Back office goes online

What if, with the click of a mouse, you could be connected to 140,000 other dental hygienists? What if, with the click of a mouse, you could be connected to a vast health library that could answer every health question you have?

by Victoria DaCosta

What if, with the click of a mouse, you could be connected to 140,000 other dental hygienists? What if, with the click of a mouse, you could be connected to a vast health library that could answer every health question you have? And what if all this could be done inside your dental hygiene operatory?

Does any of this sound appealing? Sounds to good to be true, huh? But with the rising number of dental offices signing up for e-claims (dental insurance processed online), it is truly an opportunity. Dental offices around the country are accessing the Internet in the back office. While dentists are purchasing digital X-rays and placing computers in your operatory, you have the ideal opportunity to connect "online."

This is becoming a reality for many dental hygienists. I have been "online" in my operatory for about two years, and I can honestly say I would never go back. To access information with a click of my mouse has become my daily hygiene staple. With a patient in my chair I can easily access answers to his or her questions about nutrition, products, and health. I bookmark Web sites so I can find them quickly. I can even do office market research during downtime.

So when do you have time to be online with a full day of patients? Why would your patients even care? What do I mean, product research or market research? Here is how you can make online a reality in your operatory.

Features

• Internet connections — There are a few Internet service connections to choose from. Because you are a business, you will have various choices depending on your geographic area. For example, there are connections for cable, DSL, and dial-up. Some areas may not be able to access the Internet by cable or DSL. In the near future, satellite connections will be an option for many areas. For speedy connections to the Internet, cable or DSL are much faster than dial up. Even though connection selection may not be in your control, I thought it would be nice to familiarize you with the available setups. Internet connections are becoming more competitive for market dollars and are starting to offer attractive deals.

• Wireless Internet connections — With the marketing of PC tablets, you may soon have a tablet computer that looks and feels like a notebook. This computer tablet can be moved from room to room. With the touch of a pen-driven tap, you can connect to the Internet! It works much like a cell phone.

I believe this workstation has a strong future for us. It beats having to find room for a computer tower with a bulky monitor in our already limited counter space.

• Bookmark favorite Web sites — This feature is a real time saver. Once you locate informational or product Web sites, you can add them to your bookmark section for easy access. I use this feature daily. With a patient in the chair I click on the bookmark section and my list of Web sites appears. This takes about 30 seconds. Another more advanced way to organize your bookmarks is by utilizing the folders system. Create your own dental hygiene folders to store Web site addresses.

• Search engines — A "search engine" is software installed on your computer that looks up information, locates Web sites and offers research. My favorite search engine is google.com. I "google it" for just about everything. I have used it to look up patient health issues, herbs, vitamins, etc. I may not know the answer, but I sure know where to find it. I recently researched the pH factor. My patients received a printout about pH factor and what foods are acidic and alkaline. I believe this is an extremely valuable service for my patients. There are so many examples, let it suffice to say that you will find your own usage.

• Web connect icons for product ordering — Most dental management software companies such as Dentrix, EagleSoft, and SoftDent offer a way to order products online. I will highlight this in a later article. There will be some form of an icon that you can click on to connect to the Internet inside the software. This will connect you to a dental supply company Web site where you will be able to place your order.

Advantages

• Product research — Many times, your patients want to know where to purchase a particular dental product. If you happen to live in an area where purchasing unique dental products is a challenge, the Internet makes locating these items a breeze! For product supplement research, I like to visit www.consumerlab.com. There is a $25 a year fee, but it is worth the investment.

• Market research — Sometimes my patients give me ideas about wellness, or sometimes I find ideas on Web sites. I've researched and discussed with the dentist the advantages of implementing a new dental hygiene wellness service. This not only keeps me interested and challenged in my profession, but will also add value to the dentist's practice. Added value means increased customer satisfaction.

• Office Web site advertising — Increasing business is always a plus for a dentist. Establishing a Web presence is a must for shoppers. You can list all of your dental hygiene services on your Web site. Most dental consumers' perception of dental hygiene are superficial. Listing all of the wellness services you provide will increase your worth as a practitioner.

• Ordering online 24/7; access to supply reps — Nearly all of your dental hygiene ordering will be done via the Internet in the future. We are just now starting to see this happen. It will be slow in the beginning, but once the ease of this program catches on, most dental hygienists will opt for this method. We will no longer have to "guess" whether a product was ordered.

• Wellness information — Right now we are beginning to hear about how general health ties into dental health. This is very exciting! The wellness community is booming, and there are many Web sites your patients are visiting.

Taking the time to learn more about this wellness revolution and incorporating it into your practice will increase your value as a dental hygienist. For example, if your patients are taking herbs, it would be good to research the herbs on the Internet. The areas to research are limitless, so it is fun to explore. An interesting site I just discovered for future health care discussions is www.healthtransformation.net.

It is important to stay up to date on the latest health care issues and how they will affect our patients and our profession.


Hy-Tech user tips ...
for online access

• "Google it" to access information.
• Use your printer often for handy patient tips.
• Have pre-printed patient Web site handouts available.
• Bookmark and organize your favorites into folders.
• Launch the Internet at the beginning of the morning and minimize the screen to the bottom of your desktop.
• Put your email address on your office business card.
• Use the Internet as a library.
• Check and see what is new on dental industry Web sites once a week.


Disadvantages

Any technology has its hiccups, but I have found only a few problems since going online in my operatory:

• Connection failure when I need to log onto the Internet.
• Office connection is dial-up.
• Getting disconnected in the middle of Internet usage with a patient.
• Unable to find information quickly while a patient is in my chair.

Benefits

• Instant access to an array of knowledge during a patient appointment.
• Printing off Web site information for patients to take home.
• No longer the perception that you are practicing alone because you are connected to thousands of your peers.
• Empowerment as a dental hygiene practitioner to expand horizons.
• Educate the consumer on the role of a dental hygienist.
• Your patients can access you 24/7 via email.

Victoria DaCosta, RDH, BS, is founder and president of Hy-Tech Solutions. A practicing dental hygienist for 17 years, DaCosta is a speaker, author, consultant, and an expert in the design of medical/dental software. She is also on the new technologies committee for the California Dental Hygienists' Association. DaCosta can be contacted at contact victoria at victoria@hy-techsolutions.com.

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