Fools rush in

Knock, knock Oops — wrong column. Well, I did get a knock on the head recently because of my assumptions about dental office technology.

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

Knock, knock Oops — wrong column. Well, I did get a knock on the head recently because of my assumptions about dental office technology. At one of my recent lectures, after I touted the benefits of several new products, I was told that less than 30 percent of the dentists in the audience had computers in their treatment areas. For them, adding a product like digital radiography involves more than just getting the sensors and software. It's a complex and expensive undertaking requiring a sound implementation plan.

Case in point was a dentist who recently called me for advice. He told me that he was about to invest in an intraoral camera/digital radiography package because of its astounding price. He needed my feedback ASAP, since the sale was valid only through the end of the month. I asked a few questions about the equipment to be sure the components would integrate properly. Then I asked him, "Which practice-management software are you using?" He said Softdent DOS. I expressed my surprise that he was able to network this system with cameras. His answer? "Oh, I only have a computer at the front desk." Why in the world was he buying digital radiography? "The deal looks too good to pass up."

Further questioning revealed a dentist who wanted to make his office "high tech" and figured he could integrate all of the features over time.

I've said this before, but it's advice worth repeating: A plan is absolutely essential. It's good that dentists are eager to invest in technology for the sake of their patients and to improve their practices; however, the practice philosophy, as well its physical structure, must be carefully considered in advance. Practitioners who lack the time and/or expertise can now hire integrators to plan and implement a technology purchase or upgrade. Many national firms serve communities all over the country. Some supply houses, such as Patterson, also can provide this service.

In some instances, wireless networks may be a quick and easy solution. They are now quite affordable and easy to set up. Reliability is good; however, they do have some security problems, as well as slower transmission times. In light of HIPAA, it's essential that wireless connections be secure. They are vulnerable to predators who want to "listen in" on your network, so firewalls and security codes must be in place. And, of course, you don't want a patient in your waiting room changing his balance with a wireless laptop. For your office and especially for transferring large amounts of data, hardwiring is still best, which brings us to our original mandate — plan your system and get a pro to help!

In a recent discussion on genR8TNext.com, Ekram Khan, of CIEOS, states, "Instead of doing a clear needs assessment and identifying the workflow bottlenecks that can be alleviated by smartly utilizing technology, everyone jumps at the latest and greatest new toy on the market ... The success or failure of any digital technology product will be determined by how easy it is to place and use in the cramped environment of the modern dental operatory."

Regarding wireless networks, Scott McLaughlin of Mediadent states, "Wireless networks can experience aggravating and intermittent problems. The speed of the wireless connection is often affected by distance, walls, etc., between the unit and the antenna. {Using} it is a solution if wiring is a significant problem." Continues Khan, "The types of wireless networks being implemented at the New York stock exchange and many hospitals use extremely expensive security equipment and software that would be beyond the scope of a dental office network." On low-budget wireless security, Mike Fetzer of Dental Systems Integrators says, "It'll take me between 10 minutes and a day or two to crack your network, and then I have access to all your records. Talk about HIPAA issues!"

As I present all of these "cool toys," keep the above in mind — get them and use them, but make certain you have the infrastructure and a definitive plan in place first.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers when he placed a system in his office in 1978, and he has been fascinated by technology ever since. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions in New England, including annual appearances at the Yankee.Dental Congress, and has been a part of the ADA's Technology Day since its inception. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersinden tistry.com) and can be reached by email at drpaul@computersindentistry.com.

More in Practice