FAQ: What do you need to know about adding
technology to your dental office?
Seven Questions You Always Wanted to Ask
Adding computers in the front office with practice management software can increase efficiency, productivity, patient communication, and revenue provided that your staff is well trained and knowledgeable about the software. A recent survey shows that chairside computer usage includes 77.9% scheduling, 63.9% treatment planning, 60.7% patient education, 58.2% hard tissue charting, and 54.1% periodontal charting. It also shows that the reason dentists adopt computers at chairside fell into three categories 1. office efficiency and operations, 2. diagnosis and treatment, and 3.patient communication and perception. The top three reasons for adoption were improved data management, such as direct entry of treatment plans and appointments; digital imaging, primarily digital radiology; and improved efficiency, for instance, through scheduling directly in the operatory . Digital radiography, digital photography, and operatories equipped with computers, practice management and educational software can increase the quality of patient care and education, increase treatment acceptance, streamline patient records, and increase overall office productivity and efficiency. Again, staff training is crucial. Once these technologies are in place others may be added for areas including diagnosis, restoration preparation, design, and fabrication to name a few.
“One of the things I love most about being digital is that we never
have to chase a chart again.”
“Technology gives me an incredible amount of information about my
practice and has put a spark back into practicing dentistry for me.”
“I enjoy the instantaneous recall of data, the ease of storage, and
way my practice has become more efficient. I created another operatory
in the room where we used to store charts!”
Becoming digital is an involved process and taking the time to create a great plan is one key to a successful installation or upgrade. Evaluate your practice and ask yourself and your staff these questions: What do I like about my practice? What would I like to change about my practice? What existing technology do I have and want to keep? What do I hear my patients talking about? Do I have the right staff in place to support a shift to technology? What training would my staff require to be successful? What training would I require? How much do I want to spend? How well does my staff deal with changes? What would I need to put in place to support these changes? What is my timeframe? Do I want to involve a consultant? How much of this do I want to do myself? What are other practices in the area offering?
If possible, visit another practice that currently uses technology and watch it in action. Take your staff with you and get their opinions. Much of the success of digitizing relies on a team approach and lots of communication. Creating opportunities for education before the first computer is in place will lessen stress and ease the transition. Some ideas: Have an in service day and have someone present Computers 101—maybe someone already on your staff is computer savvy or knows someone that is. We know from the recent survey that Fifty-eight percent of the responding dentists had taken a computer course, and 42%s rated themselves as ‘‘very comfortable,’’ with computers .
Learning about digital photography is another great way to break the ice before the cameras arrive. Taking better pictures is something your staff will appreciate at work and at home. If you are adding to existing technology explore opportunities for your staff to build on their knowledge, which will build their confidence and your confidence in their abilities.
Sometimes computerizing the dental office can be done in steps . Rada suggests starting with computerizing the business end of the office, then introducing dental charting . As stated before, individuals in the practice must work together as a team to ensure acceptance and ability at each step in the process . Further, Rada reminds us that “people need time to develop awareness, prepare for, and become skilled in using new technology” .
Being comfortable with the technology you are adding will increase the likelihood of its success. Component integration is helpful whenever possible. An intra oral camera that integrates into your existing delivery system creates less clutter and is more convenient, but it may not be the camera that has the features you want. Purchasing equipment as a package has its advantages, but does not always allow you to purchase the equipment you feel is best. It is possible to purchase from multiple vendors if care is taken to make sure that the equipment is compatible with your existing equipment and software.
Looking at the plan you have created for your digital office and what your office needs to implement it successfully will dictate the speed with which you introduce it. Efforts should be made to make sure that if you space out implementation of equipment and decide to purchase it in phases that the equipment is compatible, as new or upgraded equipment may be made available during the delay.
Some technology like digital radiography has a greatly reduced learning curve due to its similarity to what you already do daily. Keeping this in mind you can create a custom timeline for your practice to follow. Talking to others that have gone through the process will give you insight into the ups and downs they may have encountered and ways you may be able to avoid them.
Computers will have issues from time to time, but they can be
minimized with proper maintenance. Like our patients having regular
cleanings and examines, so should our computers. If you have a tech
savvy staff member, he or she could accomplish the tasks of regular
updates and hardware maintenance on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
This maintenance prevents many of the issues that plaque computers. If
your server were to be inoperable, don’t worry you can still do
dentistry. There are now periapicals that have fixer and developer in
an attached pouch. You take the x-ray, snap the capsule in the pouch,
shake the chemicals down into the pocket with the x-ray, wait two
minutes and you have a pa. Patients can fill out a medical history if
necessary and all notes and charting can be done on paper to be entered
at a later time.
Consider taking continuing education classes about dental technology and creating in-service days in your office to review and learn more features of your equipment and software. Many offices are using only a small part of their software’s capabilities. Build upon the knowledge of your staff and have members of your staff become “experts” in certain areas of the software and hardware. This gives them ownership and creates a “go to” person in your practice if other staff members have questions or problems.
The reaction of patients when looking at their x-rays on a 19 inch monitor versus a 2” x 2” square on a light box is a tremendous advantage of a digital system. While most patients do not understand the nuances of an x-ray they begin to understand interproximal decay when you show them the dark area between their teeth on a 19” bitewing. Even more critical to your practice is the time you save when taking digital radiographs. A periapical in 5 to 7 seconds versus 5 to 10 minutes. Miss the apex? Your assistant can retake the radiograph in another 5 to 7 seconds and typically the exposure for two x-rays is less than that of one traditional periapical. Digital images can be manipulated, enhanced, stored and exchanged for referral and other purposes, making them of great potential use . In addition to the direct clinical and diagnostic benefits, the techniques also have distinct environmental advantages including less use of resources and reduced radiation dosages .
FAQ written by Stephanie Jeffreys
I hope you found my FAQ helpful. I could go on for hours about this topic as it is one of my passions. I like to think of Dental-Link as a one-stop solution for technology installations and upgrades. I provide a unique variety of services, combining three of my favorites things—computers, business management, and dentistry. My goal is three-fold and unique for each practice. Working with the doctors and staffs to create a technology plan is the crucial first step. After the plan is complete, I assist the office in its implementation. I provide installation services, training services, and management services during this phase. Upon completion of the installation, I then provide support services such as troubleshooting, repair, maintenance, additional training, and a variety of management services. It has been my experience that the services after the installation are as critical as those before and during. If you have questions that I may be of assistance with please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Schleyer TK, Thyvalikakath TP, Spallek H, Torres-Urquidy MH,
Hernandez P, Yuhaniak J. Clinical