A picture is worth a thousand words

Nov. 1, 2003
A picture is worth a thousand words — if you can see it! In all our talk about converting from film to digital X-rays, we often overlook our patients.

Steve Lynch, DMD

A picture is worth a thousand words — if you can see it! In all our talk about converting from film to digital X-rays, we often overlook our patients.

Our patients put a great deal of trust in us to do whatever we can to make their dental visits safer, more pleasant, and more understandable. One of the things I did to make my patients' experience more positive — and it's something you can do, too — was to make the move to a digital radiography system.

Size matters

Patient education is one of the most important aspects of our work. Helping patients understand the whys and hows of their treatment builds confidence and helps ensure their acceptance of the treatment plans you recommend. Digital X-rays can dramatically improve how well you educate your patients.

The ability to show patients large-scale images of dental X-rays or intraoral photos on a computer screen makes digital imaging an order of magnitude better than film. We've all tried to use the image from a tiny one-inch by two-inch strip of film, which is then magnified on a light box to explain to patients the areas of concern we've identified. It's pathetic, isn't it?

In essence, you're asking them to interpret a film X-ray image as if they had the same expertise you do — and that simply doesn't measure up in the digital age.

On the other hand, even an untrained eye can see things that are pointed out on a digital X-ray displayed on a high-resolution computer screen. When you add in the fact that the image can be enhanced to highlight certain features, you've got the absolute best patient-education tool! On her first visit after I installed my digital X-ray system in our office, one patient remarked, with her characteristic sense of humor, "Doc, I was blind, but now I can see. This is great!"

Digital X-rays can eliminate "magazine time"

One of the things most patients dislike is what I call "magazine time." That's the time they spend in your office — particularly while they're in the chair — reading magazines instead of getting their teeth worked on. I know, because I've asked my patients about this. It was one of the top three complaints I heard ... until I went over to digital X-rays.

Since I have converted my office to a digital X-ray system, "magazine time" in the chair is a thing of the past. As one of my patients said, "I used to catch up on Sports Illustrated while I was sitting in the chair waiting for X-rays to develop." He hastened to add, "But don't take that wrong. I'm not saying you should go back to the old way. I can catch up on Sports Illustrated at my physician's office."

Fear Factor is not just reality programming on TV

I want to expand a bit on the importance of patient education. A lack of understanding of why dentists have to do what they do has been identified as one of the chief causes of fear among dental patients. Anything we can do to improve understanding lessens their fears and makes their experience more pleasant. I'm here to tell you, digital X-ray technology goes a long way toward reducing my patients' fear of dental treatment.

Understanding also promotes confidence. When you have the tools to show patients very clearly and precisely the problems you've identified, you're building patient confidence. I've had several patients tell me that they feel "much more comfortable" at their office visits since I installed digital X-ray equipment.

One went so far as to say, "You know, I've been your patient for 10 years. Don't take this the wrong way — it's not that I didn't trust you to do the right thing — it's just that there was always this little question in the back of my mind about whether the treatment you recommended was absolutely necessary. Now there's no question. I understand completely when you make a diagnosis, because I can literally see exactly what you're talking about."

So, the next time you find yourself using a thousand words to explain a cloudy, surreal, film X-ray image on the light box, think how much better and more confident your patients will feel about their experience when they can see what you're talking about for themselves — not to mention how much better that will make you look in their eyes.

Steve P. Lynch, DMD, is in private practice in Oxford, Ala. Since 1995, he has been teaching dentists, team members, dental students and faculty the applications of lasers and digital radiography. You may reach Dr. Lynch by email at [email protected], or visit his Web site at www.lynchdmd.com for more information.

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