Summary: For many years, large dental organizations have relied on outside dental laboratories for a variety of fabrications, restorations and other services. As today’s digital dentistry landscape continues to mature and become more complex, some dental institutions are obliged to work with dental labs differently. Here’s a closer look at how they can achieve efficiencies, in an industry that is rapidly changing.
The dental laboratory landscape is rapidly evolving. Digital dentistry is on the rise, and the protection of electronic patient health information (PHI) is at the top of most decision makers’ lists. Many practitioners are seeking more “partner-centric” relationships with their labs, to provide products to assist in the provision of oral health care.
In North America, the dental lab industry is beginning to feel the effects of the Third Industrial Revolution (from Jeremy Rifkin’s 2011 book)1. They are seeing a consolidation of dental lab companies, a trend which began over the last several decades. The National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL) reported a 20 percent decline in the number of US dental labs. However, while the number of labs has decreased, the number of lab workers has not altered much. This is primarily the result of consolidation. As labs become larger, their case loads in turn increase. Traditionally, larger organizations are somewhat slower to react. With fewer labs to choose from, it’s important – particularly for large dental organizations with substantial numbers of patients – to find ways to polish and streamline the workflow of their dental lab orders.
Effective lab order management
It’s no secret that dental labs provide a crucial service for practitioners and their patients. Providers rely heavily on outside laboratories to provide a multitude of products and services. From crowns, bridges and dentures; to veneers, night guards and surgical stents.
It’s therefore equally important for large dental organizations, with perhaps hundreds or even thousands of patients, to properly manage the workflow of lab orders and cases. They need to ensure the work is accurate, efficient and cost-effective for their patients.
Traditionally, dental lab technicians follow prescriptions from licensed dentists when manufacturing these prosthetic and therapeutic devices. However, with a multitude of cases coming in from various sources, it’s theoretically easy to lose track of orders if the workflow procedures are not effectively managed.
The good news is that there are several ways large dental organizations can manage the processes. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Streamline workflows – avoid loss of paperwork
The goal here is to simplify and shorten the workflow process between the dental organization and the outside lab. This can be done by automating the process, thus avoiding manual paper-based methods and helping to prevent the loss of paper orders. For example, solutions such as axiUm eLab allow dental clinics to easily send cases electronically to external laboratories. This can help reduce the risk of lab cases being inadvertently misplaced on someone’s desk or lost in transit.
2. Accelerate the transfer of lab orders – save time
Processing cases electronically can accelerate the transfer of orders between dental clinics and labs. Bypassing wait times such as postal delays or avoiding expensive courier services can save large dental organizations valuable time. When institutions save time, they’re helping their patients receive needed care more quickly and ultimately improving patient outcomes.
3. Create approval procedures – improve accuracy
Another way to effectively manage workflows between dental clinics and labs is to create approval procedures. For example, with axiUm eLab, dental schools can allow faculty and other staff members to approve, reject or edit a student’s work before it’s sent to the lab. This allows them to prevent errors before reaching the lab, thus improving the accuracy of results for patients. In addition, it also gives instructors the opportunity to support learning outcomes, by allowing them to provide valuable feedback to students.
4. Control digital data sharing – protect PHI
As stated previously, the protection of patient health information (PHI) is at the top of many dental industry decision makers’ lists. Therefore, the ability to control how this PHI is electronically captured, stored, accessed and shared is critical. Solutions such as axiUm eLab allow dental organizations to create anonymized cases to share with outside laboratories. This means that lab staff can only see patient chart numbers, not names or other sensitive PHI. This control gives institutions the power to securely manage what digital PHI is shared with outside dental labs, essentially helping to protect their patients’ electronic health information.
A new axiUm plus module, axiUm eLab integrates with Henry Schein’s Digital Dental Exchange (DDX) software and allows dental organizations to create, approve, send, and track lab orders electronically. It works with DDX to allow clinics to create lab orders from axiUm and send them directly to the laboratory. Practitioners and other clinic staff can view and edit lab orders, as well as track and manage them directly from axiUm.
For laboratories that do not yet support electronic lab orders and DDX, eLab can work in conjunction with the current axiUm Lab Tracking module, allowing organizations to send paper labs when necessary.
As today’s digital dentistry landscape continues to mature, large dental organizations are compelled to work differently with outside dental laboratories. The dental lab industry is seeing a general consolidation of laboratory companies. Consequently, labs are increasing in size. This means that workflows between clinics and labs need to be effectively managed to ensure efficiencies and accuracies. Dental providers and lab technicians need to communicate and collaborate more closely. This should be done safely, without compromising the quality of lab work or the security of patient health information.
Solutions such as axiUm eLab can help large dental organizations automate the lab order process, by streamlining workflows between clinics and outside labs. Labs can set better expectations for product accuracies and turnaround times, which results in better patient outcomes. Even more significant, it gives institutions the ability to protect sensitive PHI.
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- Rifkin J. The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press; 2011.