Judy the juggler: the digital dilemma

May 10, 2012
Dr. Larry Emmott says computers and technology are not just about machines and numbers; they are about people and solving real human issues. If your office is chaotic and you think you need to hire another person, give careful thought first to a digital computer system that can keep things streamlined and lift the burden from the front desk.

By Larry Emmott, DDS

Judy the juggler works the front desk for Dr. Paperman. The front desk is the data center of the office. The data is the charts, financial records, and the schedule. Traditionally we have managed all this paper data by grouping it in one place — the front desk. Here is how it works.

Dr. Paperman finishes a procedure and skates off to the next room. The patient wanders up to the front desk. Judy ignores him because she has no idea what needs to be done for the patient.

Finally Harriet, the assistant, brings up a paper chart with some scribbled notes. Judy tries to read the notes and determine what she needs to charge the patient. She thinks she has it right and starts to check him out.

They have a pleasant conversation; she takes a payment and then starts to make the next appointment when ... the phone rings. So she breaks off the one-on-one conversation and starts dealing with the person on the phone.

Harriet then rushes up and drops a form on the desk. “Call the lab; we have a pickup,” she says.

That reminds Judy she needs to give the doctor the message slip to call the lab back about Mrs. Pita.

The first phone call is about half done when ... another patient comes strolling up from the back. This second patient also needs to check out, make an appointment, and all the rest. The second patient waits, rocking to and fro, glancing at her watch behind the first patient who is listening to the phone conversation when ... the other line rings.

About that time Flossy, the hygienist, runs by and slaps a sticky note down on the pile: “Where are my supplies?”

Judy is into high juggle mode. How many items can she keep in the air? Oops.

Judy is conscientious, she loves her job, she loves the patients, and she thinks Dr. Paperman is the best. But she is totally stressed out and she feels horrible that things aren’t getting taken care of properly.

“Dr. Paperman,” she says, “I think we need to hire another front desk person. We are just too busy.”

“OK,” Dr. Paperman replies, “That may be a good idea.”

What Dr. Paperman hasn’t thought through is that hiring another person to work with Judy up front will cost him more than $50,000. That is $50,000 per year every year. Dr. Paperman will not just be paying another salary; he will have hiring and training costs. He will also have the ever-increasing costs of Social Security, insurance, workman’s comp, and all the other items that add to the base cost of a team member’s salary.

As an alternative, Dr. Paperman could invest a lot less than $50,000 a year in a computer system with computers networked in the treatment rooms, and Judy would be able to do her job faster and better without hiring another person.

Once you start using a digital system, the data center becomes the computer. Judy, Harriett, Flossy, and even Dr. Paperman can now access that data from anywhere there is a computer — from the front, from the treatment rooms, from the doctor’s office, or even from a different building. They no longer need to go to the front desk.

That means Flossy, the hygienist, can schedule her patient in her room before he even leaves. She can also go online to the supply company to make an order or to check on the status of an exiting order.

Harriett, the assistant, can enter exactly what was done in the treatment room before sending the patient up front to check out. In fact, Harriett could even make the next appointment and take a payment in the treatment room.

Dr. Paperman can check his email, see that the lab had a question, and set up a quick web conference. Using Skype or a similar video conference system, the doctor and lab technician can discuss the case using the chart notes, the lab Rx, photos, models, and real-time images.

Judy can answer the phone from the front as before. However, she can also answer it in the back or even at home working as a telecommuter.

Judy is no longer the juggler struggling to keep the office running. She can now be a true people person and devote herself to patient relations, practice development, and marketing.

Computers and technology are not just about machines and numbers; they are about people and solving real human issues. The future is coming, and it will be amazing!

Author bio
Dr. Larry Emmott is considered the leading dental high-tech authority in the country and has more than 30 years of experience as a practicing general dentist. He has addressed hundreds of professional groups, and has been a featured speaker at every major U.S. dental meeting. Since 2003 he has led an annual three-day CE adventure course “Technology on the Rocks” in Sedona, Ariz. He has been published hundreds of times in leading national dental magazines and journals. Dr. Emmott graduated from the University of Southern California Dental School in 1977. He is the founder and director of Emmott on Technology, LLC, a dental computer consulting company, and has been a pioneer in online publishing with his blog EmmottonTechnology.com. You may contact Dr. Emmott at [email protected].