Sandy Cove Dental Care in Co. Dublin is a busy mixed family practice which was taken over by Dr Garry Heavey in 1985.  Garry has two expense sharing partners Dr Sean Malone and Dr Ciaran OhUiginn, an associate Dr Lorna McCourt and two hygienists.  In this article Garry talks about taking the difficult decision to change from paper records to computerisation, but how this has transformed his practice from both a patient experience and business perspective.

Our decision to computerise came about because we realised that the administrative side of our practice was becoming a considerable burden. Having to find and pull out up to 100 patient records every day then having to put them all back, whilst at the same time trying to manage four dentists and our hygienists’ appointment books – not to mention our patients, was overwhelming the whole team.

Even though several members of the clinical team were well into their 50s, myself included and none of us had any experience of using IT in our business, we decided that we needed to finally engage with the world of computerisation. We realised that we were likely to have far less value as a business when we finally came to sell if we allowed ourselves to get too far behind with modern technology.

The transfer from paper records to EXACT, whilst it did require a fair amount of planning, was remarkably straightforward and thanks to the comprehensive training from Software of Excellence everyone in the practice learnt to use the system relatively easily. It was far more efficient to be finally able to integrate patient photos and x-rays with computerised patient notes at the touch of a button. We had done away with paper records and made all our lives considerably easier.

From a patient perspective, we can now let them see their intraoral photographs and x-rays immediately, so we can explain treatment options to them far more clearly. Patients are impressed that we are keeping up with technology. We have become far more efficient, from the very first phone call – finding appointments and subsequently sending automated text messages or email reminders. Sending reminders direct from EXACT has led to a significant reduction in missed and forgotten appointments.

From a business perspective (and this was very important to us) EXACT enables us to produce reports on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, enabling us to analyse important details about our business, such as the percentage of chair occupancy, hourly rates, our appointment management and how patients are responding to recalls. This in turn has allowed us to run the business far more effectively and plan appropriately going forward.

For clinicians of my generation, it can be a fear of the unknown and a reluctance to change from tried and trusted manual processes that inhibits us from moving to an effective practice management system.

Over the years a number of colleagues who were planning to retire have sought my advice. Most of these practices have had cupboards full of paper records and have asked me about the move to computerisation and the value it adds. In my opinion, the value of a business is often undermined precisely because it is so hard to evaluate. In contrast, if a potential buyer wanted to estimate the value of our practice we can produce evidence of our performance and the patient demographics. This is particularly reassuring when looking ahead to retirement and the potential sale of the business in years to come.

I believe that having a computerised practice management system is essential to the efficiency and profitability of a modern dental practice. I cannot recommend EXACT and Software of Excellence highly enough and to any practice still struggling with paper records or still debating whether a practice management system is right for them, I would say wholeheartedly “make the move”.