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What’s big news for dentistry in the next few years? Electronic charting.
Let’s start by dispelling the rumor that the federal government is requiring adoption of electronic health records (EHR) by next year. Dentists in private practice will not be required to switch to EHR unless they have Medicare patients or a large Medicaid patient load.
It’s what electronic charting can do that tantalizes.
“Besides the everyday improvements such as image management, financial management, payroll, etc.,” said L. Stephen Buchanan of the Dental Education Laboratories in California, “electronic charting offers the possibility of data mining across thousands of dental offices to pull out real-time clinical data about methods used and outcomes seen.” Instead of waiting years to analyze a new method or new material, dentists can get results in months, allowing for successful treatments to be shared and implemented sooner.
There are other benefits as well.
Once a digital charting is up and running, “a paperless system allows you to spend more time with patients and provide better care,” wrote Jana Berghoff in an article in RDH magazine.
A registered hygienist and now a rep for St. Paul-based Patterson Technology, Ms. Berghoff spells out how offices can offer “more informed decisions” about patient care, reduce errors, and minimize redundant treatments for patients new to a practice.
At first I was enthused by what EHR could mean for me as a patient.
I zeroed in on Ms. Berghoff’s assertion that with EHR, records can be retrieved for patients and providers at thousands of offices around the country. I might move to St. Louis, but with a click of a mouse, records from my former dental practice could be sent to my new dentist.
Not so fast.
Larry Emmott, whose Phoenix office specializes in technology solutions for dental practices, underscores all the ways a paperless office can benefit — more complete records, easy access to records and digitized films, more quality time with patients — but he explained that the prospect for “portable records” is years off.
The federal government is the driver of EHR for medical records (think Medicare and Medicaid) so that recordkeeping will be standardized, but there is no similar push at this time to include dental records, despite the growing recognition that oral health is part of overall health. For dentists, patient record formats are in the hands of big dental technology companies that have not arrived at a standardized format, Dr. Emmott said.
And, in case it’s not obvious, each company develops its own proprietary software, making records unreadable from one system to another. Even records from the same system may not transfer cleanly because of client tweaking, Dr. Emmott said. That could well limit Dr. Buchanan’s hope of shared clinical data, as well.
Dentists and their representatives (like the ADA) can — and should — take a more active role in influencing the outcome on shared, paperless records, or it will be done for them eventually, either by the government or for-profit tech companies.
There are still big internal management advantages to dental offices going digital, but for now the promise of portable records is unfulfilled.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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