Electronic and Telecommunications

 Practice Note

Electronic communications is the most important system in the dental office.

The vast majority of today’s patients will have done some form of electronic research before contacting the practice via telephone or electronically through the office website. Like it or not, this is where your office will have its one chance to make a positive first impression. Thus, communications management should not be entrusted to an inexperienced staff member. This responsibility should only be delegated to a person with a broad knowledge of dentistry and a high degree of self-confidence; he or she will be alert and able to make good decisions while possessing good verbal and written communication skills. Speaking with a smile in the voice, being enthusiastic, and having a cordial manner may not solve all problems automatically, but speaking with hostility or disinterest ensures that future communications with patients will be more difficult (Figure 10-1).

FIGURE 10-1 A voice that makes the caller feel as though a smile is coming through the receiver is a winning voice. (Copyright © 2014 Leaf, BigStock.com.)


image Practice Note

The majority of patients will have researched the dental office electronically before making contact.

Forms of Communications in Dentistry

Electronic telecommunications have grown and changed significantly in recent history. The term refers to the science and technology of communication that occurs via the electronic transmission of impulses by satellite, cable, telephone, radio, television, or computer. Wireless technology, or Wi-Fi, has enhanced the communications capabilities in the dental practice by providing the ability to eliminate bulky, sometimes hazardous cords or the need to be tethered to a desk. In a practical sense, electronic communications in a dental office refers to the different kinds of systems and communication that result from the use of them. It encompasses telephones, smartphones, mobile devices, websites, and a variety of ever-changing forms of social media. This chapter discusses the various types of communication hardware and how to manage communication using their capabilities for practice growth, profitability, and, of course, satisfied patients.


With the array of specialized telephone equipment now available, the dental staff can take advantage of state-of-the-art equipment to become more efficient. For a modest price, dental business owners can buy sophisticated telephone systems that can improve the productivity and profitability of their enterprise. Telephone companies and agencies are usually very eager to help businesses determine their needs for telephone equipment and to make recommendations. Various types of equipment can also be explored at product websites (e.g., www.att.com, www.panasonic.com, www.apple.com). The equipment and services described in the following list can also be useful to the dental office:

• Integrated business communication systems offer features designed for a small business such as a dental practice. A system like the one shown in Figure 10-2 automatically redials the last outside number dialed at the touch of a button; easily establishes a conference call with the conference button; and, on most system phones, allows voice dialing and talking without picking up the handset. It includes basic transfer and hold functions as well as the programming of multiple numbers to allow for the speed dialing of frequently called numbers. Information can be displayed in multiple languages such as English, Spanish, and French. An alternative version of this system provides most of the same features but includes multiple handsets with only one base charger. A dentist may believe that only a basic, traditional telephone is required; however, a versatile telephone system with the features described allows for the more efficient handling of the many telephone calls the office receives daily.
FIGURE 10-2 A basic, easy-to-use telephone system for a small business includes features such as a built-in speakerphone and a digital display for convenience as well as the ability to establish conference calls. (Copyright © 2014 Cflux, BigStock.com.)
• Communications can be improved between one area of the office or clinic and another through the paging and intercom features of this system. With single-button access, the person to be contacted can be reached quickly. Often the individual can answer intercom calls without touching the phone and creating infection control concerns or interrupting work.
• Computer-linked telecommunications systems allow businesses to manage incoming and outgoing calls, organize personal information, and store patient information (e.g., telephone numbers) in a database file that can be retrieved for autodialing. It also allows for the programming of phones from a computer database (Figure 10-3). With this type of computer/telephone integration, incoming calling information can be used to provide an automatic pop-up window on a personal computer that displays the caller’s database file; this allows the administrative assistant to greet the caller by name and to have detailed information readily available to answer the caller’s questions. This system brings the efficiency and productivity of advanced telecommunications technology to small and medium-sized businesses.
FIGURE 10-3 A telecommunications system linked to personal computers provides rapid access to patient data. (Copyright © 2014 Press Master, BigStock.com.)
• Cordless telephone systems provide an extended mobility range in the office (Figure 10-4). This allows staff members to leave the base station and communicate with other areas without having to use answering machines or voicemail or play telephone tag.
FIGURE 10-4 A cordless telephone system allows for extended mobility in the dental office. (Copyright © 2014 Monkey Business Images, BigStock.com.)
• A mobile or cellular phone (cell phone) is a portable communication device (Figure 10-5). When a dentist or staff member needs to maintain contact with a central location, cellular technology makes it possible to use a fully functional telephone. This technology breaks down a large service area into smaller areas called cells. Each cell is served by a low-powered receiver/transmitter. As the mobile caller moves from one cell to another, a switching office automatically moves the call in a corresponding fashion. The mobile telephone switching office communicates with a land-based subscriber to complete mobile calls to fixed locations that are serviced by telephone lines.
FIGURE 10-5 Smartphones allow dentists and staff members to communicate while outside of the dental office. (Copyright © 2014 Impak Pro, BigStock.com.)
• A hands-free telephone allows the administrative assistant to work on the computer, access records, or perform some other task while talking on the telephone. This time-saving device is becoming very popular in clinics and private dental offices. The concept of a hands-free system can be carried into other methods of communication (e.g., pagers, walkie-talkie types of systems), thereby allowing staff members to obtain messages from other areas of the office without using a keyboard or dialing system (Figure 10-6).
FIGURE 10-6 A hands-free telephone system allows the administrative assistant to perform other tasks while speaking on the telephone. (Copyright © 2014 Pic Hunter, BigStock.com.)

