Lessons From COVID-19: Paperless Beyond the Pandemic

After a year of shut-downs, attempts at flattening curves and adjusting to “new normals,” we take a look at how electronic patient communications will continue to be beneficial to practices beyond the end of the pandemic.

Unless you’re an extreme visionary and had incredible foresight into the world of infectious disease and global pandemics, you probably never envisioned a world where your dental practice would face such trying times as those presented over the last 12 months. Yet, here we are, a year later, still doing our best to get back to a semblance of “normal” life.

Many technologies, like paperless patient communications and tele-health, were catapulted to the forefront as practices looked for ways to continue caring for their patients while keeping patient and staff safety their top priority. After all, finding creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable obstacles is what successful technology providers (and business/dental practice owners for that matter) do.

In this article, we take a look at how paperless patient communications were utilized as a tool to slow the spread in dental practices during the early days of COVID-19 and how implementation of these technologies will continue to benefit practices well beyond the end of the pandemic.

Stopping the Spread in Dentistry

Everyone should realize the impact COVID has had on the dental industry, so I won’t make you take an unpleasant trip down COVID memory lane. Instead, let’s look at how practices adjusted their workflows and internal processes to keep caring for their patients in the safest manner possible.

From the outset, utilization of PPE, advanced air filtration and limiting physical contact were all high priority to ensure patients and staff were at a reduced potential of COVID exposure in the practice. Keeping work areas sanitized and lowering the number of shared objects that patients would be touching were both common sense areas that could be addressed.

A Touch-Free Workflow

When you begin to look at the patient experience through the eyes of the pandemic and how practices could reduce the amount of time each patient spent inside the office itself to limit potential exposure to COVID, completion of paper forms, including health history, insurance changes, and patient demographic data online (prior to arriving at the office or while waiting in their car) was one of the lowest hanging fruits that could be easily picked. After all, sharing items spreads germs, so limiting or eliminating the use of paper and pens should be a no-brainer.

In fact, the number of requests our team received to implement paperless patient communications skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic, especially as practices were allowed to re-open in many states around mid-spring.

Hopefully, with the availability of vaccinations, more research into the behavior of the COVID-19 virus and continuation of mitigation measures like PPE and social distancing, we will begin returning to a semblance of normal. That being said, should practices stop the paperless routine in favor of returning to more traditional ways to communicate with patients? No so fast!

There are considerable benefits of patient communication software that extend far beyond patient safety during a pandemic, including boosts in efficiency, integration with your management software and a huge increase in convenience to your patients.

The Benefits of Paperless Patient Communications

For complete transparency, not all patient communication platforms are the same and many of the benefits I’ll outline are dependent on integration with a practice management system. Flex was designed for Open Dental, so I’m approaching these features from that perspective.

Efficiency for Your Staff

Utilizing paperless communications means that your staff no longer has to spend their time requesting updated consents, health history updates and demographic information from patients, while still needing to print, file and organize these copious amounts of paperwork. Paperless forms, like those found in Flex, are able to be completed quickly via a tablet in your practice or at the patient’s home via their own device prior to their appointment. Online forms can be sent as a link through email or text via automation, so your staff doesn’t even have to remember to send them.

What about recalls, reminders and follow ups on unscheduled treatments? These tasks, while essential, are huge investments in time. Patient communication software has you covered there as well and, again, they can be automated so your staff can focus on what matters most - your patients.


Everyone loves stuffing paper forms into charts and making tons of notes regarding each email you sent a patient, right (just a touch of sarcasm)? With patient communication software, all communications are automatically documented in your patient’s record in your management system. As I mentioned before, Flex integrates with Open Dental, so all communications sent to your patients via Flex are seamlessly synced back into the patient record in Open Dental, providing a roadmap of the patient's lifetime in your practice. It’s a much more complete picture of all interactions with your patient, from emails and texts to signed treatment plans and consent forms. It’s all right there.  

Convenience For Your Patients

If there’s one thing everyone can appreciate, it’s convenience. My own dentist utilizes paperless communications and it’s great - I’m reminded about my appointments, I can request a call or reschedule my appointment via text and I can make all of my payments online. If my dentist needs updated health history information, I can complete those forms online prior to my appointment. I truly appreciate the time it saves me and it makes each trip to the dentist a little less stressful. And, even in a post-pandemic future, I think we can all agree that we could use a little less stress in our lives.

Paperless Beyond the Pandemic

There has almost certainly been a rapid increase in the number of practices seeking out paperless patient communication technologies during the last year. One thing that technology gives us is the ability to adjust on the fly, adapting to changing situations that seem to be happening more frequently than ever before. And, while old habits die hard, the new efficiencies and conveniences born out of that transition to new technologies makes the future that much easier, pandemic or not.

Ready to learn more about Flex?

If you’re an Open Dental user looking for a patient communication solution, please ask for opinions of our solution from other Open Dental practices. We pride ourselves on creating Flex fans for life. The words of our customers are our best reference and we think you’ll like what you find.

Our team members are all what we affectionately call “Flex-perts” and make it a priority to address all requests quickly and knowledgeably. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please click the button below and submit your questions online. A member of our team will connect with you shortly and help you understand the value that Flex can bring to your practice and your patients.

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