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How tech helped this Winnipeg dental centre go paperless to improve the customer experience

Improving the workflow of a busy dental office.

At the junction of St. Anne’s Road and St. Mary’s Road in Winnipeg sits the St. Vital Dental Centre, a dental clinic that spans three generations. It’s also a testament to various ways digital technology in dentistry has helped improve the customer experience.

Dr. Ian Stephen started the clinic more than 50 years ago and in 1987, his daughter, Dr. Lori Stephen-James took over operations. Over the years, gradual tech improvements took place, with major updates done in preparation for the early 2018 transfer to her son, Dr. Terry James — the third family member to run the practice.

New software to go paperless

“Since I started here three years ago, we’ve gone from what you’d call your traditional office where everyone’s information was kept on paper charts,” Dr. James explained. “For years we’ve used a paper chart with an area for notes, updates and other information.”

“We’ve now switched to a paperless office,” he continued. “Every room is outfitted with a computer. Every patient’s chart is on a server. When we know a particular patient is coming in we can call up their chart before they get in the room and know exactly what needs to be done.”

St. Vital Dental Centre uses specialized dental office management software called Dentrix by Henry Schein. Dentrix contains an integrated set of tools to manage patients’ charts, the ledger, the appointment book, month-end reports and much more.

In addition, patients no longer have to endure the same level of discomfort getting x-rays. The office now takes digital radiographs that are less cumbersome and faster to capture. These digital images are then filed directly to the electronic chart rather than the traditional method of attaching x-ray images to a paper chart.

“Electronic charts make it easier for everyone involved,” Dr. Terry pointed out. “The information is there at your fingertips. It saves countless hours and in one click we can find an image that used to take us five minutes to locate.”

Ease and efficiency

When the work in the chair is completed, information regarding amounts owed is sent to reception where invoices are created. Each patient’s dental insurance information is stored on the server, allowing the practice to automatically send any bills to the insurer and collect the balance owing from the patient.

“We like its integration,” Dr. James said. “When you enter something on the clinical side, it’s entered into the ledger for billing purposes as well.”

“Dentrix is probably the most popular such program in North America,” he continued. “But it’s so big we currently probably use only 60 per cent of its capabilities. It can feel very overwhelming when you first start to use it. Then it just clicks, and the more you use it the easier it is.”

“This efficiency is paramount. It gives us more time to focus on the clinical side of things. We can look at something that needs to be done and are able to tell the patient how much it’s going to cost. We can also access the patient’s insurance information in the room.”

Dr. James feels Dentrix has improved patient privacy and security of information. “With the digital age, we back up information regularly on our in-house server that has no outside access, so it’s pretty secure,” he said.

The benefits of automation

The practice uses another tool to help manage their calendar and contact patients.

Lighthouse 360, by Lighthouse Software, reminds patients of upcoming appointments by email or text message. If someone cancels, the software can identify another patient to fill the opening. Patients are automatically reminded when it’s time to book their next cleaning and they can also give the clinic a review of the previous appointment.

“The software will send you a reminder, and without any human intervention, you can book an appointment. It’s very convenient,” explained Dr. James. “This system is a change in generations and gives us a lot of benefits.”

Leaving patients in good hands

Keeping on the lookout for new software and systems has been part of their journey to advance the business. “I have to give credit to the University of Manitoba. When I was doing some teaching, they had a similar program there,” explained Dr. Stephen-James, a former president of the Manitoba Dental Association. Spending time getting to know the capabilities, pros and cons of that particular software pointed her in the right direction.

“Then I did some work reviewing claims for an insurance company and I saw a few other programs.” Recognizing this was the way forward, Dr. Stephen-James assessed different options to find a scalable solution that matched the needs of their particular clinic. That effort paid off.

Now, with solutions in place to improve efficiencies, both doctors have an even stronger sense of pride in their three-generation practice. “As my mother’s nearing retirement, it’s been a great three or four years of transitioning and growth,” said Dr. James. “I love my job.”

Likewise, Dr. Stephen-James is encouraged for the continued success of the business. “I feel good that I’m leaving my patients in good hands. With Terry and these tools, things will continue at the level of care that I believe people deserve.”


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Brian Kozak

Brian Kozak is a Winnipeg writer who has been working online since 1997 when he developed content for Manitoba’s Flood of the Century website. Recently retired from MTS, he keeps his finger on the pulse of current tech trends. He's long said goodbye to the fax machine and overhead projector, but needs more time to think about ditching his trusty fountain pen.

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