Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Give Your Hygienists Tools for Success

Hygienists play an important role in a practice. They can be an asset as producers for the office. As office managers, if we can give the hygienists tools to be more efficient with the software, they could have more time to spend on patient care, explaining treatment, and ultimately creating more production for the practice.

During the patient’s appointment, there are certain tasks we expect a hygienist to perform. One important task is to chart the patient’s existing restorations and treatment plan procedures. Having a hygienist chart and treatment plan effectively can help the front office create a treatment plan to present to the patient. I think it can be helpful for the hygienist to chart and enter treatment in the operatory, that way the front office team has an opportunity to review the patient’s treatment plan before the patient comes up front.

Here are a couple of ways to help your hygienist chart and treatment plan more effectively.


  1. Procedure Buttons
    Procedure buttons can save the team so much time when they’re charting. Think of these buttons as short-cuts. Instead of having to scroll through procedure categories to search for a specific procedure code while they have a patient in the chair, it’s much faster to select an icon from the procedure buttons list.
    As an office manager, you may be very familiar with the ADA codes and where to find them, but typically hygienists are not. Procedure buttons can help hygienists to select the correct code for the procedure. I’ve seen offices chart a crown code for the wrong type of material because the hygienist wasn’t familiar with the ADA codes. Creating procedure buttons can help to decrease these types of errors.

    In Dentrix you can create a customized set of procedure button
    that works for your office. Once you’ve created the customized buttons your office uses the most, they are accessible from any workstation in Dentrix, meaning the team can chart existing restorations or treatment plan procedures quickly.

  2. Auto-State Button 

  3. The Auto-State button in the Patient Chart provides a fast and convenient way to chart procedures. The hygienist can chart multiple procedures that will have the same status (treatment plan, existing, existing other) using less mouse clicks.
    To use the Auto-State button, choose the light switch icon in the Patient Chart and then choose the procedure status, for example, EO (existing other). Dentrix puts a box around the selected status. Once activated, all the procedures you chart will be assigned this status.

    Think of the Auto-State button like the Caps Lock button on your keyboard. Once you turn it on, all the letters you type are capitalized. Similarly, once the Auto-State button is turned on, all the procedures you chart will be assigned to the selected status.

    During Dentrix training I suggest to hygienists they use the Auto-State button. It’s especially beneficial for new patients. They can use the Auto-State to chart all the patient’s existing restorations, then switch to the treatment plan status when the doctor comes in to do the exam.


  4. Probing ShortcutsAccurate probe depths are an important part of the patient’s record. Regular probing is important to catch signs of periodontal disease. Many offices have their hygienist probe patients once a year. Here are a couple of tips to share with your hygienist that can make the process of probing quicker. 
    Many hygienists use the number pad on their keyboard to chart probe depths. They can also use the keyboard to chart, bleeding, suppuration, and bone loss. When the cursor is on the tooth and surface they want to chart bleeding for, they simply need to press B on the keyboard (and S for suppuration and L for bone loss). Using the keyboard saves the hygienist from having to switch from the keyboard to mouse, which saves time when periodontal charting.

  5. Clinical Note Templates
    Using clinical note templates when writing notes is a huge time-saver. My favorite part about using templates is that they are completely customizable. They can be as detailed (or not) as you want them to be. Using clinical note templates ensures that all the clinical notes for a procedure are consistent throughout the office. That way you can be sure the clinical notes your doctor wants are included.

    For more information read this Dentrix Tip Tuesday post: Adding Clinical Notes using Templates and Prompts.
Hygienists are producers for the office. If we can give them ways to use Dentrix more efficiently and save them time, they can spend more time on patient care discussing procedures that can profitable for the office.  If you have questions on this topic or others, please e-mail me at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.


Charlotte Skaggs, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner. Charlotte has been using Dentrix for almost 20 years and is a certified Dentrix trainer. Contact Charlotte at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Questions To Ask When Scheduling an Emergency Appointment

Dental emergencies are always going to happen. How we handle scheduling those patients can dictate the entire day for the office.




For example, I visited an office recently where the doctor had four patients scheduled back to back for an emergency exam and X-ray. He only had 30 minutes scheduled for each of these emergency patients. One patient needed an extraction and two others needed a root canal. He didn’t have enough time to treat the patients within the 30-minute appointment and they had to be scheduled for another day. It was a stressful situation for the doctor, frustrating for the patients, and unproductive for the office.