Selecting a Communications Carrier

When services are selected for an office or when an existing service is changed, consultation with a communications professional from the company responsible for service to the office may be required. Several factors should be considered before the purchase of a telephone system, including cost, flexibility, mobility, and future expansion. Before consulting with a specialist, it is wise to do a task analysis to determine present and future needs.

Generally cost is the primary factor when selecting a system. Today, hardware such as telephones and other equipment can be purchased at a variety of stores. However, be sure that the operating system purchased is from a reliable source that will provide support when needed. The equipment market is cost-competitive, but costs can vary considerably. Before selecting a system, examine the specifications carefully to determine the cost of the standard features and the cost of each of the optional features. In addition, be sure to consider the cost of operating and maintaining the system. A reliable system often saves money in future maintenance. In some areas, suppliers provide maintenance contracts as insurance for multiple service calls.

Flexibility should also be a major consideration. Expansion or updating of the communications system must be possible as the practice grows. The ability to move equipment between systems and facilities is also important.

Voice and data switching capabilities are important considerations. The dental office staff must be sure that a communications system can meet existing and future needs. For example, a system equipped with data-handling capabilities allows for data transmission and reception between users and equipment, such as computers linked to the system.

Telephone Features

As noted previously, telephones offer a multitude of features, from the very basic to the highly technical. The following sections describe some of the basic features.


The dentist may find the hands-free speakerphone feature very convenient. With most systems, with just a push of a button, the speaker’s voice is picked up by a microphone and then can be heard anywhere in the office. The handset need not be picked up, and the volume of the loudspeaker is adjustable. The speakerphone function can be canceled, even in the middle of a conversation, by picking up the handset. Speakerphones are particularly valuable for group meetings.

Voicemail Messaging.

Voicemail messaging, or phone mail, uses advanced recording and routing functions to combine the features of a telephone, a computer, and a recording device. This feature can be learned quickly, and it is simple to use. The only equipment needed is a touch-tone telephone.

Users of voicemail can dial their voice mailboxes at any time, regardless of the location. A caller may hear previously recorded messages or may leave a message with such options such as replaying the message, erasing it, adding to it, sending it by normal or urgent delivery, switching the call to another line, or having it directly recorded to a voice mailbox. Dental office applications include voice-recorded daily updates of office activities and directions to callers regarding ways to obtain emergency care.

The dentist usually decides which type of message service meets the particular needs of the practice. Alternatives to voicemail include an answering machine or service. At this point in time, most answering machines are built into telephones and function much like a voicemail system; messages are retrievable from outside of the dental office.

An answering service with operator-answered calls can be used when patients call after office hours, on weekends, or on scheduled days off. The answering service operator informs the caller where the dentist can be reached for emergencies or takes the information from the caller and then notifies the dentist. This type of service is frequently used in an oral surgery practice, in which the likelihood of emergencies is greater than in a general practice.

