Our entire lives have now been digitized for our convenience. It makes sense that something as important as dental records should follow suit. Modern medicine has given us a healthier population; so has modernizing our records. Having accurate, updated records of patients, particularly those who are transferring to your practice from another, is vital in giving them the best possible care.

While there are many benefits to going digital, there are also some potential drawbacks. Whether it’s best for your practice depends on your budget, your clientele, and other factors. In this article you will learn about the pros and cons of electronic medical forms for patients, and when it is appropriate to send them to new patients.

 

Benefits of Using Electronic Healthcare Forms

Like many other parts of our daily lives, the benefits of streamlining a folder stuffed with medical records into one digital, paperless file are undeniable. The efficiency of a central location for records improves overall patient care and practice productivity. According to a recent HealthIt.gov survey:

  • 75% of providers said electronic medical records improved patient care 
  • 88% of providers said they had clinical benefits for the practice
  • 76% of patients said it made accessing prescriptions easier
  • 92% of patients were pleased with digital prescriptions 

 

Less Paper, More Profit

Think about all the small parts of paper files – printer paper, toner, ink and maintenance; using a professional shredding service; mailing and office supplies and so on. Some of these things may not seem very expensive, but the combined cost can add up quickly. Even the smallest dental practice can save hundreds of dollars a month just by reducing its paper purchases. 

The savings don’t stop at fewer trips to Office Depot, either. Your staff spends a significant amount of time manually filling out records, transcribing, printing out forms, scanning, filing and more. Leaving the desk to go dig through a file cabinet or constantly replace printer paper and ink also takes up a surprising chunk of the day. Without the limitations of paper forms, your practice will save countless hours of manpower that can be put to better use interacting with patients. Plus, it’s eco-friendly, which patients appreciate, and shifting to an overall greener office can even land you some tax breaks.

 

Streamline Patient and Staff Experience

In a world run by our smartphones, giving patients (your customers) lightning-fast and easy solutions is a key part of earning their loyalty. The last thing anyone wants to do when arriving for a dentist appointment, an already unpleasant experience for many, is sit down and manually fill out pages of paperwork. Often they are unable to arrive 15-20 minutes earlier to do so, and end up spending even more time in the waiting room. This is frustrating for patients and means that dentists can see fewer people throughout the day.

Sending patients the necessary forms via email before their appointment gives them plenty of time to fill it out in the comfort of home, rather than rushing through it in the office to get seen faster. They can fill them in completely and more accurately this way. It makes checking in a breeze and gives you more time to review their information before the appointment, increasing the number of patients you can see in a day and making the patient feel more respected. New patients especially are much more likely to choose your practice over another if they visit your website and see that they can fill out new patient paperwork and book appointments online. 

Accessing a patient’s chart, medications, and medical history via digital search is much faster when you don’t have to look for all that information in different places. And sending their prescriptions to their preferred drugstore or pharmacy for them cuts down on their wait time for medications. 

With NexHealth you can customize a variety of medical form templates to fit your practice and automatically integrate records seamlessly into your office-wide system. You can tweak existing designs or create your own with just a few clicks.  

 

Readability Equals Readiness

Shifting to a strictly online world means people are less likely to have legible handwriting. And medical providers are notorious for bad handwriting when they’re writing chart notes, prescriptions, etc. which can lead to serious errors. Researchers in one study found that 60% of medication errors in hospitals resulted directly from poor handwriting. 

Filling in an electronic form takes much less time for the patient, and updating a patient’s record via computer rather than by hand saves your staff significant time. It also eliminates or reduces data entry errors on both sides. When it comes to dentistry, readability can be the difference between a patient being charged for a cleaning when they are scheduled for a root canal! 

Your staff doesn’t have to spend time chasing down patients because they can’t read their information, and your patients can be confident they’re receiving the best care based on the most accurate data. You will also have more time to dedicate to each patient if you can walk in with all their information in front of you on a tablet. 

 

Keep Patient Information Safe

With paper forms, there’s always the risk that something will be misplaced and fall into the wrong hands. Having a paper record of something increases your risk of someone illegally accessing private information; that’s why we shred checks once they’re cashed or destroy tax forms once they’re filed. 

Electronic medical form software allows you to easily collect and store consent forms, treatment plans, credit card information, medical history and other sensitive data. Given that we are still living in a pandemic, it’s also safer to cut down on direct human contact by sticking to web links. Many tablets come with built-in security protection, and some electronic form vendors offer HIPAA protection already integrated into their templates. 