I’ve found that if you ask certain questions when scheduling an emergency appointment, you can schedule an appropriate appointment length.

For example, if a patient has a broken crown, chances are they’ll need a new one. If you schedule enough time to do the new crown that day, the patient doesn’t have to come back for a separate appointment, and the office increases production.

Here are some of the questions you can ask a patient on the phone to better plan for their emergency visit. While I would never suggest trying to diagnose a patient over the phone, you can ask certain questions to give your clinical team more information and be better prepared.



  1. What type of symptoms are they experiencing and are they in pain?
    I would always schedule a patient who’s in pain the day they called. But often when they call, they aren’t in pain, for example they may have chipped a tooth. If they’re not in pain, it’s not a true dental emergency. I may try to schedule the patient the next day or at a time that is more convenient for the office.

  2. Is the pain constant? And is there sensitivity to hot or cold?
    These questions can help you determine if it may be an endodontic situation. If you refer out for root canals, it may be a good idea to find out what availability the endodontist has.

  3. How long has the tooth been bothering them? Where is tooth located?These questions give the clinical team an opportunity to look at the patient’s chart and X-rays ahead of time to be better prepared.

  4. If a crown came off, do they have the crown? Is the crown broken or intact?
    This helps to determine if it will be a re-cement or new crown and can help you gauge the amount of time to schedule.

  5. How old is the crown?
    This gives the administrative team an opportunity to research the patient’s insurance replacement periods.

  6. Did the tooth have a root canal?
    If an endodontically treated tooth is broken it may not be restorable. This may result in the patient needing to have the tooth extracted, so you can schedule the appointment length accordingly.

Asking these types of questions up front when the patient calls can be a little more time consuming, but it saves time and stress when the patient is in the office. I think it’s important to be as prepared as possible when treating patients. Getting more information from the patient helps the front office team and the clinical team provide the best treat possible to the patient. Document the information you gather during the phone call in the Office Journal so that each member of your team can access the information when they need it. 

If you have questions about this or other topics, please email me at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.


Charlotte Skaggs, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner. Charlotte has been using Dentrix for almost 20 years and is a certified Dentrix trainer. Contact Charlotte at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Scheduling Patients with Outstanding Treatment - Beat the End of Year Rush

Now that we’re headed into fall, it gets me thinking about all the things that need to be done at the office before towards the end of the year. There’s always a push at the end of the year for those patients who want to get treatment done that the doctor diagnosed months ago, and patients who want to use their outstanding insurance benefits before they renew in January.

This can be a very productive time for the office, but also a stressful one. You must find appointment times for all these patients. I recommend that you start scheduling those patients now. That way you can control the flow of your schedule. You can spread the patients out over the next few months, instead of trying to jam them all in December. December tends to be a shorter work month with the holidays and many patients will be out of town. It’s more beneficial for your practice to start scheduling these patients now, in the fall.

You can find all the patients with outstanding treatment in the Dentrix Treatment Manager. The Treatment Manager is available from both the Appointment Book and the Patient Chart.


The Treatment Manager allows you to generate a list of patients that have outstanding treatment plans through filter options.



I like to generate a list of patients that is filtered by procedure code range. This allows me to search for a specific procedure codes like a crown or bridge and get an idea of how many patients have those procedures treatment planned, but not scheduled. Another reason I would search for a crown or bridge is because those procedures take two appointments two weeks apart. Many insurance companies pay based on the seat date so it’s important to get both appointments completed before the insurance renews.

Another useful filter is a minimum treatment plan dollar amount which can help you find high production cases. High production cases will result in higher revenue for the practice, so I like to contact those patients first.

You could also use filters to view only patients whose insurance renews in January. These patients are going to be motivated to schedule an appointment before their insurance renews on January 1st.

Once you have set your filters and generated a list of patients, you can display the insurance benefits each patient has remaining, letting you know which patients might be more likely to schedule. 