Regardless of whether a voicemail system or a separate automatic answering device is used, some basic courtesies must be observed:

• If an answering machine is used, turn it on before leaving the office.
• In the outgoing message, indicate that the caller has reached an answering system. Give the name of the office rather than the telephone number so that the caller knows she or he has reached the correct office.
• Give clear information about office hours or ways to contact the dentist.
• Ensure that the answering message includes specific information about emergency contacts.
• Make sure that the caller has adequate time to record a message.
• Arrange to have messages checked periodically by the dentist or a staff member if the administrative assistant is out of the office for a period of time.
• Upon returning to the office, check the calls on the voicemail.
• Take care of any necessary follow-up related to the recorded calls. Most systems allow the user to access the answering machine or voice mailbox to receive messages, even when he or she is off site.
• Update the outgoing message regularly.
• Do not leave nonprofessional messages that may distract the caller.

Conference Calls.

If the dentist or the administrative assistant needs to talk to several people in various locations simultaneously (i.e., insurance carriers), a conference call may be placed. Most telephone systems are equipped with this technology, and staff can establish conference calls very easily and quickly.

Caller ID.

The caller ID feature can help to identify a caller before the telephone is answered by displaying the number of the telephone from which the person is calling. A number may be blocked from appearing by pressing a special key.

Call Forwarding.

A telephone call can be automatically forwarded to another telephone number with call forwarding.

Call Holding.

Call holding is frequently used in dental offices, which often receive calls in rapid succession. This feature allows for the answering of a second call while the first caller holds on the line. Care should be taken to extend maximum courtesy to the caller who has been asked to hold (Box 10-1).


Box 10-1   Using Call Holding

• Excuse oneself from the first caller before answering a second call.
• Greet the second caller with the standard office greeting.
• If the second caller requires only a short response, complete the call, and then return to the first caller.
• If the second caller appears to need more extensive assistance, explain that there is another call, ask the caller if he or she can wait, and then place the call on hold. If the caller does not want to wait, ask where the person can be reached, and say that the call will be returned. Always return the call promptly.
• When returning to the first caller, always thank the person for waiting before proceeding with the conversation.

Music on Hold.

The music on hold system provides the caller with music or a short narrative about treatment in the dental office while the person is on hold. The system can be personalized to address specific types of treatment in the office and then revert to music periodically. This feature tends to ease the caller’s impatience and can offer short educational clips that may market certain aspects of the practice.

Automatic Call Back.

A caller can give instructions to a busy station to call back as soon as the busy station is free.

Automatic Call Stacking.

Calls that arrive at a busy station are automatically answered by a recorded wait message.

Speed Dialing.

Commonly called numbers can be stored in the telephone’s memory, and the call can be made by keying in a one- or two-digit code. Speed dialing cuts down on the time that the administrative assistant spends dialing other offices or laboratories that are contacted frequently.

Call Timing.

This feature is used in professional offices that charge clients by the time spent handling their business on the telephone. It is common in law and accounting firms and in other professional offices that bill for consultation on the telephone.

Call Restriction.

Unauthorized long-distance telephone calls can be eliminated with this feature. If an individual is authorized to make a long-distance call, the call is given an authorization code that must be keyed into the telephone before the call can be processed. The telephone may also be programmed not to accept or make long-distance calls, such as a telephone placed in the reception area for patient use.

Identified Ringing.

This feature provides distinctive ring tones for different categories of calls. For example, internal calls may have one long ring, whereas outside calls may have two short rings.

Liquid Crystal Display.

A liquid crystal display (LCD) allows the user to see the number dialed, prompts the user with instructions, and displays the number of minutes the individual remains on the telephone. When used for incoming calls, an LCD also displays the number of the caller.

Multiple Lines or Key Telephones.

Multiple lines are a standard feature on most telephones in a dental office. Special care must be taken when using them to ensure privacy and to avoid interfering with other calls that are in progress.

If multiple lines are available for receiving or placing calls, one of the lines is often for a number that is not listed in the telephone directory or printed on the business stationery; this line should be used for outgoing calls, thus leaving the other lines available for incoming calls.

A telephone system with multiple lines can be used for both inside and outside calls. This can be a very efficient system, but the administrative assistant must remember several key points, which are presented in Box 10-2.


