Learn how patient pictures can help you avoid mistakes, protect your patients’ identities, and provide personal service to your patients.
If you work for a large dental practice or have ever trained a new front-desk employee, you know that recognizing patients when they enter your office can be challenging. Have you ever greeted a patient with a warm, “Hello Mrs. Donaldson,” only to have the patient respond with a cool, “the name’s Sharon Winkowski–I was in last week.” Of course you want to provide personalized service without having to ask patients (especially established ones) for their name. But with so many patients, how can you be certain you have the right name with the right face?
The Dentrix Patient Picture feature can help you solve this problem, and can also help you protect your patients’ privacy and detect and prevent identity fraud. This article reviews some of the benefits of storing patient pictures in Dentrix and offers a few tips to help you get started using this feature.
Benefits of Patient Pictures
Taking patient pictures and storing them with your Dentrix patient records provides several important benefits. For starters, it helps office staff (especially new staff) learn your patients’ faces before they arrive, so your staff can recognize patients instantly and provide more personalized service. Likewise, patient pictures can help prevent embarrassing mistakes with billing and recare scheduling during checkout.
Using patient pictures could help you avoid even bigger mistakes–those involving patient care. According to an article published in the June 26, 2012 issue of HIMSSwire, a news service covering healthcare issues, using patient photos in one hospital’s EHR system was shown to reduce the risk of putting an order on the wrong patient’s electronic chart. During the 15-month study where patient pictures were used, no patient whose picture was included in their EHR verification screen received unintended care because of an erroneous order in their chart. However, the same hospital reported that at other times when patient pictures were not always used, in almost all of their “near misses” a patient photo was not included. Daniel Hyman, the hospital’s chief quality officer, said, “I do think it’s the photos that made the difference.” While this study took place in a hospital, it’s not difficult to see how the findings can be applied in a dental office.
Storing photos of parents and guarantors in your Dentrix database can offer additional protection and peace of mind when providing dental care for children. For example, photographs make it easier for your staff to verify the identity of a parent or legal guardian who gives consent for treatment or who leaves with a child after an appointment.
Patient pictures can also provide some legal benefits. In the event of a lawsuit or fraud, patient photos can provide evidence to support your case. Identity theft has been on the rise in recent years, and it pays to protect your office and your patients. Consider a case that happened a few years ago in California where a woman used someone else’s identity and insurance information to receive over a thousand dollars’ worth of dental work. Fortunately, this particular dental office had been taking patient pictures and storing them in Dentrix. When the identity theft was eventually discovered and reported to police, who subsequently came to the dental office to investigate, office staff were able to provide an actual patient photograph of the person who committed the insurance fraud. The photograph was entered into evidence and used to help track down and prosecute the offender.
Taking patient pictures also allows you to spend a little extra time with new patients when they arrive for their first visit. This can help them feel like they’re forming a long-term relationship with you and your practice, which may help with patient retention.
These are just some of the ways you may find patient pictures to be helpful in your practice. If individuals or parents object to picture taking, respect their wishes and let them know you can always add a patient picture later should they change their mind. (Reassure your patients that their pictures will only be used for identity verification in the office and that you will never post them anywhere or use them without their consent.)
Using Patient Pictures in Dentrix
After you add a patient picture in Dentrix, you can view it by clicking the Patient Picture button on the toolbar in the Family File, Patient Chart, and Treatment Planner modules. The patient picture also appears in the More Information dialog box, which you can access by clicking the More Info toolbar button in the Family File, Appointment Book, Ledger, Patient Chart, Treatment Planner, Treatment Manager, Lab Case Manager, Document Center, and Questionnaires modules.
If you’re using Dentrix G4 Productivity Pack 7 or later, whenever you hover your mouse over an appointment in the Appointment Book, the Hover window displays the patient’s photograph along with other patient information. At the beginning of the day you can use the Hover window to quickly view the patient photos for all the patients on your daily schedule so you are familiar with them. Then as patients arrive for their appointments, you can glance at their photo in the Hover window again to make sure you have their name correct before you greet them.
Taking Patient Pictures
Before you begin taking pictures of your patients, take some test shots of coworkers. Use different camera settings, locations, and backgrounds to make sure you are capturing the best possible picture. You’ll want a high image quality that is consistent in all your patient pictures, so take some time to figure out how to best achieve that. You may want to select a location that is away from windows (especially east and west-facing ones), where sunlight, shadows, glare, and weather can produce inconsistent lighting. It’s best to choose a simple, non-reflective background, such as a wall with light-colored paint or wallpaper. If you use a camera flash and find that it is creating shadows on the wall behind your subject, you may want to point the flash up at the ceiling (if that is an option on your camera) or simply turn the flash off and experiment with more room lighting or a higher ISO (or ASA) setting on your camera.
To add patient pictures in Dentrix, with a patient selected in the Family File, Patient Chart, or Treatment Planner, click the Patient Picture button on the toolbar to open the Dentrix Patient Picture window. You can add a patient picture by acquiring it from a digital camera or webcam attached to your computer or by importing a file that you have copied to your computer from your camera’s memory card. To acquire an image from an attached camera, click the From Device button. If you have copied the images to your computer, click the Import from File button, navigate to the file, and click Open.
If you plan to take pictures on a portable digital camera and upload them to your computer later, make sure you record the patient names with the photo numbers from your camera so you don’t get confused about who is who after patients leave your office. You may want to maintain a picture log on a notepad or in a computer spreadsheet file until you’re ready to upload the pictures.
Once the image files are saved on your computer, you may want to rename the files to use the patients’ names, such as BrentCrosby.jpg. This can help with housekeeping later when you are no longer seeing certain patients in your office.
Most cameras take pictures using a 3:2 aspect ratio, like a 4” x 6” photograph. Patient Pictures look best in the Hover window when they are cropped to a square, as shown in Figure 2, so you may want to get in the habit of cropping all your patient pictures to a square. You can do this using the Patient Picture crop tool on the toolbar; however, this might be easier to do using Microsoft Paint (which is part of Windows). MS Paint displays the number of vertical and horizontal pixels in your crop area on the status bar, so you can crop your image to be the same size every time.
You can also make small image adjustments to your patient photos, if needed. Click the Image Adjustments button on the toolbar, make the desired adjustments, and click OK when finished. If you don’t like the changes, you can click Undo on the toolbar or press Ctrl+Z.
Over time you may end up with hundreds and thousands of patient images stored in your Dentrix database. Depending on your camera, camera settings, and other factors, these image files could be extremely large. Every time you back up or restore your Dentrix database, you will probably want to back up your patient picture files also, and that usually takes place over a network connection. For these reasons, it’s best to keep your patient picture file sizes as small as possible without sacrificing much image quality. Using MS Paint or some other image editing tool, you can resize your image to be about 30-50 percent of the original image size, which will produce a much smaller file size. (Cropping your image will also reduce its file size.) Taking time up front to reduce picture file size and define a standard process for your office can make a huge difference down the road when you’re backing up a few thousand pictures every night.
These are a few ideas to get you started using patient pictures in your office. Once you start and see the many benefits patient pictures provide, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
To learn more about patient pictures, see the “Patient picture overview” topic in the Dentrix Help.
By Roger Gagon, Senior Editor
Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Spring 2015