Using your intraoral camera

The intraoral camera is one of the most useful adjuncts to dental care that modern technology has given us. It is estimated that 41 percent of general practices own and use such cameras. They help dentists in their diagnosis, aid patients in visualizing their problems, assist dentists and/or staff in illustrating options during the treatment conference and provide valuable documentation for dental-insurance claims.

Carol Tekavec, RDH

The intraoral camera is one of the most useful adjuncts to dental care that modern technology has given us. It is estimated that 41 percent of general practices own and use such cameras. They help dentists in their diagnosis, aid patients in visualizing their problems, assist dentists and/or staff in illustrating options during the treatment conference and provide valuable documentation for dental-insurance claims.

Many practices underutilize their cameras because of inadequate training or "technology-intimidation." They allow one of the best patient-education and insurance-payment tools to gather dust in a treatment room because no one knows how to use it adequately.

The reason this is so common is no mystery. We are a society of technology-lovers who can`t set the clocks on our VCRs! We love and hate our gadgets at the same time. In addition, many of us in private dental practice feel overwhelmed with responsibility and inundated with information. We feel pressured to learn to use more devices, more materials, improved techniques and better methods, all while performing great dentistry on patients who feel loved and cared for. It is difficult!

Using an intraoral camera does not have to be intimidating and it can have great educational and financial benefits for the office. Some ideas on what to buy and how to utilize it:

1. Purchase a streamlined camera with only the extras you really want.

It sometimes is difficult to bypass a product that can do everything. We see the wonderful, but complicated, cameras demonstrated on the exhibit floor at a dental meeting and we want them. We want the camera with the smallest wand, largest focus, multiple print and work-station ability and the best inter-technological adaptations possible, even if we are inexperienced and not inclined toward high-technology applications. This often is a mistake.

When viewing new technology, I always remember what I learned from the purchase of my very first microwave oven many years ago: the best available is not always the best for me! I purchased the top-of-the-line model that could defrost, brown, roast and rotate. It had timers for all these functions and could be set with a remote control, presumably from my car on the way home from work. It came with an instruction booklet that weighed more than War and Peace.

After never figuring out how to use more than the "defrost" and "cook on high" selections, the "rotater" broke down. It turned out to be repairable, but at a cost nearly as high as what I had paid for the entire unit. I went out the next day and purchased the simplest microwave that I could find, and I have been using it successfully ever since.

When shopping for a camera, be honest with yourself about how you want to use it. If you are looking for a monitor large enough for patients to see from the chair, spend money on that rather than the camera`s ability to adapt to other software. If you want to be able to print photos easily for patient education and insurance documentation, be sure that the film is readily available and not excessively expensive. In other words, purchase only what you need, not necessarily everything you have heard and read about.

2. Set aside training time for you and for the staff.

This should go without saying, but in a busy dental practice, it often is difficult to find the time to go over everything that needs to be covered. After purchasing the camera, take at least 45 minutes to go over its use on your own, then set aside an entire staff meeting to let staff members work with it, hands on. If the staff likes the camera and is comfortable with it, it will be used.

3. Write up a simple list of "photo opportunities" and keep it with the camera.

Before-and-after photos of restorations, crown and bridge cases, perio treatments and bleaching are just a few of the examples of great "photo opportunities" that can enhance case acceptance at the pretreatment conference and increase subsequent patient satisfaction. Before- and-after photos of completed cases on your own patients are excellent conference tools and have more clout than photos from a brochure or book. Such photos, when combined with the patient`s own pretreatment photos, can support a very compelling conference.

The difficult part seems to be remembering to take the photos, and a reminder list can help with this. (A patient photo-consent form should be signed and retained in the patient`s chart before taking any pictures. Stepping Stones to Success publishes a booklet of consent forms for many procedures, including photos.)

4. Attach photos to forms to facilitate payment.

Requests for documentation are one of the most common insurance irritations mentioned by dentists. Insurance-documentation requirements currently are in somewhat of a transition period. Some carriers encourage dentists to use electronic-claims filing, which eliminates much in the way of documentation, while others want documentation to continue as is. A certain faction wants documentation in the form of radiographs, charting and photos, while others want to forgo the "certainty" such documentation provides in favor of quick processing and elimination of manpower. For the present, documentation still is the norm. Photos of graft sites, broken or cracked teeth, frenulectomy sites and many other types of problems are very helpful in obtaining insurance payments for patients. Instead of waiting to be asked for documentation after the fact, expedite payment by taking a photo during the examination and having the insurance clerk clip it to the patient`s initial claim form. On the back of the photo, include the patient`s name, Social Security number and insurance-group number, as well as the dentist`s name, address and phone number. The front of the photo should indicate the tooth or site pictured. If your office plans on charging a fee, be sure that the need for the photo and the fee to be charged are fully explained during the treatment conference.

Carol Tekavec, RDH, is the author of two insurance-coding manuals, co-designer of a dental chart and a national lecturer. Contact her at Stepping Stones to Success at (800) 548-2164 or at www.steppingstonetosuccess.com.

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