The benefits of electronic forms range from saving money to enhancing the quality of life for patients and team, making their addition a no-brainer for modern dental practices.
The world is moving away from paper. From filing taxes to paying the electric bill, the shift to a digitized life is in full swing.
And yet many dental practices have been slow to adapt. While the back office fields some of the best technology in modern medicine, many front offices look the same now as they did 15 years ago.
Clipboards, pens, stapled forms, copying machines for insurance cards—the procedures for checking patients in feels so antiquated.
As electronic forms become more readily available, practices now have the opportunity to modernize their front offices.
Though digitizing forms would require updated processes, the benefits are almost too great to ignore.
Efficient for Team
Place paper on clipboard. Hand to patient. Receive filled out form and insurance card. Copy insurance card. Hand insurance card back to patient. Read (sometimes illegible) handwriting. Transfer patient information into your practice management software. Replace paper on clipboard for next patient.
That is a lot of steps just to check one patient in for an appointment. And it skips over the times a front office team member needs to decipher something a patient has scribbled!
Paper forms are flat out inefficient.
According to Dental Economics, 25% of administrative time is spent pulling and filing patient charts.
Think of everything your admin team could do if it had a quarter of the day back!
Interacting more with patients. Firming up light schedules. Diving into reactivations.
Take your goals for this year, or the tasks that seem to be piling up like dirty dishes in the sink, and now allot an extra 10 hours to them.
Moreover, your team will be happier! Liberated from the monotony of clipping, copying, deciphering, and transcribing, their days have now been freed up.
Efficient for Patients
It’s little secret that the modern patient experience hinges on convenience.
The most successful dental practices find ways to connect with patients on the patients’ terms—whether that’s enabling patients to view their accounts through a patient portal or sending appointment reminders via text messages.
With electronic forms, the patient experience grows even further. It moves beyond a reminder or payment into an actionable, smoother way to come see the dentist.
Think about it: we can check in for flights and movies online, why shouldn’t we be able to do the same when visiting the dentist?
Electronic forms enable patients to check in at their leisure, be it from their house computer, while sitting at work, or even from their smartphone during a commute.
Don’t undervalue the importance of a patient being able to check in while their visit is top of mind. And even if they opt to check in while at your office, there’s still an exceptional patient experience.
Rather than awkwardly scribbling all their personal information on a flimsy clipboard, they can type and tap it into an iPad. They’re also dealing with a front desk team that’s happier, and more eager to answer any questions, now that they’re not whiling away at data input.
Saves on Costs
According to a study from the ADA, the average dental practice spends $14,330 on office supplies every year.
Here’s a quick rundown of the supplies you’d cut down on with electronic forms:
- Pens and pencils
- Printer paper
- for copying insurance cards
- for printing forms
- Sticky notes/sticky flags where people can sign
- Filing trays
That’s a pretty exhaustive list.
And, yes, electronic forms do carry their own costs. Some are a monthly add-on to your current dental marketing platform. And then there’s the expense of an iPad. The latter, though, is a one-time expenditure.
In order to get a more comprehensive picture, let’s run the numbers.
If electronic forms cost somewhere between $80 and $100 per month, that puts you at an annual recurring cost of between $960 and $1,200.
And if you purchase, say, two iPads that range between 400 and 1,000 dollars, you’re looking at a hardware startup cost of between $800 and $2,000.
So, on the low end, first-year expenses will run around $1,760. On the high end, the expenses will run $3,200 for a complete setup.
And remember, those expenses will drop down to the annual fixed expense range of $960-$1,200 following the first year.
Now that we’ve done the math, here are two things to consider.
Would you even hesitate spending $1,200 to revolutionize the back of your practice?
Of course not!
This is less than your monthly lease of a CEREC machine. Even more, it will make your team happier, and is something that will, in most instances, resonate more deeply with patients than your high-grade dentistry equipment (remember: convenience).
The second thing to consider is how much you’ll save in front office costs.
Will electronic forms eliminate your entire budget for office supplies? No. You’ll still need some supply of pens and paper.
However, if you can save more than $1,200 in supplies (really cutting deeply into that $14,000 annual expense) then electronic forms is a no-brainer with regards to the balance sheet.
Safety of Records
This isn’t to say that your records are not safe. Or that you do anything that would jeopardize patient information.
However, electronic forms further reduce the risk that anything will happen to records.
Less paper floating around. Fewer people handling paperwork (on average, eight team members for every one doctor handle paperwork in an office). And lowered odds of something being misplaced (86% of errors in a doctor’s office are administrative).
On a more severe scale, digital forms provide an extra safeguard against freak weather (which we seem to have a lot of these days).
A recent study has found that 70% of businesses would fail within three weeks if they lost paper records due to fire or flood.
While your records are already protected, think of electronic forms as an added security measure to ensure patient information goes, and stays, where you want it to.
If you’re an environmentalist, then this topic is likely the the kicker for you. Cut down on the reliance of paper and ink cartridges. Wham, bam, collect your electronic forms, direct deposit $200, and move your dental practice to Go.
But you don’t need to personally care that 20% of total paper usage in the United States comes from copy paper alone, or that one million ink cartridges are thrown away daily, to understand the importance of eco-friendly forms.
It, again, goes back to your patients. In this case: Millennials.
The largest generation in American history (92 million Millennials to 77 million Baby Boomers), Millennials are shaping modern consumerism. And one of their driving factors in decision making is the environment.
A Nielson study from 2015 found that 72% of Millennials are willing to pay more for services if there’s a strong environmental impact.
“Brands that establish a reputation for environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too,” says Grace Farraj, SVP, Public Development & Sustainability, Nielsen.
It’s easy to dismiss this generation, as it’s become a punchline across the news spectrum, but the numbers do not lie. Millennials spend roughly $600 billion each year, a number that will only increase as they age.
Getting in with this next wave of patients means you must be conscious of their likes and desires, chief of which is going green. An electronic form, as opposed to all the paper it takes to normally check in, shows that your practice aligns with their beliefs.
Perception of a Modern Office
Let’s set the scene here.
You’ve sent out email recall campaigns. Your patient requests an appointment online via a link in one of your social media posts. They’re all confirmed!
It’s the day-of, and you send out a text message reminder that morning. They’re excited, and are still coming in for a same-day crown replacement thanks to your CEREC machine.
The patient steps in the door. There’s cool, educational dental programming on the television. “This,” they think, “is a state of the art doctor.”
And then you hand them a clipboard, BIC pen (with customary chain attached to it), and a few sheets of blotchy paperwork for them to fill out. Just like that, you’re back to the Stone Ages.
It’s amazing how you can do everything right, and then that one little thing shifts the patient’s perspective.
But consider things from their point of view. They can go to Olive Garden, be seated by a hostess using her iPad, and then order via another tablet at the table. And yet, at their dentist’s office, a place they expect to be nothing but modern, they still need to scratch things out on a clipboard.
As your patient base becomes more comprised of Millennals, the necessity for presenting a modern office grows even more important.
“They’re … the first generation of digital natives,” a study from Goldman Sachs found, “and their affinity for technology helps shape how they shop.”
From a patient’s perspective, checking in for an appointment is the first touch point they have with their doctor. It’s the moment they decide whether you’re with it, or not. And in their mind, it should be easier to check in for an upcoming appointment than it is to order unlimited breadsticks and salad.