Don’t be afraid of big data

For the first few years after graduating from my first dental school in Iraq in 2009, I had never had to deal with practice statistics, surveys and digital quality measures. When I moved to other countries where I worked or studied in dentistry, I also didn’t find many data-driven private practices where I worked.

dr. Al Sammarraie

However, after completing my second dental degree in California and starting my first job in community health care involving multiple practices serving thousands of patients. My new role as a dental director on the site opened the door wide for me when it came to big data. I realized that collecting and analyzing data can greatly influence the quality of care we provide.

I believe that dentists today should count on incorporating data-driven goals in improving the quality of dental services. The data collected at various points of dental care can be essential for the delivery of timely and improved care. Clinics could work smarter to improve the quality of dental services while driving innovation.

With many dental practices now using electronic dental records (EDR), it is now easier to collect data about your dental practice and patients.

When done right – and with the help of office managers and your dental team – data analysis can result in better quality dental services and practice work flow

By collecting and analyzing your mass of data in the EDR, you can contribute to improvements in the following areas of your dental practice. Here are some examples of how big data can help:

Improving population health

Data can help you identify patients at higher risk of developing chronic and serious oral disease. You can then beg them to make an appointment and avoid the danger to overall system health. This will not only improve their health but also reduce the cost of getting quality healthcare.

Reduce missed appointments
The EDR can be used to identify the people most at risk of missing an appointment and the reasons behind them.

This will allow you to monitor the group and take other steps to understand the reason for the no-show. In addition, it ensures that you can maximize the time with the patients who are happy to show up.

Real-time prevention of oral health deterioration
By analyzing patient data in real time alongside historical data, you can identify potential problems that could otherwise spiral out of control if action is not taken quickly. With data analysis, you can spot the inconsistencies in oral hygiene and prescribe the necessary remedies.

There is no doubt that big data is already impacting dentistry for the better. Data analytics is essential to ensure you improve customer service by working smarter.
In addition, integrating new dental information with historical medical information for each patient will result in a better understanding of disease patterns. This ensures better preventive measures and a better quality of dental services.

When I started with data management and quality measures, I thought at first that it would be easy to achieve a significant increase in any quality measure in a short period of time if you just add more patients. After a while I realized that things are not as easy as they seem. Improving clinical performance and quality productivity takes a lot of work, especially understanding your weaknesses and strengths and working hard to invest the best of everyone in the ultimate goal: caring for patients.

Data showed me trends in many practices that opened my eyes to examine the root causes of profit or loss. For example, our sealing statistics met our quarterly targets. Still, when I put all the data together (patient age, erupted, uninterrupted, partially erupted or recovered teeth, recalled visits, schedule usage, and availability). I discovered that we could do better and more than we imagined. Such data-driven speculations prompted a pilot to adapt our workflow. We reviewed our results after 90 days. The results were excellent; our stats showed an 8% increase compared to last year or other clinics that have not established the pilot workflow. The data showed us that we could do better than we thought.

Other examples include completing treatments and cases such as dentures or RCTs. We tracked our average start and delivery days with detailed data reports. We have revised our workflow to find the best practices to ensure that our respective patients receive the best quality treatment on time. Sometimes a quick jump in your stats or a quick drop points to a training problem, such as wrong documentation, incorrect coding, etc. This allows the clinicians or managers to identify areas for improvement and training.

Having a data-driven mindset helps in my opinion to achieve quality and productivity at the same time. It will keep the team focused on our mission and will be more involved in the clinical aspect of dentistry. For example, it is important to understand why dentists attach importance to preventive care, a recall system, continuity of care and the different treatments.

Don’t be afraid of numbers. They don’t turn people into statistics; statistics make patients healthy people.

Do you think EMR can be used to improve quality and productivity in solo practices? I would like to learn from your experience in this at private offices. Send me a DM at muhalab.ns@gmail or LinkedIn

Editor’s Note: For more information on electronic health records, visit the: ADA FAQ Index webpage

dr. Muhalab Al Sammarraie is a guest blogger from New Dentist Now. He grew up in Baghdad before coming to the US as a foreign trained dentist. He received his DDS honors in 2019 and became a member of the ADA, California Dental Association and the San Diego County Dental Society. While working on his second degree, he gained notable leadership experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. He led many departments and oversaw process improvements in education, social services and public health. dr. Al Sammarraie is currently a dental director at AltaMed Health Services, the largest FQHC in the country. In addition to dentistry, Dr. Al Sammarraie activist groups in Iraq that help war victims and displaced persons find educational opportunities and medical care.


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