The Paperless Office In Dentistry

By Randall Smith, BRS Dental, Vice President, Systems Support

Over the past decade, many dental offices have been working towards a goal of a “Paperless Office”.  Relying on paper charts and film-based X-ray records and pictures limits the office to one original record which may be misplaced or lost.  Those paper and film records take up lots of space, and present difficulties in dealing with patient privacy rules.

Dental practice management systems using computers began to be introduced in the late 1970’s, but early adoption was slow.  The earliest “personal” computers were very limited in both what they could to, and how they could be networked.  “Minicomputers” (“mini” referring to smaller than mainframe systems — the earliest “minis” were still the size of a refrigerator!) provided a higher degree of performance, networking, and storage, but cost and complexity were limiting factors to adoption.  Still, many administrative tasks, including scheduling patients, and managing recalls, were ideal uses of the evolving computer technology.  In the 1980’s, BRS Computing was among the first to develop systems using a single patient database to link multiple practice locations.

By the 1990’s business server systems at the high end, and the growing networking capabilities of personal computers at the lower end allowed a much wider adoption of dental practice management systems for patient administration, and handling of routine tasks such as insurance submission.  Coincident with the expanded administrative use of computers was the introduction of digital X-ray imaging, a key driving force in moving towards a paperless office.  Digital X-ray started a trend of having computer workstations in operatories, greatly expanding the use of dental practice management software in the office .  And, of course, digital X-ray technology eliminated the need for physical films to be stored in patient charts.  That set up the next stage — taking the remaining paper records, and making them digital.

With the introduction of built-in clinical records in dental practice management systems, clinical charting and notes could be entered and stored on the computer, eliminating much of the remaining need for paper charts.

In 2003, BRS Computing released its third generation clinical charting program, which has been continually enhanced since then.  Accurate tooth graphics help the clinician review problems and treatment options with the patients.  Automatic posting of completed treatment improves administrative productivity.  For perio charting, voice recognition technology permits a single clinician to record the findings by speaking into a headset microphone.  Entry of permanent clinical notes into the computer record, either by typing or voice recognition further improves productivity, and makes the records digitally available to any authorized computer user.

New software features and technologies are finally doing away with many of the vestiges of paper that need to be part of a patient record.  In 2007, BRS Computing released DOMScan, providing integrated scanning of any paper document or ID cards to a patient folder in the DOM system.  Even if documents such as EOB or letters were received on paper, DOMScan can save the image for access by any DOM user.

Many BRS clients and other dental offices have been using some form of automated patient messaging service for years.  Many services started as automated phone call systems, simply providing a reminder of upcoming appointments or the need to schedule a recall.  In 2011, BRS , recognizing the need to create a truly integrated system for our clients, partnered with Lighthouse 360 to offer a completely integrated patient messaging and management system.  With the BRS/Lighthouse integration, patients may receive emails or text messages allowing for an appointment confirmation response that updates the scheduler information in the dental office. By moving more communication to electronic messaging, there is a reduced need for reminder postcards for appointment and recalls, again helping with the goal of a paperless office.  In addition, with the BRS/Lighthouse system, patient contact is enhanced by automated patient care survey results and the availability of email newsletters.

BRS Computing has been at the forefront of many “paperless” technologies, including starting as a pioneer with the introduction of electronic insurance claims over 30 years ago.  Today, we offer a wide range of electronic services, allowing our clients to check insurance eligibility in real time, and printing patient statements sent to BRS electronically.  BRS software solutions are now available delivered through the internet as “Software as a Service’ (“SaaS” or “Hosting”), removing many concerns about server maintenance and backup from the dental office, and making the latest application software available quickly to SaaS clients.   BRS will continue to develop new technologies to equip dental offices to better use information technology to increase productivity and provide improved patient services.

BRS is a Microsoft ISV Silver Partner, meaning that our software products have passed Microsoft testing for compatibility with Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, and Microsoft SQL Server 2012.  Our software is fully compatible with both 32 bit and 64 bit operating systems, and is designed to work on all Windows systems, including Remote Desktop and Citrix environments.