Colorado law requires dental providers to maintain patient files for at least 7 years after the patient is last seen in the office. Due to storage limitations, we periodically destroy dental records of patients we have not treated in 7 years or longer. This summer, we will be destroying dental files for patients who have not been treated at our office since 2014, except that in the case of minors treated at our office, we will not destroy records if they are currently under age 25. If you are an inactive patient who has not been seen at our office since at least 2014, but would like copies of any records we might have, please contact our office at your earliest convenience. If you are a current patient, there is no need to contact our office. Thank you!
Celebrating and Saying “Good-bye 2020”
We decided to really celebrate and say “good-bye 2020” by going all out on a pepper steak dinner. The picture above is the flambé with cognac step. We enjoyed every yummy bite and toasted to a better 2021.
It has been a year of challenges and worries. Our office was closed for 6 weeks from mid-March to the beginning of May. And we are lucky. Some businesses are still operating under extreme restrictions even today. It is our sincere hope that with the advent of vaccines, 2021 will see a return to normalcy, especially for small businesses and restaurants.
Changes That Are Here to Stay
Following the onset of Covid-19, we instituted several changes at the office. One you have probably noticed is the use of face shields during aerosol creating procedures. While we used several tools to minimize aerosol spread before, a face shield can provide another level of protection for our staff.
Another change is the way we screen patients. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to use a Covid Questionnaire and take temperatures of all visitors to the office. And, whereas before we would sometimes treat patients with cold type symptoms, we will continue to ask those feeling unwell to reschedule appointments.
Due to public health orders mandating the use of Covid Questionnaires, we became overwhelmed with paperwork after reopening the office. That prompted research into paperless forms – which can be filled out via computer or smart phone. These forms are saved on a secure cloud server. We receive a notification that a new form is available. We can then review and download the form(s) into our practice management software, thus skipping the manual entry of data and scanning of forms. Feedback from patients has been almost uniformly positive (yes, some patients would prefer to never update information…). The system is easy to use, quicker than filling out paper forms, and can be done at a patient’s convenience prior to an appointment. This saves both our staff and our patients time in the office.
Many of you already know that long-time hygienist Lee Ann has transitioned to a part time schedule. She is currently in the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays. We were lucky to find new hygienist Stephanie, who has been a welcome addition to the staff. And, patients will also continue to see hygienists Judy and Jane on their days in the office. We will take a new group photo of our staff once restrictions on masks and social distancing are lifted.
Things that Never Change
We will always appreciate the professional relationships and friendships we have developed with so many you after years of seeing you in the office. We will continue to strive for excellence in the dentistry we practice and to provide our patients with the best dental care possible.
Welcome to Online Forms
Many patients are familiar with our practice communications system that sends automated appointment reminders and other communications. Over the past couple of weeks, we tested a new feature of this system – Online Forms. This picture is a screenshot of what you see when you access the forms link on a phone.
Post-Covid Paper Stacks
Every month since April, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment issues Public Health Orders (PHOs) governing dental offices. All PHOs to date require pre-screening for dental patients, hence, many of you have received phone calls from our office prior to appointments. And, if you’ve visited the office, you’ve had to fill out our Covid-19 Questionnaire each time you visit.
Online forms allow you to click a link in an email or text appointment reminder and quickly fill out a secure online questionnaire. We receive a notification that a form is ready for review. After review, we can sync it with our practice management software for automatic updating of information. Finally, the system saves a copy of the form in a patient’s file. Prior to this, patients filled out paper forms, we input the information into our system, and then scanned and saved a copy of the paperwork before shredding the paper copy. This new system saves time both for us and for you, and significantly cuts down on paper usage at the office.
Updating General Paperwork Using Online Forms
It is important for dental/medical offices to periodically update patient information such as medical histories and contact information. Currently patients receive emails and texts the week prior to appointments notifying them of the need for this information. These notifications now include a link to our online forms. We still have options for patients to fill out hard copies of this paperwork at home prior to their appointments. These forms, found at albersdental.com/forms, include General Information, Medical History, and Notice of Privacy Policies – Permissions and Patient Acknowledgement.
Because our initial test of the online forms proved so successful, we added an iPad to our check-in options. Michele accesses our daily schedule, identifies the appropriate patient, and then identifies the forms to be updated. Information in our system automatically populates the form so that only changes need to be made. The system is HIPAA secure – the patient is locked into his/her forms, only, and the information can only be retrieved when we enter a code. The completed forms then sync into our system, providing a paperless way to update necessary information.