The Show Columns option allow you to choose which type of information is displayed for each patient. For example, if you wanted to contact patients with treatment plans and outstanding insurance benefits, I would recommend viewing columns for: 
  • Patient Name
  • Last Treatment Plan Date - shows you the last date treatment was diagnosed.
  • TP Total Amount - allows you to see the total amount, so you can contact the higher production treatments plans first.
  • TP Dental Ins Estimate - shows you the estimated insurance portion of the treatment plan. You can use this to educate your patients. For example, I could explain to a patient that the estimated insurance portion for the treatment plan is $1000. If the patient doesn’t use that benefit before January 1st, they will lose these benefits.
  • TP Patient Estimate - gives the patient portion of the treatment plan.
  • Pri Dental Ins Benefits Rem - shows the amount of primary insurance maximum remaining.
  • And if your office accepts secondary insurance benefits, you could also view Sec Dental Ins Benefits Rem as one of your columns.

Once you have the list of patients that fit the filtering criteria you’ve set, it’s nice to have all this information in front of you so you can answer any questions they have regarding their treatment plan when you contact the patient. The Treatment Manager also allows you to select a patient’s name on the list and go directly to other Dentrix modules like the Patient Chart, so you have easy access to their clinical notes if the patient asks you a clinical question. 

By starting this process now, using the Treatment Manager to filter patients who have outstanding treatment plans and whose insurance renews in January, you can contact patients and explain to them the advantages of using their insurance benefits before it renews.  By starting early, you have more control of your schedule, and can spread the production out over the next few months instead of trying to squeeze all the patients in December. If you have questions about the Treatment Manager please email me at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.


Charlotte Skaggs, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner. Charlotte has been using Dentrix for almost 20 years and is a certified Dentrix trainer. Contact Charlotte at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The New Patient Phone Call

When a new patient calls to schedule an appointment, I recommend getting as much information on that initial phone call as possible. I’ve found that this can help to provide the most comprehensive care to the patient at their initial appointment.

Here are some questions I like to ask a new patient on the phone and why:


  1. "How did you hear about our office?"
    This one’s easy. Tracking referrals can help the practice decide where best to spend advertising dollars. For example, if we placed an ad in a magazine, what was the return on investment? Internal marketing can also be beneficial for the office. Track which patients are referring their friends and family. Send them a thank you note. Some offices give a small gift or offer free teeth whitening to the patient with the most referrals.
    You can track referrals in Dentrix by entering in the Referred By source in the New Patient Information window in the Appointment Book.


  2. "When was the last time you had your teeth cleaned?" This helps to determine several things. If the patient had their teeth cleaned six months ago, it’s likely they will just need a prophy and not periodontal treatment. This helps to know how much time to allow for their appointment. Also, the patient may have had X-rays taken recently at their last dental office that can be transferred to your office.
    If it’s been ten years since their last cleaning, the patient may need scaling and root planing or more extensive periodontal treatment and the hygienist and doctor can be better prepared for that patient.
    Also, this question typically gives the patient an opportunity to tell you about their attitude toward the dentist. For example, they may say something like, “It’s been ten years since I had my teeth cleaned. I’m afraid of the dentist.” This lets you know up front that the patient has a fear and may require a little more TLC.

  3. Medical history questions such as: "Do you have any replaced joints? Do you have any heart problems like Mitrovalve Prolapse?"
    Getting this information ahead of time can help the office determine if this patient may have a need to pre-medicate prior to dental appointments. This avoids having to delay or reschedule the appointment which is annoying for the patient and lost production for the practice.

  4. What type of dental insurance do you have?
    There are so many types of insurance plans. It can be hard for dental professionals to keep up and understand all the requirements, let alone the patient. I recommend verifying a patient’s dental insurance benefits before they come to your office. This way you can find out if the patient’s plan allows them benefits at your office before they arrive for their appointment.

I’ve found spending the time to get this information before the patient comes to the office makes the patient’s new patient appointment go more smoothly. By asking these types of questions you can avoid the problems that may delay or cause the office to have to reschedule the patient’s appointment.

If you have questions or if you would like an example of a new patient call-in sheet, please e-mail me atvectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.



Charlotte Skaggs, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner. Charlotte has been using Dentrix for almost 20 years and is a certified Dentrix trainer. Contact Charlotte at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Dentrix G7 Health History - My Favorite New Feature

Dentrix G7 is here and it is awesome! It includes some exciting new features. One of my personal favorites is the new Dentrix Health History.