Box 10-2   Using a Multiple-Line Telephone System

1. Determine which line is to be answered; this is usually indicated by a ring or a buzz, and the button flashes until the line is answered. Depress the key to be answered before lifting the receiver.
2. If placing an outside call, determine which line is available; this is indicated by an unlighted button. Depress the key for that line, and then dial the number. If accidentally selecting a line that has been placed on hold, depress the hold key again to put the call back on hold.
3. If placing an incoming call on hold, indicate to the caller that this is being done. Depress the hold key, which keeps the caller on the line. (The hold key then returns to its normal position.) The line key remains lighted, which indicates that the line is in use. Other calls then can be placed or received on another line.
4. Before transferring a call, be sure to inform the caller that this is being done, because the person may not want the call transferred. Give the caller the extension number to which he or she is being transferred in case the call is disconnected. This allows the caller to call the person back directly.
5. To transfer an outside call with the button system, first place the call on hold. Then push the button for local, which lights when in use (the local button is for in-office transfers only). Dial or buzz a number in the office telephone system; the telephone is answered on local in another office. Inform the dentist of a call on a particular line, and then the dentist will complete the call from that telephone. If returning to the incoming line, remember which line the caller used. “Hold reminder” is a feature on advanced telephone systems that gives a reminder tone at various intervals to indicate that a caller is still waiting. Depress that button, which opens the line once more and allows for the completion of the call.


A pager is a telecommunications device that allows a person to receive accurate messages instantly. The pager can receive numeric messages, including phone numbers and special codes that have been devised, or it may receive alphanumeric messages. It may be used by a dentist when he or she is on call or after business hours to handle any emergency patient needs. Most pagers, such as the one shown in Figure 10-7, are easy to read, have various alert tones, display the date and time, offer various-size message slots, and retain messages in memory.

FIGURE 10-7 A dentist calls the office from a smartphone after receiving a message. (Copyright © 2014 Yo-Ichi, BigStock.com.)


A smartphone is a mobile phone with more advanced computing capability and connectivity than basic feature phones (Figure 10-8). Smartphones typically combined the features of a mobile phone with those of other popular consumer devices, such as a personal digital assistant (PDA), a media player, a digital camera, a Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation unit, and a touchscreen computer. Smart phones have built-in keyboards that enable the user to type and then send messages. Two very popular brands include the iPhone from Apple and phones that use the Android operating system from Google.

FIGURE 10-8 iPhones and various Android phones both feature a touch screen and provide the user with multiple technologies in a single device.

Smartphones have gained a reputation for their ability to send and receive e-mail wherever they can access the wireless networks of certain cellular phone carriers. In addition, they have almost eliminated long-distance calling charges within the United States.

Instant Messaging System

The intercom system is discussed in Chapter 6 as a method of nonverbal interoffice communication by means of a light system. A more comprehensive messaging system can be established through part of the DataMate family or other compatible software. IMiN Lite is one example of an instant messaging program designed specifically for the small office. It provides secure instant communication within the dental office. The result is a cost-effective, local area network (LAN) messaging program that delivers the benefits of larger, more expensive messaging systems. This system is easy to use and easy to administer; it can support one person or networks of multiple users.

How Does It Work?

While the dentist is at chairside, an important telephone call comes in. To let the dentist know who is calling, the administrative assistant uses IMiN (Figure 10-9) to type a message, such as “The patient is ready,” and sends it to the dentist in the treatment room. The message instantly pops up on the computer screen in the treatment room. To reply, the dentist simply selects the desired response from the customizable message palette with a click of the mouse or by hitting the corresponding function key. The reply, such as “I’ll be right there” or “I’ll be just another 5 minutes,” now appears on the administrative assistant’s screen. This system prevents frantic waving, running back and forth, obvious patient interruption, and cryptic hand signals about what to do with the call. The system is clear, crisp, and professional, and the keyboard, mouse, and other hardware components can be protected with a barrier to prevent cross-contamination.

FIGURE 10-9 The IMiN screen indicates a message has been sent from the business office to the treatment room. (IMiN screenshot courtesy JustWrks, Inc, www.justwrks.com.)

Facsimile (FAX) Communication System

Another electronic means of communication is the facsimile (FAX) machine (Figure 10-10). A facsimile transmission machine is a scanning device that transmits an encrypted image of a document over standard telephone lines. The machine

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Mar 21, 2015 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Electronic and Telecommunications
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