Do your staff a big (digital) favor

Oct. 1, 2003
I'm very fortunate: I don't have a single "complainer" on my staff. Every one of my employees is a good worker, and none of them is quick to criticize.

Steve Lynch, DMD

I'm very fortunate: I don't have a single "complainer" on my staff. Every one of my employees is a good worker, and none of them is quick to criticize. That's why it came as something of a surprise to me to learn how much they disliked taking and processing film X-rays.

They didn't complain, so I didn't find out — at least not until after we decided to install a digital X-ray system in our office. That's when I realized that they really had problems with film X-rays.

They disliked the time they had to spend away from patients while they were developing film. They disliked the smell of the chemicals and the cleaning up at the end of the day. They also were keenly aware that when they were processing films, they were not doing what they were trained to do. One went so far as to say, "I almost suggested that we hire someone from one of those 'Photomat' places and have them develop our film X-rays. Developing film does not make good use of the training and experience we have."

One of the most telling comparisons between film and digital X-rays is what I call the "Full-mouth series comparison." It used to take my staff around 30 minutes to acquire and develop the 18 images required for a full series of film X-rays (longer if there were any retakes). With our digital intraoral X-ray capability, the same procedure takes six to seven minutes or less, and we know instantly if we need a retake. No more waiting until film is developed and then going back to patients and making them sit through another exposure.

Back when we were still using film, our darkroom would occasionally get backed up. When this happened, and film development was delayed (sometimes for as much as an hour), we occasionally had patients leave the office before we realized they needed retakes. My staff found it very embarrassing to have to call patients and tell them they'd need to come back to have X-rays retaken. Our digital X-ray system has completely eliminated that problem because retakes are immediate.

Another area where digital radiography has improved my staff's performance and efficiency, to say nothing of their morale, is in routine administrative tasks. Of course, with film X-rays, those tasks are often anything other than routine.

Consider how going digital eliminates lost patient files and potential mix-ups. Digital radiographs are stored electronically on a computer hard disk drive (locally or on a server), so you can search for and display a patient's complete X-ray history in less than a minute. No more searching through file cabinets for tiny 1" by 2" pieces of film. And with digital X-ray, multiple images — even historic comparisons — can easily be displayed right on the computer screen.

One of the things my staff prides itself in is their ability to educate patients. It's one of the most important things they do, and they're very good at explaining all the things our office does to make patient visits safer, easier, and better. Our digital X-ray system has become one of the focal points of patient education.

First, patients are really "dazzled" by what they see as new technology. And when they have their first digital X-ray taken and can instantly see the image on a large, high-resolution digital monitor, they're quite convinced. They never want to "go back" to film.

But equally important, my staff members are rewarded by their patients' reactions. They appreciate the fact that they're offering their patients the very best in X-ray technology. With digital X-ray, the images are sharper than ever and can be enhanced to demonstrate to patients exactly what problems need to be addressed. Score another one for patient education.

I will warn you about one problem, however. Once you and your staff have seen how this digital X-ray technology can change your lives, there'll be no turning back. It's a problem you and your staff can live with. And no one will be complaining!

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 for more information.

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