In previous versions of Dentrix we had medical alerts that could be edited in the Family File. Dentrix G7 has replaced medical alerts with a Health History module which is still accessible through the “red cross” button throughout Dentrix.

The new Dentrix Health History is much more comprehensive than what we had in the past. My favorite part of the Dentrix Health History is the ability to inactivate medical conditions. This is such a great improvement because you will have a comprehensive list of a patient’s past and present medical conditions. It’s important to have an accurate medical history for patients so that the doctor can see if the patient has a condition that could cause a contraindication with the treatment they are providing or a drug they are prescribing.

When you add a medical condition for a patient, you have the option to enter a both a reported date (when your practice became aware of the condition) and a start date (when the condition started) for the condition.


For example, if a patient has gestational diabetes, you can add that medical condition to their health history, with the start date of when they were diagnosed.

Then, once the condition has been resolved, you don’t want to simply delete the medical condition from their health history. It’s important for offices to keep a record of these medical conditions even if they no longer apply because they are a part of the patient’s medical record. Similar to when we had paper charts, we always wrote in pen, never pencil and we would never erase anything that was written in the chart.

With Dentrix G7, you can inactivate a medical condition, and doing so you still have a record that the patient had this medical condition in the past. If the condition were to reoccur, or a subsequent condition were to develop, you would have the date the condition was initially reported to your office.

To inactivate a medical condition, in the Health History module, highlight the condition, and then click the Inactivate button from the toolbar.


A warning message appears, letting you know that you this action cannot be undone. Click Yes to continue and inactivate the condition. The current date will be listed as the inactivation date for the condition, but this can be edited if needed.

Now you can keep a truly accurate record of the patient’s previous and current medical conditions. You can quickly identify inactive medical conditions by looking at the Status column for the patient.
The Health History module is just one of several new features in Dentrix G7. For more information, you can watch the Dentrix G7 new feature preview video titled Health History.

If you have any questions, you can contact me at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.


Charlotte Skaggs, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner. Charlotte has been using Dentrix for almost 20 years and is a certified Dentrix trainer. Contact Charlotte at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Maximizing a Provider's Time in the Schedule

It can be difficult for a new front office team member to learn the ins and outs of scheduling. It can be even more challenging if they have limited dental experience. To effectively schedule patient appointments, it’s important to understand where the doctor and assistant are during an operative procedure.

Scheduling is such an important task in the dental office. I’ve seen offices that are very busy but unproductive. The goal is to maximize the doctor’s time and be as productive as possible.

In Dentrix you can schedule provider time and assistant time. This can help a new front office team member to understand where a doctor can be double-booked to maximize their schedule and where they can’t. Using this system can also help a new doctor to know where they need to be and when to effectively manage their time.

You can adjust provider, assistant, and chair time within a patient’s appointment.
When scheduling a new appointment select the search button (>) next to Appt Length in the Appointment Information window.



The Appointment Pattern Time window will appear.  Select the time units, then whether those time units should be designated as Provider, Assistant or Chair Time.



In this example, the fist 10 minutes of the appointment is designated as assistant time for the assistant to seat the patient and place topical anesthetic. The next 10 mins is designated as provider time for the doctor to anesthetize. The next 10 minutes is assistant time while the patient gets numb, and the final two 10 minute time frames are provider time for the doctor to perform the procedure.

Scheduling using dedicated time units allows the doctor to be most productive because instead of waiting for the assistant to finish their part of the procedure they can be working in another operatory. For example, doctor could anesthetize a patient in one operatory and while waiting for that patient to get numb, they can work on another patient. I’ve seen this work well in offices, especially during procedures that require a lot of assistant time, such as a crown prep. While the assistant is making the temporary, the doctor can work on another patient in another operatory to be most productive. Time is money as they say, so it’s important for dental offices to be as productive as possible.

Time units dedicated to a provider (X) can’t be booked in more than two appointments at a time. This eliminates the doctor being booked in more than two operatories at once.

Not only can you can adjust appointment time patterns within an individual appointment, but you can also set them for specific procedure codes, so they will be pre-set when you are scheduling an appointment for that procedure code in the future.

