decay or bone loss. I have found it helps to use the invert function. Most patients are unfamiliar with viewing X-rays, and the invert function helps them “read” the image with you.

Perio Charting

Technological tools for perio charting are important for accuracy and explanation. With paper charts, hygienists often probe and record numbers without patients seeing the numbers or understanding what they mean. Seeing the numbers graphically and comparing them from several visits is a huge asset in patient education. Perio charting is also a significant tool for insurance company claims. It is easy to electronically send perio charts that clearly demonstrate the need for treatment to the insurance company. Software saves the hygienist and practice considerable time and effort otherwise spent negotiating with insurance providers.

Technological Alerts/Reminders

Another software benefit to offices that work with insurance companies is instant access to insurance information. Benefit information may be quickly accessed in the event of an insurance coverage question, solidifying feasible treatment options for patients and hygienists.

The Intellicare feature, in Eaglesoft, enables anyone to set an alert to appear whenever a patient record is accessed. When a patient calls the office, any staff member who answers the phone will be aware of the patient’s needs and appointment considerations. Our practice management software allows reminders to pop up to alert staff when specific services such as a bitewings or a Panorex are due, when an account is overdue, or even when patient information is missing.

Practice management software allows templates to be made for common treatment instructions, as well. Templates can be selected and individualized based on the patient and automatically stored in the patient’s record, making it easier and faster to document the details of instructions or information given to the patient.

Practice management software can sort, manage and track many details. Hygienists can save time by utilizing a practice management software tool that prints out appointment and reminder cards. When patients fill out their own reminder cards, time must be spent to confirm everyone has a card and that the appointment information has not changed. This takes time on the part of the staff to verify and update the card information. Computer reminder cards avoid the embarrassing situation of sending out a card with the wrong appointment date or time.

More importantly, practice management software can find patients who may not have become part of the recall system. Patients who come in for an emergency appointment never see the hygienist, who is responsible for getting patients into the recall system. When technology is used, tracking recall is easy and effective. Effective management of patient traffic and information will result in more organized patient appointments and more personalized quality care.

While hygienists try hard to keep up with the increasing standards of care, expectations and time perceptions have changed drastically. Today’s patients expect hygienists to have a variety of information at their fingertips. It is not enough to know a patient may need to be pre-medicated. Often, a hygienist needs to know what kind of medication the patient uses and even his or her favorite pharmacy. Hygienists constantly reach into our tool kits for resources to create positive experiences for patients and staff. Practice management software can help a practice reach its goals while helping hygienists remain sane.

About the Author

Jana Berghoff, RDH, is a Patterson Technology representative. She has more than 30 years experience in the dental community. Initially trained as a dental hygienist at Northwestern University School of Dentistry in Chicago, she spent time in the clinical setting learning the ropes of patient care. She soon found herself moving into office/staff management positions. As an office administrator she began working with and being trained on several different dental software programs and decided she liked working with computers. She refocused her career and became a preferred trainer for Patterson Dental.

Optimal Scheduling Protocol

Imagine a day with an easy flow from patient to patient without an entire morning of really tough patients one right after another. It can happen – if hygienists are allowed to make their own appointments and take charge of their own scheduling. Scheduling has traditionally been a front desk responsibility, even though hygienists are more familiar with their patients’ time requirements and demands and really are a logical choice for making their own appointments. When a hygienist determines her/his own schedule, patients who typically run late can be placed in specific times, not right before the patient who needs every moment of the appointment and allows for no catch-up time. Having the ability to take control of your own schedule is one of the greatest assets of computers for clinical use. Our practice management and clinical software (Patterson EagleSoft, Patterson Dental) displays different colors for different types of appointments, which grants immediate recognition of the type of appointments in order to space and organize the day. It also displays a separate color band to indicate the staff responsibility for each patient, which avoids scheduling a disproportionate number of exams for a specific provider. A day of patient appointments with an even flow, and correct spacing of high demand patients are both possibilities for hygienists who use practice management software. Finally, you’re in control!