It’s much easier to see who has accessed what and what action has been taken when there’s an electronic trail of everything in one place. You can ensure only the appropriate staff has access to private information by password-protecting files and encrypting data. And once forms are filled out, you can download them onto your office’s computers and erase them from the Internet if you wish, keeping them safe from hackers. With paper files, you probably only keep hard copies for so long, and losing them is a concern. Digitizing them means you can keep a patient’s record on file and updated indefinitely. Patients can choose to pay their fees online, eliminating their need to take out a credit card. All of these further increase safety and security in your practice. 

All of NexHealth’s available forms are HIPAA-compliant already, so patients can be completely confident that their information is safe. 

 

Give Patients Ownership of Their Care

One of the surest ways to improve patient outcomes is to get them more involved in their treatment. No one knows your patients better than they do, and they will be more satisfied when you work together with them to decide on the most appropriate procedures and medications for their conditions, their budget and their personal preferences. Some patients prefer not to utilize nitrous oxide unless it’s serious; others ask for it even during a routine cleaning. Electronic records make it easy to keep track of even small details like this, setting your patients at ease and eager to make you their regular dentist. 

The ability to book their appointments online and fill out the necessary forms even before coming into the office lets patients know that they are in charge. Having a patient portal on your website allows them access to their records, past and upcoming appointments, the ability to message you directly or renew a prescription and more. This encourages patients to be actively engaged in their own care. Dental patients often skip follow-up appointments; most don’t go every six months as recommended. The ability to send a form via text message link is appreciated by many patients, and sending follow-up reminders can be done in the same way. It’s effortless for the patient and makes them more likely to book that appointment. 

 

Potential Drawbacks

Like any other decision you might make for your dental practice, there are some potential drawbacks to switching to electronic medical forms. Here we will consider them and discuss ways to turn them into additional benefits for your practice.

 

Older Patients and Going Online

Let’s talk about older patients for the moment. Particularly if you practice in an area with a significant senior population, you have to think about how their needs differ from younger clientele.

  • Americans over 65 are expected to double in population over the next few decades.
  • In 2018, over 50% of those who visited a dentist in the past year were between the ages of  50-64
  • In 2017, 65% of adults over 65 had a dental visit in the past year.

You may reason that adults who did not grow up with the Internet and cell phones may be more resistant to filling out forms online or receiving appointment reminders via email or text. Some may not even have access to phones or computers. But practices often decide to leave seniors out of anything digital based on that assumption. In fact, usage of technology like patient portals is increasing, even in people older than 85! Senior patients deserve the benefits of an electronic system as much as anyone else. Many participants suggest they would happily use electronic forms with support and training from their providers. Perhaps the time your staff saves on paper-related tasks can be spent showing these patients how to use them. But for those who just don’t want to change, give them the option of staying with paper forms.

The best strategy for attracting new patients and retaining existing ones is to let them choose the best method for themselves, while being inclusive of all. 

 

How Much is This Going to Cost?

The initial costs of implementing an electronic health records system will be fairly substantial depending on how much change you want to make. But you must consider the long-term benefits and how much you will save over the life of your practice by making the switch.

According to a 2019 study published in Health Affairs, the average practice can expect to fully cover the costs of an electronic system in less than three years; after that, you may save an average of $23,000 per year, per employee in benefits. Whether you can expect similar numbers depends on many individual factors, and the best way to choose is by doing a cost-benefit analysis specific to your practice. But consider the value of the benefits above plus others like reduced waste, increased revenue and fewer data entry errors. The answer for most dentists will be clear.

 

Patients Concerned About Security

Many of your existing patients will be concerned about whether such a big change will put their sensitive data at risk. New patients might be wary of filling in contact and insurance information, social security numbers and medical history online before meeting with their dentist in person. 

HIPAA has added specific guidelines for electronic information to its existing laws. These requirements are difficult to meet, thereby making it much harder for electronic data to be hacked or stolen. Electronic information is considered private health information (PHI), which means it has just as much protection as any other information within HIPAA. And the benefits of not having an office full of paper files around for intruders to dig through are obvious. Nexhealth’s forms come with built-in HIPAA compliance. 

 

Conclusion

If you do decide that switching to electronic medical forms is best for your dental practice, sending them to new patients should be done immediately after a patient opts for them for as many facets of their care as possible. We have seen that in most cases, the benefits of implementing such a system far outweigh the risks. 

How do you choose which electronic form provider to work with? It’s all about convenience and customization. Vendors like FormDR don’t have much to choose from; they offer two or three packages based strictly on the size of your practice, and you must book a consultation with their reps to make a decision.

With NexHealth, you simply watch a demo video and choose from four ready-to-go packages based on your specific current goals and needs, not just the size of your practice. If none of the templates work for you, you can customize your own. Plans are month-to-month and you can cancel or switch packages anytime. We’ll even buy out your existing contract if you have a vendor that just isn’t cutting it anymore. NexHealth’s feature-rich platform will have new patients rushing in and staying for good. 

 

 

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