Professional Courtesy: Project Paperless: What’s Your Score? by Dr. Thomas Giacobbi

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Dentaltown Magazine

by Thomas Giacobbi, DDS, FAGD, editorial director, Dentaltown magazine

When dentists describe their offices as “paperless,” you can’t take the term too literally because this is a term with a multitude of definitions. They might use a computer to do scheduling and billing, but paper charts for treatment plans and progress notes. They might have progress notes in the computer, but still process paper checks from insurance companies or have patients complete a paper form when they come to the office for their initial visit.

No matter where you are on the paperless spectrum, I’ve devised a quiz to test your progress and generate your “to-do” list.

The test

Check the boxes if the item is true in your practice. Unchecked items become your “to-do” list.

My practice uses a digital camera or intraoral camera for patient photographs.
My practice uses dental practice management software.
My practice has a digital X-ray system.
My patient clinical charting and progress notes are completed in my practice management software.
My practice files more than 90% of our claims electronically.
My practice captures patient demographic information, as well as medical and dental history electronically.
My practice uses an electronic signature capture pad so patients can sign treatment plans, consent forms, HIPAA forms and their patient registration form.
My practice has a computer in every operatory.
My practice has an internet connection.
My practice has a system to digitize incoming letters from specialists, as well as dental records from other practices.
My practice is generating referrals “on demand” rather than filling out forms from a pad by hand.
My practice uses an automated system for confirming appointments and communicating with patients.

Where should you start?

You must draw a line in the sand and stop generating more analog information. Pick a date and make a commitment to implement the items on this list that you did not check. Don’t try to do everything at once; implement items in stages. Start with some of the easier tasks and build accordingly.

Next, you should consider how you want to convert your patients’ old records. For example, you might only want to scan the most recent copy of X-rays and store the others. The chances of needing the older ones again are slim. With a good sheet-fed scanner, you can scan all the paper documents in an old chart fairly quickly. When we eliminated paper charts, we simply scanned the charts of the patients coming in each day. In our case, we had used the computer for everything except the patient welcome form and signed treatment plans, so scanning was minimal. After six to eight months of scanning, the remaining charts were inactive patients. We placed those charts in separate storage boxes and scanned them when patients were reactivated.

If your team is frightened by the prospect of this daunting project, fear not. A local teenager or college student would be a great help with this project. Please share your thoughts online at I’m on Twitter @ddsTom, and email at



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