Pitfalls of Patient Registration Options: Paper, PDF and Online Portal

The first step for every dental office in treating their patients is the registration process. This is one activity that every single office must do, and doing it well is important for the patient, the practice, and the dentist. There are a number of different methods that people use to register patients, and some are better than others. What is the ideal registration process given today’s technology?

I have identified three basic methods: old fashioned paper, PDF forms, and online systems.


Paper was of course the standard for many years and still a significant minority of offices rely on paper in keeping their records. There are important issues and challenges that arise when using paper registration forms:

  1. Time to complete for patient – patients have to arrive early and complete forms, and hand-write all of their information (some of it more than once).
  2. Staff time and effort to transfer/manage/locate can be significant.
  3. Updating patient information requires wholly new forms to be completed.
  4. Clinicians must search for supplemental info (drug descriptions, medical complications), and if necessary to further interview patients for details about their medical conditions.
    1. Paper forms can’t get deeper level of information or ask follow-up questions
    2. They regurgitate information for the clinician, who then must spend the time to analyze and determine how it will affect the patient’s dental treatment
  5. Keeping paper records has the potential for loss of information, and there’s no encryption/security for the data.



PDF forms are a step up from paper, but at the end of the day, a small one. Instead of offering a significant improvement, they only change where the patient completes the paper forms or negate the need for the front desk to mail them. Completing forms at home might be easier than in the office’s waiting room, but the patient still must print, fill them out, and remember to take them to their appointment. And of course the issues of #2-5 above still exist.

Some PDF forms can be made “active” where the patient can type their information in, but that only helps the staff avoid having to decipher handwriting. These forms must be printed and received by the office as paper anyways, because sending over email is risky for HIPAA compliance.

PDF forms are not a real improvement over paper forms because all they do is move the paper problem back a step in the process.



The newest method of receiving patient forms is using an online registration portal that allows patients to submit information digitally and is received before the appointment. This is a step above the previous two methods, but it is not without limitations:

  • Not all registration portals are created equal i.e. some are more usable than others
  • There may be limits on how long information is stored or how many patients can use it
  • Some systems do not integrate into other software or allow for easy transfer of data
  • The average online registration portal doesn’t provide any higher quality of information: they still require clinicians to spend time analyzing how to modify standard procedures
  • The dentist/staff must search for accompanying drug, medical, and alert information
  • Staff must ask followup question to get details



The best, most useful online patient registration system is one that provides all the advantages of using the internet, receiving information before the appointment, ease of transfer of information, ability to update patients coming in for recall, but also one that provides greater quality and depth of information.

In short, an online registration system with a built-in pre-clinical analysis of the patient’s health history is the most efficient option.

What is pre-clinical analysis? It provides you all of these items for every single patient, automatically:

  • Summarized reports of medical and dental histories
  • Highlighting of critical risks: risk for infection and bleeding
  • “Informed follow-up” questions that dig deeper for details in the health history
  • Drug descriptions, reactions, and interactions
  • Pertinent medical information about how diseases will impact the appointment and your standard treatment protocol

My recommendation is to use an online registration system that not only lets your office reap the benefits of the internet for submitting forms, but one that provides you improved output and helpful analysis to make your practice more efficient and clinicians more confident. Your patients will feel secure knowing that your office has all the important information to ensure a safe and productive appointment.


Click here to schedule a LIVE online demo to see if we are  fit for your office!

Dental Symphony offers ePatient: the only HIPAA compliant Online Patient Registration System with the exclusive “Pre-Clinical Analysis” tool.

ePatient was created by Dentists for Dentists and is easily adaptable for any type of practice with free customization.

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