3 patient registration options

2015 10 06 14 05 18 283 Cockerell Todd 200

The first step for every dental office in treating its patients is the registration process. Doing this well is important for the patient and the practice. A number of different methods can be used to register patients. That some are better than others goes almost without saying.

However, the question for the thoughtful practitioner remains: Can software advances improve the task of registering patients into the office?

There are three basic registration methods: paper, PDF forms, and online systems.


Tom Cockerell Jr., DDS, is the CEO of Dental Symphony.Tom Cockerell Jr., DDS, is the CEO of Dental Symphony.

Many offices still rely on patients filling out paper forms, but significant challenges arise when using paper registration forms:

  • Time to complete per patient -- patients have to arrive early and handwrite all of their information.
  • Staff time and effort to transfer/manage/locate can be significant.
  • Updating patient information requires wholly new forms to be completed.
  • Clinicians often must further interview patients for details about their medical conditions and also look up drug descriptions.
  • Keeping paper records has the potential for loss of information, and there's no encryption or security for the data.

PDF forms

PDF forms are a step up from paper, but only a small one in that patients still need to print out and complete the forms in many instances. Completing forms at home might be easier than in the office, but patients must remember to bring them to their appointment. And the issues listed above still exist.

“Can software advances improve the task of registering patients into the office?”

Some PDF forms can be made "active" in which patients can type their information in on a computer or electronic device, but that only helps the staff avoid having to decipher handwriting. These forms must be printed and received by the office as paper anyway, because sending by email is risky for HIPAA compliance. In my experience, PDF forms are not a significant improvement over paper forms, because all they do is move the paper problem back a step in the process.

So the question becomes: Will paper and PDF continue to be the standard for gathering information from patients? Most businesses today look for ways to expedite registrations and other transactions using online functionality. Eventually, you will consider paper forms quaint.

Online registration

An online registration portal allows patients to submit information digitally, which is usually received before the appointment. While this is a step above the other methods, it is not without limitations:

  • Not all registration portals are created equal; some are more usable than others, and also there may be some limitations on their ability to be customized.
  • There may be limits on how long information is stored or how many patients can use it.
  • There may be HIPAA issues if the system is not secure.
  • Some systems do not integrate into other software or allow for easy transfer of data.
  • The average online registration portal doesn't provide any higher quality of information. They still require clinicians to spend time analyzing the patient profile to determine if standard procedures need to be modified.
  • The dentist and staff must search for accompanying drug, medical, and alert information.
  • Staff must ask follow-up question to get details.

Which one should you use?

Any of the three options presented can be used depending on the preference of the dentist and needs of the practice. Are there bottlenecks or delays in moving patients into care that could be rectified by simply implementing a different registrations system? Consider your patient demographic range, your office computer setup, and the competence of your staff as you determine which is best for you.

Tom Cockerell Jr., DDS, is in private practice in Fort Worth, TX. He is the CEO of Dental Symphony.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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