The practice offers general dentistry, as well as ortho and implant work and was paper-based, but in 2021, Dr Atlihan decided to move to a digital practice management system to modernise the practice and its processes.
Why did you decide to move away from a paper-based system?
I first joined the practice in 2014, and for the past seven years, we have worked from paper records - when I bought the practice last year, I decided I wanted to move it into the 21st Century.
There are frustrations with using paper - it can be a hindrance. Records can go missing as they can get easily displaced from their alphabetical order. Usually, they need to be accessed quickly, and nursing and reception staff can spend 10-15 minutes just trying to find a record. When two or more patients have similar or the same names, staff must ensure they have the correct details. We used to try to take out all of the patient's records the day before the patient was due in. But this took away valuable time out of the admin team's day.
Patient reminders can be tricky - as it is easy to incorrectly write a telephone number down, which means suddenly that a patient is not contactable - again adding more time to the workload.
Our physical appointment book was previously very messy - recalls could be difficult as it was tricky to find a slot in the book, and there was never enough space to write any details or add a simple note. For example, if you have an anxious patient or an upcoming social event that would be good to reference in the future - you would have no room to note it down!
A digital system eliminates those frustrations for us.
What were the key areas you were thinking about when looking to move to a digital practice management system?
I was thinking about ease of use - from my perspective as a clinician and practice owner, but also from that of my reception and nursing team.
I then thought about whether to choose a cloud or a server-based system - and I had two areas to consider here. One, what would give me accessibility? I wanted to work remotely and have a good work-life balance - being able to access the system without being in the practice was positive. Importantly; if the power went out, we could access patient records via an iPad or phone - getting in touch with patients and explaining we had no power - so the surgery couldn't be used - but we could get their appointment rebooked. I wanted to be able to access the system and use it - and not just have view access.
Finally, I was also thinking about future-proofing. I wanted software that was regularly updated and improved, and new features introduced regularly. I didn’t want to deal with server speed issues or upgrade or maintain hardware.
So we decided to go with Dentally, a cloud-based system.
How did you find the transition?
It was slightly daunting moving from our paper-based patient records to Dentally. The disruption of COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions didn’t help, so we had to do everything remotely.
I was able to have early access for a couple of months before, which helped me get to know the system, and we went live in August 2021.
Rather than add all our paper records into Dentally, we did some housekeeping. We decided that new patients would immediately be created in Dentally. Then as our existing patients were due in the practice, we added them as and when they had an appointment. This allowed us to look at our records, remove duplicates, merge records, identify lapsed patients, check name changes or deceased patients - basically ensure we had only the records we needed in Dentally. It also meant we didn’t inundate my team with the task of moving all records in straight away, but instead, dealt with it as needed on a gradual basis as patients attended.
You are now six months into using Dentally - what are the benefits?
Yes, we are six months in now, but I could see some benefits as soon as we started using Dentally. This is in terms of the workflow and how organised we can now be.
With paper records, you have to look for the information you need, especially clinical and treatment details - but now everything is completely organised. I have sight of everything I need to and quickly. I don’t even have to worry about the illegibility of writing nor old ink wearing away over time, making it difficult to read patient records!
I can see exactly what I did last time, I can see the patient’s previous treatments, I know if I added a ‘watch’ on a tooth and why - all the clinical information is connected and in front of me. I no longer have to weave my way through the records. Plus, importantly, there is space to record comprehensive information rather than short annotations. I can write detailed notes, to remind myself or allow another dentist at the practice to pick up and understand.
The other benefits we are now seeing are things like the pop notes that you can add - these can be social or medical, and act as a quick reminder to the team and help improve our relationships with our patients. So for example; we can add that a patient is anxious, is allergic to penicillin or anaesthetic, a patient is pregnant or even if they have an upcoming wedding or birthday.
Dentally chat is important to us now too. It has improved our communication. I can send a message to the reception, or they can send me a message, and either myself or the dental nurse can respond to it, minimising the number of people running back and forth in and out of surgery. Even our patients have commented on how seamless the experience is since we have moved to the new system.
What would your staff say are the benefits for them?
I think the nursing staff would say they can organise their day better, they know who is coming in and when which means they can get their clinical trays ready in advance - they can be proactive now.
For the reception team, I think they just like all the information being in front of them and improving patient communication, along with giving them time to talk to patients in the waiting area, putting them at ease. Before they would be too busy checking patients in, finding the relevant patient record, and they just weren't able to provide the best service.
There are still things that we want to start using in Dentally that we haven’t as yet, such as waiting lists, tasks lists and looking at how online appointment booking can benefit us - especially in terms of allowing patients to fill out medical histories before their arrival. This is something I am still completing myself, with the patient in the surgery.
As a practice owner, how do you find the system?
Real-time data is so important. The data opens the door for so many things for us. The reporting overview is really good. I can now see exactly what my takings are for the day, I can see my billings and that of the other dentists, I can reconcile it with my HICAPS claims and I can easily identify bad debts.
We do a lot of orthodontic work, so I can see how treatment plans are going, whether we are on schedule with payments - is a patient up to date with payments or are they perhaps in credit? The financial side is really valuable to my practice.
What is your biggest challenge this year?
As a new practice owner, I have been focused on ensuring that we have all the new systems in place, looking at our workflows and processes in all our areas. Plus, we are renovating the practice, which is tricky when you are open six days a week, and new floors need to be laid and branding signs replaced.
I think this year our biggest challenge is playing catch up - following the lockdowns, we have patients that have missed their six-month reviews and we are having to carefully plan our diary to ensure we see all our patients. Including those who are overdue due to COVID and also those who are currently due. We are keen to ramp back up to see the patient numbers that we were before, we have a high patient demand from existing patients, and word of mouth has created more for us.
I am pretty happy with our new system - everything is flowing and working well.