Remote Practices – Digital-First is the Future of the Dental Practice

Dentistry is built upon human contact. You need the patient to be there, in the chair. As medical disciplines go, it is one of the most intimate. 

And then came the pandemic. Covid-19 spreads fastest when people are close, so governments introduced social distancing rules, limiting interactions and encouraging those who can to stay at home. The medical field was no exception, with GPs and specialists shifting consults from the surgery to the virtual realm, reducing the risk of infection. 

You can’t perform a root canal over Zoom. Cyberspace has its limitations, indeed, and dentists will always need to see patients in-person. But that doesn’t mean dentistry is immune to the effects of digital transformation, which will play an essential role in the months and years to come, as surgeries learn how to limit interactions with patients, and more efficiently use scarce resources. 

Checking in 

Before the pandemic, waiting rooms were crowded affairs. Patients sat in close proximity, waiting for their names to be called. Now, arrivals are staggered to limit interactions. For safety reasons, some practices now insist patients wait outside for their appointment to start. 

Another trend is the shift to digital documentation. Many practices now request patients complete check-in forms on their devices, rather than at the reception desk. This change has been driven by safety concerns, although it comes with benefits for practices and patients alike. 

It’s more efficient, for starters. Digital forms can be fed directly into a practice’s IT systems, whereas paper forms are often transcribed by hand, which is time-consuming and can often see the introduction of errors. Patients, meanwhile, get to skip reception entirely and walk straight to the treatment room.  

We’re also seeing a transformation of how appointments are distributed, with practices forced to triage patients in advance. Dentists will contact patients in advance, either via a phone call or via videoconference, allowing them to identify those with the greatest clinical need. Those get priority. 

It’s a tough time for the industry, and most are operating at a vastly reduced capacity. New safety measures have dramatically reduced the number of available appointments. Complicating this further are chronic staff shortages, with practitioners and support staff seconded by other parts of the NHS.

Sticking to the treatment front, we can also expect practices will choose to conduct follow-up appointments remotely, particularly those that don’t require a physical examination. Again, we can expect these to be done virtually – by a telephone or video call, with prescriptions issued digitally and mailed to the patient, or a pharmacist of their choice. 

“Over the past year, dentists and dental nurses have found themselves thrust into performing contact tracing and, more recently, supporting the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine. “

None of these things will disappear after the pandemic. Covid-19 merely catalysed digital transformation, and it will linger long after as practices start to realise the efficiency benefits. Moreover, it’ll trickle down from the dental business’s patient-visible aspects to the remote day-to-day operations. 

Dentistry in a remote world

Dentistry doesn’t just happen in a treatment room. There’s a world beyond the glare of an operating light, and it’s undergoing rapid change. 

Let’s talk about the back office. Social distancing rules have forced some dental employees — particularly those in support roles — to work remotely. Practices are having to adapt; as a result, particularly those stuck using paper-based workflows and on-premises software. This inevitably means a shift to the cloud. 

So, what does that look like? It depends on the functionality required, the team’s size, and the roles now being performed remotely. Finance employees will require access to accounts and billing records, for example. Meanwhile, those tasked with day-to-day handling administration will need to securely retrieve patient records, manage correspondence, and update appointment diaries. At the very least, teams will need to communicate and securely access critical work files. 

But it’s not just about what a tool does, but rather how it works and grows with the practice. Remote working isn’t going away — at least, not in the short term. Even with the promise of a vaccine, there’s no knowing when normality will return to life. Separately, employees may wish to continue working remotely, due to the flexibility it affords. Whatever you decide, it’s essential to get it right. 

Fighting the fear 

Change doesn’t come easy, especially when forced by external circumstances. The pandemic has been a shock, not just to the world, but also to many industries and the dental sector is no different. The reality is that it has been forced to re-think how its practice management operates. 

But from crisis comes opportunity. By being forced to modernise, the dental industry can work faster, smarter, and adjust to future changes. The pandemic’s lingering influence will be a significant driver behind the dental industry’s ongoing digital transformation, with cloud services firmly positioned at heart.

Dental surgeries consist of multiple moving parts. To work in harmony, you’ll need a full practice management solution that encompasses all aspects of the business — from the delivery of treatments, to finance and administration. You’ll need it to work with the software you already use. And, of course, you’ll need rock-solid security and support. Chiral Systems does that, and more.

To learn how we can help your practice, click here to request a free demonstration.