Let’s take the crown code D2740, for example. In the Procedure Code Editor, you can select how the time units are set up for this procedure code.



Once you have allocated the Provider, Assistant, and Chair Time for the procedure, save your changes. And the next time you schedule that procedure for patients, it will be easy for your providers to know where they need to be, and you can better manage their time.

Scheduling appointments and properly assigning provider, assistant, and chair time can help the front office team to schedule more effectively. It gives them the ability to know where they can double-book a provider, and more importantly, where they can’t.

For questions on this topic or others, please email me at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.



Charlotte Skaggs, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner. Charlotte has been using Dentrix for almost 20 years and is a certified Dentrix trainer. Contact Charlotte at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Presenting Alternate Treatment Plans

When I was growing up, my dad worked for a company that produced high performance sports cars. The cars had a Lamborghini engine and cost about $200,000. My dad took me on a sales trip once that taught me a very valuable lesson. 

Two prospective buyers came to look at the car which we had brought to a high-end car dealership in Houston. The first prospective buyer was a well-dressed man with an expensive looking watch who already owned an earlier year model of the car. The second prospective buyer was a man in dirty overalls and a cowboy hat who drove a beat-up pickup truck. At the end of the day my dad asked me who I thought was going to buy the car. I answered naively, “The first man, he’s the one who can afford it.” 

My dad informed me that the man in the overalls was in fact one of the wealthiest land owners in Texas. That was a lesson in sales and about people in general that I have carried with me ever since. 

I’ve referred to that experience many times over my dental career. It taught me to never assume what a patient may want or be able to afford. It’s our job as the dental office to offer every patient all available treatment options. Present the cost for each treatment option and discuss the pros and cons. Allow the patient to make an informed decision about their dental care. 

The Dentrix Treatment Planner allows you to create different treatment options for a patient by creating multiple treatment cases. For example, a patient may have a missing tooth. They have several options to replace the missing tooth. A partial, a bridge, or an implant. When creating a treatment plan, I like to use the Treatment Planner Layout within the Patient Chart because it allows me to do multiple tasks from one screen. To switch to the Treatment Planner Layout, in the Patient Chart select the View Menu, then Chart Layout, then Treatment Planner.


First, you should treatment plan all of the options for the patient in the Patient Chart. These procedures will automatically go into the default treatment case in the Treatment Planner. The default case will be the one with the bold title.


Create a new treatment case by choosing the New Case icon in the Treatment Planner Case Setup panel. 



Click on the partial procedure within the default case, and drag and drop it into the new case folder. You can right-click on the word Treatment Plan next to the folder and select Rename Case. Rename this case “Partial”. 


Next create another new case and move all procedures associated with the bridge option from the default case to the new folder and rename it “Bridge.”

Repeat these steps for the remaining procedures associated with the implant option, renaming the new case “Implant.”

Dentrix gives the option to link these cases. Select the Link Alternate Cases icon on the tool bar and a menu will appear for you to choose which cases you want to link together.



When one or more cases are linked together, one of the cases is designated as the recommended case. The recommended case is shown with a yellow star on the link symbol. You can change the recommended case as needed by right-clicking any case, and then selecting Set as Recommended Case.

Once you have presented the options to the patient you can accept the patient’s chosen treatment plan. To accept a treatment case, select the folder and then click the Update Case Status button and choose the Accepted option. 



My favorite part about linking alternate cases is that when you accept one treatment case that is linked to other treatment cases, Dentrix will give you a warning message that this case is linked to others and it will automatically reject the other treatment options. Select OK to accept the selected case and reject the others.

Rejected cases no longer show in the graphic chart or in the treatment planner unless you check the box to include rejected cases. 



I like this feature because although we may not want to always view rejected cases, Dentrix has kept a record in the Patient Chart that additional options were presented to the patient. Rejected cases will not show on unscheduled treatment plan reports.

Linking cases is a great feature when presenting a patient with more than one treatment option.  If you have questions or comments on this topic, or any other, please E-mail me at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.



Charlotte Skaggs, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner. Charlotte has been using Dentrix for almost 20 years and is a certified Dentrix trainer. Contact Charlotte at vectordentalconsulting@gmail.com.