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What Makes Dental Laboratory Software Unique?

In recent years, many dental laboratories have begun their computer experience with the off- the- shelf software packages. These packages are generally for word processing and accounting. Many times they are bundled with the purchase of new computer equipment.


After a time, however, many laboratories find that these systems are not quite enough to handle the day-to-day information needs of running a dental laboratory and look to the software systems specifically designed for this industry. The features specific to this industry number in the hundreds and here are some of them.



Meeting the Doctor's Request

Meeting the doctor's request date is very important as this generally involves a patient's scheduled appointment for a return visit.


Some of the simple software systems have you take a look at the request date, figure out when you need to get the work done to get it back to the doctor on time and then simply enter that as the schedule date.


The more professional systems take into account many factors in addition to the doctor's request and then automatically schedule each case.

  • The typical time it takes to complete each task in the case
  • Your daily capabilities in each work center
  • Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, other non-work times
  • Adjustment for vacations, flu epidemics, etc.
  • How much work is already scheduled and completed
  • Difficulty factors, optionally used by some to fine tune schedules
  • The time needed to ship or deliver the case and
  • For rush situations, which cases have extra time and can be rescheduled.

From the case schedules, it is then possible to request due lists in a number of ways... what is due today or due tomorrow, what is past due, what is the workload for next week... so that all of the request dates can be met while minimizing the need for overtime. As an extra measure of security, lists can be provided to assure that all the doctor's request dates are being met. The master work schedules that are developed as part of this process also give you a nice history so that you can analyze how much work was actually accomplished in each work center in any given time period.



Call Doctor Lists

Automatic call lists provide a good checklist to make sure each doctor that requested a call or whose work can not be completed by the requested date is called.



Doctor's Materials

The doctor's materials enclosed with a case that are to be returned to the doctor need to be tracked. These are usually checked off from a master table at case entry and then printed on the work ticket so that the shipper can assure that everything that should be returned is sent to the doctor.


Return/Reactivated Cases

Return/reactivated cases are a normal part of dental laboratory operations as cases go out for try-in and adjustment and then are returned for the next procedure.


Laboratories practice a variety of billing methods for these... some do not bill until completed, some each step of the way, others get most of the billing out of the way at the early stages. It is important to have an accurate, easily accessible history of what has already been accomplished and what has been billed.


On-Hold Cases

On-hold cases are also a standard in laboratories for a variety of reasons... sometimes because the doctor did not send or do everything he should... sometimes questions need to be answered... sometimes there is a problem with money. As with try-in cases, these need to be tracked and monitored.


Patient/Case Histories

Patient/case histories need to be quickly accessed many times in the day... to see if the case was in the laboratory before... to see what has been accomplished and what has been billed... to lookup shades... to answer questions from the doctor.


The new systems will also provide a quick lookup to the prescription, related diagrams, photos and other documents related to the case that have been scanned into the computer. This has been made possible by a combination of improved graphics, dramatic reduction in the cost of scanning and storage equipment and highly reliable backup systems.


Document management on the computer will in the future replace the piles and piles of boxes most laboratories use to store prescriptions, work tickets and other case documents. Many hours of labor that now go into sorting and filing these documents and then retrieving (and re-filing) them will be saved as the computer stores the image and provides quick indexing and retrieval.


Until laws are changed, however, there may be a need to store paper documents for a limited period. These laws vary by state and province and it is best to check from time to time on whether electronic media can be substituted for paper or, if paper storage is required, and how long it must be kept. Generally, the paper documents can be bundled or placed in a folder by date with no need to sort and index. Should the original paper document be needed for legal purposes, the computer can find it in a variety of ways... by account, account/patient, case or invoice number... and let you know the date.



Following the Doctor's Instructions

Recording and following each doctor's instructions is another key ingredient in the success of laboratory. Instructions can be specific to:

  • A case
  • An item or work procedure
  • A work center or department and
  • General preferences

These instructions are communicated on the monitor screen or printed on work tickets and case reports.


For those who do not like to use the keyboard, voice recognition software is now available and capable of a high degree of accuracy. To do this, you speak at your normal rate into a microphone connected to the computer. You begin with a very large vocabulary already established in the computer and then add any special phrases or technical terminology that you need.


Tracking Cases/Productivity/Quality Control

Monitoring the work as each case moves through the laboratory is also unique. In many instances the number of items or procedures needed to track technician productivity and quality control are greater than the number that are billed. When you receive a call from the doctor's office, it is important to be able to check the case status quickly and accurately, to know which steps have been completed, by which technician and the date and time. This information becomes important again when measuring technicians productivity and when problems or questions arise on the case.


One of the most efficient ways to handle this is through printing barcodes on the work tickets corresponding to the work items and having these scanned when the work is accepted by a supervisor or quality control person. The use of barcodes provides a high degree of speed and accuracy and helps to prevent invalid and duplicate entries.


Scanning can be accomplished with wedge-type readers and wands that are connected between the keyboard and computer or by portable handheld readers that can be shared within the laboratory.



Customer Service

If you studied the habits of the most successful dental laboratories, judged not by size but by customer retention and profitability, one of the key reasons you would find for their success is excellent customer service. When we once asked the owner of one of the most prominent laboratories in the country why he felt he was so successful, he said the answer was simple: "give the doctor what is requested, when it is requested."


In addition to these two basics, the computer can help you to provide better service in many ways. Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Being able to answer questions quickly and accurately on cases in the laboratory and already shipped;
  • Customer alerts shown at appropriate times on the monitor can let everyone who should, know about any special requests or circumstances concerning the account;
  • Recording plans for specific cases,
  • Providing extra copies of invoices and statements, both current and history;
  • Flexibility in handling receivables,
  • Some accounts need to pay by invoice, some pay by statements, some want to use credit/debit cards, some are group practices needing central billing;
  • Pickup requests for local routes;
  • Special instructions for delivery;
  • Handling multiple office locations;
  • Use of multiple telephone, e-mail and internet numbers;
  • Fast and accurate retrieval of histories... for cases, invoices, statements, and marketing information;
  • Contact logs, to help organize and track periodic communication and follow up with your accounts to make sure they are happy with your services and that there are no problem issues brewing
  • Newsletter and other written communication to keep your accounts informed on the latest laboratory techniques, new services that you offer, seminars and workshops.

A New Look

If it has been awhile since you took the time to review what the computer can do to help you in the day-to-day operation of your business, you may want to check with the software development houses that specialize in dental laboratories to see what is new. There have been tremendous advances in equipment as well as software that are worth a new look.


© Elaine P. Whelan
As published in the Journal of Dental Technology.




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"It is very easy to use....I love it!"

Becca Campbell
Root Dental Laboratory
Kansas, USA

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