Web revamp enhances dental services

Delta Dental Plan of Massachusetts decided to overhaul its Web site for two reasons: to reduce call centre volumes and improve customer service.

Agents at Delta Dental Plan of Massachusetts handle roughly 4,000 phone calls each day from dentists’ offices, benefits administrators and patients, looking to find out the status of an insurance claim or see if a patient is eligible for certain dental procedures. So the Boston provider of group dental benefits decided to add self-service tools to its Web site to divert some of these queries online. The tricky part was providing access to data stored in back-end systems securely and without compromising patient privacy.

DentaQuest Ventures – a subsidiary of Dental Service of Massachusetts that handles benefits administration and IT support for Delta Dental – invested in identity- and access-management software from OpenNetwork Technologies Inc. The software maker’s DirectorySmart suite provides tools for defining and managing role-based security policies. With it, DentaQuest can set up user profiles to give them protected Web access, and then audit and report on Web activities.

To register, users provide personal information such as a tax identification number, dental license number or Social Security number. So far, among 5,000 Delta Dental participating dentists in Massachusetts, about 1,400 have registered to use the Web site.

These customers – dentists’ offices, accounts benefits administrators at companies insured by Delta Dental Plan of Massachusetts, and insured individuals – can now get access to patient and plan information over the Web. At the same time, DentaQuest maintains the requisite security to comply with privacy and authentication regulations mandated under the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The new site, launched last spring, is a far cry from the provider’s original customer Web site, which provided only general information such as a directory of dentists, says Eleanor McConnell, customer service manager at DentaQuest. “People couldn’t get specific information on eligibility, claims status or benefits through the old site,” she says.

OpenNetwork’s DirectorySmart software runs in conjunction with Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Sun One Directory Server, which stores user information. The Web application communicates with an Oracle database, which contains some patient information, and with DentaQuest’s primary claims processing system, which runs on an IBM OS/390 mainframe.

DentaQuest uses IBM Corp.’s MQSeries middleware to handle the exchange and formatting of information between the mainframe and Web systems, says Ron Cedrone, IT project manager at DentaQuest.

Down the road, DentaQuest might migrate to Microsoft Corp.’s Active Directory software in lieu of Sun’s directory software, Cedrone says. DentaQuest’s current Sun license covers up to 100,000 users before requiring DentaQuest to purchase licenses individually. Migrating to Active Directory could save money as DentaQuest grows, Cedrone says.

Over the long term, DentaQuest says it would like to reduce call centre volumes with its new Web infrastructure. Up and running since last spring, the new Web site hasn’t caused call volumes to plummet, but DentaQuest expects to see volumes gradually decline as more users migrate online.

“We’re patient,” says Michael Duhamel, DentaQuest application services manager. The company’s primary goal was to improve customer service, he says, adding that if operational savings follow, that’s even better.

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