Consider the Benefits of a Digital Workflow by Michelle Shimmin

Consider the Benefits of a Digital Workflow 

Options can help increase revenue per chair time, but too many orthodontists resist the idea. It’s time to reconsider why

by Michelle Shimmin

A digital workflow is a form of creating value for your practice, based on the development of patient benefits using digital technologies. That workflow may include not just digitally centered treatment plans—clear aligners, Inbrace and Brius lingual smartwires, Lightforce 3D-printed brackets—but also how you “see” patients for their treatment visits, how you communicate with them and how you support their questions and compliance throughout the treatment process.

Digital workflows allow orthodontists to provide treatment options that work with patient preferences while supporting practice growth with maximum efficiency and profitability. A patient-centered experience has become the differentiator for practices, which means providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values.

As I discuss how digital options can help your practice meet those patient preferences, I’ll provide steps to help you embrace this revolution, which will continue to put pressure on the orthodontic industry and will be driven by new patient preferences, motivating drivers and expectations.

Patients expect convenience

To start, you’ll need to ask yourself some hard questions regarding your practice and what this changing world will require from orthodontists to adapt or be left behind. Patients have experienced the convenience of virtual appointments in many health care scenarios and now understand the process, see the value in this convenience and expect you as their orthodontist to provide similar options. This builds a stronger patient experience and truly serves your patient’s scheduling needs. Not only will virtual care and efficient scheduling support a better patient experience, it also allows you to grow your practice without adding more patient days to your schedule or more staff to your team. When you streamline your appointment protocol and provide virtual visits, your schedule open up significantly.

Look to open up the landscape of your schedule by knowing which in-person appointments are valuable and could be just as effective if done virtually. Don’t look at the virtual appointments as “less than” or as a last resort! You should feel passionate and excited about what you provide patients, and the message your team portrays is what the patient will hear. If you’re looking to turn your patients into walking, talking referrals, it’s imperative that your team educates and influences your patients’ feelings and perceptions about what you offer and provide.

The pandemic compelled consumers to shift their expectations more rapidly and completely than has ever been seen. People looked inward, elevating relationships and responsibility and reevaluating their priorities about what’s important in life. These consumers are changing their buying habits accordingly, and in doing so are creating enormous opportunities for companies that respond by resetting strategies and setting new standards for meeting and exceeding their expectations.

A digital workflow is profitable

Digital offerings not only serve your patients better, they also allow your practice to grow and increase profits per chair time without adding more patient days or staff to your team.

Take the virtual new-patient exam: This process can vary from fully adopted virtual exams for every new patient to offering patients the opportunity to submit their photos online and have a virtual appointment to discuss the doctor’s treatment recommendations. The latter allows patients to gather more information before having to take a significant amount of time out of their day to come into your office for an exam appointment. This allows “shoppers” or “lookers” to gain information to decide if they will pursue further treatment while taking up only minimal amounts of your time (and theirs).

I recommend effective and strong scripting and patient education from the very first phone call related to what the process in your office will look like for them. This education will help patients see the benefits of a virtual appointment and what it provides them. In addition, the better they understand the process, the better and more successful the experience will be for them.

Assess how to enhance your digital offerings and what fits your team and your patients; don’t simply look to emulate someone else’s process if it doesn’t reflect your goals and desires.

An opportunity to rethink team roles

When implementing a digital patient workflow into your practice, ensure you have clearly defined roles for every position. Understanding and writing out clearly defined roles and expectations will also give you a better picture of your staffing needs and requirements.

Digital systems and virtual care are changing how practices build and maintain teams, the job descriptions within a practice, and which qualifications and professional skills doctors need to look for in today’s candidates. Technology and new products entering the industry will provide opportunities not only to treat patient needs better but also to reimagine staffing needs and skill sets that have the potential to significantly reduce your stress regarding staffing and provide flexibility to the positions. Digital workflow processes also help alleviate the current significant problems related to hiring and staffing, because they allow you to combine job duties, eliminating the need for expanding clinical positions and the like.

Depending on the range of digital services you will provide, consider having a dedicated digital manager position within your practice. Look for solutions in areas of your practice that can have immediate and significant impacts, including new-patient phone calls and exams, patient scheduling and your treatments. Which workflow options are available, and how could a digital manager position help ensure those processes are monitored and followed through to the patient with no interruptions or delays in treatment?

Digital management responsibilities

A good digital manager will be technically advanced, organized and accountable. Because a digital manager will support and manage the digital treatment area of the practice, your hire should be capable of communicating and educating patients about their treatment, and also able to assist the clinical staff and treatment coordinator with patient care, such as performing simple clinical procedures.

Ultimately, the digital manager should be a direct extension of the doctor, making your schedule and time as easy and efficient as possible. They’ll be responsible for all of the areas outlined in this article—as well as ensuring that other team members are trained in them as well—and caring for patients who use the offerings.

For the team, that includes scripting and knowledge of products and processes you offer, and how to comfortably communicate all of this to patients. It also involves tracking the progression of patient treatments and ensuring that correct appliances are ordered and received on time.

Technology can be your friend!

3D-printing aligners in-house is quickly becoming standard within practices and can help create a smooth digital workflow. This is where the digital business model has a true ability to grow and expand your practice, but this does vary significantly from practice to practice.

Other digital workflow products to consider include:

  • Virtual consultation software solutions that help capture leads and offer the ability to engage patients through video and text to deliver a higher level of patient engagement.
  • Remote treatment monitoring products that will allow you to track patient progress through treatment remotely on a more consistent basis and provide a higher level of patient engagement.
As you evaluate new processes, you should be looking at whether they help increase your revenue per chair time, minimizing the number of times a patient is seen in person in your office. This does not mean limiting the amount of communication or education with the patient! In fact, we often see up to 400% more points of patient contact through digital solutions, because of frequent, short communications through video conferencing and text messaging throughout their treatment, rather than the traditional mode of only using an in-person appointment to communicate with the patient.

We have the opportunity with digital treatments and virtual appointments to develop better patient relationships without taking up in-office chair time or doctor time. This is convenient to the patient and time-effective for you and your team, allowing you to have the ability to use that extra time to focus on additional areas of growth within your practice.


Wherever your practice is along this curve of implementing digital workflows into your practice, recognize that orthodontics has been shocked into the need for more digital options over the past several years. Orthodontists as a group seem to be slow to accept this into their practices, and are at times even defiant despite the facts that show the benefits.

There are more options available to our patients than there ever have been— from DIY treatments to general dentists who can erode our patient base—and you might question how you can compete in today’s marketplace as a practice owner. I challenge anyone not yet adopting digital patient flows to at least start to ask yourself these questions:

  • How can I serve my patients better where they are?
  • How can I have more time for my personal life?
  • How can I continue to work smarter and make a profit?
  • Why am I resistant to the new technologies and treatment methods?
Answering some of these questions will set you on the road to finding answers and solutions that fit you and where you need to be going.
Author Bio
Michelle Shimmin Michelle Shimmin is an international lecturer, trainer and consultant who helps transform orthodontic practices to promote growth and success through a comprehensive approach. She is considered one of the most sought-after trainers and lecturers both domestically and internationally. Website:
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