Feedback Requested and Welcome
As with any new system, there are hiccups and bumps in the road. We have already received valuable feedback from patients about the system. We welcome that going forward.
Welcome Stephanie, our New Dental Hygienist
We are excited to welcome a new dental hygienist, Stephanie, to the practice! Stephanie will be working three days a week and is looking forward to getting to know our patients.
Long time patients know we have very little turnover with our staff. This allows our office to develop relationships with patients over many years. For the last several years, Lee Ann, our full-time hygienist, as well as Jane, Judy B. and Judy A have comprised our hygiene team. Lee Ann has been at our office for 22 years, and Jane first worked with Dr. Albers (and assistant Susan) at his first dental position, back in 1987. Judy B and Judy A are more recent additions, both bringing significant experience to the office. Between Lee Ann’s schedule, the regular days worked by Jane and Judy B, and Judy A’s several days per month, we were averaging a little over 6 days of hygiene during our 4 day work week.
Earlier this year, Lee Ann indicated that after 43 years as a full time hygienist, she was ready to think about cutting back her schedule. And Judy A, whose husband recently retired, indicated that she wanted to move to a position of filling in when she’s needed and available rather than scheduling set days each month. While the COVID shutdowns sent many plans into a pause for 6 weeks, our hygiene staff was reaching out to fellow hygienists about someone who might be a good fit for our office. Through the grapevine, staff members who knew a former dental hygiene school classmate of Stephanie’s learned she was interested in making a change. After discussions and observing Stephanie in the office, we knew she would be a great addition.
New Hygiene Lineup
Having Stephanie on staff, working three days a week, will allow Lee Ann to cut back to two days per week. Jane and Judy B will continue to work their regular Tuesday/Thursday schedules. Altogether, this gives us an extra day of hygiene each week (7 instead of 6). Considering all the hygiene appointments cancelled during the shutdown, this will help us move more quickly through the backlog of cleaning appointments.
We appreciate all of our patients, and appreciate that you trust us with your dental care. We are looking forward to introducing you to Stephanie so that you can see for yourself what a great addition she is to our team!
Reopening After COVID-19 – Slowly But Surely
It hasn’t been a smooth process, partly due to conflicting information coming from the state. However, we are open with all staff members now scheduling to see patients.
First Delay in Reopening After Covid-19
We were initially notified by the state that dental offices could reopen on April 27, hence, the title of our last blog post. Unfortunately, in the middle of a meeting at the office on Friday, April 24 to review new procedures and protocols, DORA notified dental providers that they could not open pending further guidance from the governor. That finally arrived on the evening of April 28, but the guidance was so confusing, a modified Public Health Order had to be issued a week or so later. We are now in the newest phase of reopening, with yet more confusing guidance in an updated PHO issued at the end of May.
In our last blog post, we described what to expect when you come to the office. A big concern is that with offices reopening, we’ll see a spike in new COVID-19 cases. To guard against this, we currently pre-screen all scheduled patients prior to their arrival at our office. And, we take everyone’s temperate when they first arrive.
We have really appreciated the patience of our patients! From taking time out of busy days to answer screening questions prior to coming to the office, to not being able to see our staffs’ smiling faces behind facemask, everyone has been very accommodating. In fact, we have noted a real relief among patients that they are finally able to get out and attend to everyday tasks – such as routine dental care.
Newest CDC information
Several of us watched a webinar from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reviewing their interim guidance for dental offices. Importantly, CDC experts relayed that to date, there have been no documented cases of COVID-19 transmission in a dental setting. Some dental office employees have contracted the virus. However, CDC investigations have shown that none of these cases are associated with work in the dental office. It is suspected that the virus was circulating prior to shutdowns. This suggests that routine infection control processes followed by dentists – even before enhanced procedures were implemented – makes it difficult for the virus to be transmitted during dental care.
One difficulty for non-front-line health care providers has been getting adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE includes things like masks and gloves. Following the outbreak, state and national associations started recommending the use of face shields during dental procedures. With equipment being diverted to those areas experiencing significant outbreaks, a lot of PPE has been on back order. Local businesses stepped up to the plate to help, including a local plastics company. They gave health care providers 10-packs of face shields. The picture above shows Susan modeling one. We really appreciate businesses and individuals who reached out to help others in the community.