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Dental Records: Best Practices for Information Management and Retention

Course Number: 532

Electronic versus Paper Documents

Most dental practices have started the process toward complete or hybrid electronic dental records (EDR). While the equipment necessary to make a change from paper to electronic format requires a considerable investment, paper forms still require purchase in several cases and must be continually ordered, generated, and protected from the public and elements for several years in large storage containers or shredded for patient protection. Even then, many offices report that money has been saved when moving to electronic record keeping, including the money and time lost in submitting insurance claims and pretreatment claims. The cost of ordering and maintaining physical appointment books is saved with the electronic software calendar with screens that can be accessed from several chairside stations and protected remote locations. Access to electronic inventory management can save money and time if the dental team has been trained to use it effectively. As technology has advanced, the way that information is secured and encrypted has reduced in price due to cloud-based computing.

Beyond the advantages to the dental practice, having electronic documentation for all patients can be beneficial to a patient’s overall health and medical treatment. According to the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry, the ability to link medical and dental records could improve all treatment outcomes. Having access to a patient’s medical history and knowledge of conditions and current medications could predict risk for healing or excessive bleeding. In reverse, a healthcare professional having access to dental treatment could alert them to oral issues such as oral ulcerations and the prescribed treatment which may involve prescriptions and additional follow-up visits. 11

Photo of computerized schedule.

Figure 1. Computerized Schedule.

Once the office invests in the equipment, the ability to expand how treatment is offered also develops. The ability to incorporate an intraoral camera and CAD/CAM for in-office crown design and creation changes how treatment planning can be discussed and scheduled. The costs involved with digital radiography equipment can be directly compared to the costs invested in traditional film, processors and the processing solutions, film mounts, and the time required to process the film. Depending on the patient’s signs and symptoms, the periapical, bitewing, panoramic, or cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) dental image captured can be magnified for more detailed diagnosis. Should the patient require it, the ability to electronically forward images to a specialty practice or insurance company is an additional time and cost-saving benefit. Additionally, the ability to connect with patients on a virtual basis has become a viable application of technology.

Before a dental practice software is chosen, all of the applications available and how different dental team professionals plan to utilize them should be researched. Practice goals that include strategic planning with technology must be discussed so the full potential of the purchase is eventually realized. Finally, the practice owner must decide on a third-party or a cloud-based system as this will determine how the practice plans to back up patient and business data and secure the private file information. As the dental team researches the options for dental software and the hardware to operate it, issues to consider involve the substantial initial costs, continuous software updates, a review of the company’s tech support protocols, and potential for equipment expansion. At certain points, training requirements should be expected for every person on the dental team using the technology for their work responsibilities.