Dental Implant Company Leverages HIPAA-Compliant Texting Solution to Streamline Communication and Collaboration

Jun 1, 2018

Arnold Rosen, DDS, MBA

About Southern Implants

Southern Implants was established in 1987 to develop, manufacture and distribute dental implants. Southern Implants has been a pioneer in this field over the last two decades and has contributed extensively to ongoing enhancements with respect to the osseointegration of implant devices, surgical techniques, patient education and options for treatment. The company is focused on the top-end specialist sector of the implant market, continually offering new choices using specially requisitioned pure titanium. Southern Implants is the leading implant company in Southern Africa, and a significant player in the USA, UK, Europe and Australasia. Their dedication to research, innovation and superior service helps dental practitioners provide the highest standard of care for referrers and patients.

When Tom Bishop joined the executive team of Southern Implants, he embraced the opportunity to bring his expertise to the dental implant company's expansion into North America. Moving from a position with a cybersecurity software vendor, he fully understood the risks organizations face when creating and managing their IT infrastructure. He quickly identified and addressed the need for his sales team to use a HIPAA compliant platform to exchange patient information.

"Using basic email services such as Outlook or Gmail to transfer patient information, even if it's just financial data, does not align with this country's privacy laws. Hackers can access protected information. It's our responsibility to prevent this," said Bishop adding that Southern Implants established a secure portal environment for his sales team to place and manage orders.

Dentistry's lack of HIPAA compliance is baffling

Soon after joining the organization, Bishop recognized a trend in dentistry that caught him quite off guard. "Dentists and dental providers, by law, must follow HIPAA guidelines yet many do not. Texting PPI using a cell phone's native SMS environment, for example, is not HIPAA compliant. I am baffled to see that it happens regularly in this industry, despite it being prohibited by law," Bishop stated.

In his past company, Bishop was familiar with secure texting solutions designed for enterprise needs, in hospitals and large financial services organizations, for example. "They did not scale for single users or small office environments," he said. "And they tended to lack intuitive functionality for mainstream end users. With fewer than 20 sales team members, our initial user base was small."

In searching for an option, Southern Implants discovered Awrel which offers the first easy-to-use, HIPAA-compliant texting application designed specifically by dentists for dental practitioners, patients, labs and suppliers. Built on a business platform, Awrel's mobile messaging application enables image and document exchange, individual and group messaging, collaborative workflow, and cloud-based data archiving.

Southern Implants found value in the Awrel solution not only for sales team members to exchange financial information but also to streamline workflow by collaborating on shared clinical data. The company differentiates itself by being a research-focused company that makes continual advances with the newest materials and procedures.

Texting improves implant ordering and procedure efficiency

Southern Implants is enabling its clinicians to place orders using the Awrel text messaging application. Due to the complexity of its cases, Southern's reps are very involved in collaborating on individual cases with both doctors and lab professionals. Details for each order, including radiograph images, are quickly exchanged and acted upon.

Bishop anticipates that by moving from its portal to the Awrel texting environment, the organization will dramatically reduce the number of phone calls coming into their customer support team.

"Because we are highly progressive, our organization cannot be stuck in the old-school, paper-based past. With Awrel, we can readily engage in dialogue with a physician about highly complex cases — and even look at a case while doing so – all in a HIPAA-compliant mobile texting environment," Bishop stated. "Our clinicians appreciate the opportunity to collaborate on cases in a highly efficient way."

According to Bishop, even once his organization established a secure email environment, file sizes became an issue. Key opinion leaders often want to share and collaborate on Powerpoint and video presentations, he said adding that a work-around might be for the sender to cut the presentation up into several smaller files, requiring the recipient to piece them back together. "Texting allows for rapid exchange of these larger sized files," Bishop said. "We've eliminated a major hassle factor."

Storage issues can also be a challenge for dental organizations. With Awrel, all data is securely stored in and readily accessible from the cloud.

Moving dentistry along the spectrum of digital communication adoption

Southern Implants has had excellent feedback about the Awrel application. "One of our surgeon customers has 20 referring dentists and is now using Awrel for back and forth communication with them," Bishop said. "He describes it almost like an internal network."

Internally, Southern Implants has created a "Friday Findings" offering and is planning to offer it via the Awrel app. Once weekly, the home office gathers and shares updates about new products, best practices and intriguing cases with its sales team members in the field. The company is also now working with Awrel to explore more advanced group chat functionality to streamline its educational offerings, “something like the 'What's App' messenger solution used widely worldwide, where dozens of doctors can share a case, provide input and get ideas, all in the interest of learning from one another," Bishop said.

From Southern Implant’s perspective, this type of learning community helps ensure their products are being utilized according to FDA-approved guidelines. Additionally, by being an early adopter of a solution like Awrel, "Southern Implants is helping move the industry along the spectrum of digital communication adoption," Bishop said. "When we send cases out via Awrel, our constituents have ready access to download the app for free. They see how easy it is to use and start getting used to it. And, in using the Awrel solution, we know we've done our best to protect patient data and reduce risk — for both our customers and ourselves."

When it comes to information security, Bishop calls the dental industry, "somewhat behind and rather careless in general."

As cell phone use has become mainstream, people tend to default to what's quick and easy, Bishop stated. "This is true in dentistry. Practitioners are texting, even when they know they need to be more careful. It shouldn't take a news report about a dentist facing stiff fines and a damaged reputation to cause a change in behavior. Those who are most savvy will know it's not worth it to take a chance. At the end of the day, this is a very easy-to-use and much-needed product."