IBM wins NHS dentists online deal

Dental patients should be seen quicker and dentists paid faster, thanks to a deal with IBM to develop a Web-based administration...

Dental patients should be seen quicker and dentists paid faster, thanks to a deal with IBM to develop a Web-based administration system for the Dental Practice Board for England and Wales (DPB).

The development work is part of a renewed £33m, seven-year IT outsourcing contract. IBM has run the DPB's IT since 1997.

Dentists who do National Health Service work apply to the DPB for payment and currently use paper forms or an EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) system to do so.

IBM is developing a Web-based process for this system, said IBM strategic outsourcing manager John Hopwood.

NHS dentists also have to contact the DPB for approval on more complex work, such as fitting dental crowns and caps. IBM will move that process onto the Web, with image file transfers speeding up the application process, Hopwood said.

"We have had an electronic charge processing system for some time and 63% of billing is already filed electronically. But we still get 80,000 handwritten files a day, or 47 million transactions a year. It's reducing, but there is an issue with dentists who don't do a lot of NHS work; it's easier for them to fill in forms than to install an EDI system," said a DPB spokesman.

A pilot system has proved that the transfer of X-rays and other teledentistry .jpg image files is possible. IBM hopes the system will be in use by the beginning of next year.

"You could see the approval process shortening from a couple of weeks to one day, depending on the approvers' workloads," said Hopwood. However, the time frame for implementation would depend on how quickly the DPB could develop its internal systems and how soon it could get funding.

IBM will develop a front-end Web site, based on its own WebSphere application software, to allow access to the billing and application services and to a library of dentistry information that the DPB intends to develop.

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