Larry Emmott, DDS
Computer hardware is changing at a remarkable rate. For the past 25 years, computers have followed Moore`s Law, which states that computer capacity will double every 18 months. That means that if you buy the best possible machine today, there will be a new machine - which is twice as fast and powerful - in less than two years. It also means that the price of today`s technology will decrease in the future. Computer technology is one of the few product categories that experiences reverse inflation - computers cost less as time passes.
"The best" - There is little practical value in buying "the best" when purchasing new computer hardware. No matter how much you spend, it will still be ready for replacement in three to four years. Many dentists believe that if they just spend the extra money for high quality today, they will have a system which will last for a lifetime. This may be true when buying a chair or an autoclave, but it just doesn`t work when buying computer hardware.
Value curve - Hardware prices tend to fall along an S-curve. If you choose to buy at the top of the curve (the latest, fastest technology), you often will spend two to three times more, but you will not get twice as much performance and it will not last twice as long. Buying the top of the line may extend the life of the hardware about six months before replacement is required. Buying on the curve does not mean you are buying "cheap," second-rate systems. It does mean you are buying technology that was introduced six to nine months ago. Replacement will be needed - not because the computer is worn out, but because it will no longer perform adequately with current software.
Buying cheap - Don`t look for "cheap" hardware. Hardware is a critical element of successful computerization. Be sure to ask all hardware resellers to guarantee CPU, motherboard, and network compatibility. You should also expect one-year warranties and on-site service.
A good policy is to plan on replacing one-third to one-fourth of your computers every year. For a typical office with six computers, one or two should be replaced every year. This spreads the cost over time and ensures the office always has an up-to-date system.
Computer types - Most dental offices will need three different types of computers, a server, and business and clinical workstations. Each computer type will have different specifications, depending on the job it must do. Specs and available options change quickly, so it is more useful to present a price range for each type than component specifications.
Server - This is the main computer which stores the data and distributes it to the other workstations. This machine should have a powerful processor, lots of memory, and big dual hard drives for storage. It does not need sound or multimedia capabilities. A server will cost from $3,000 to $3,500.
Business workstations - These are the front-desk stations and will be the least powerful machines in the office. They have modest processing requirements, need virtually no hard-drive storage, and do not need sound or multimedia. A business workstation will cost $1,000 or less.
Clinical workstations - These are the chairside computers which need to be much more powerful than the business machines. Chairside computers will be used for patient education, image management, digital radiography, cosmetic imaging, intraoral-camera capture, and much more. These machines need full multimedia capability, including sound, CD/DVD, powerful processors, and lots of memory. They do not need hard-drive storage, since the data will be stored on the server. A clinical workstation will cost from $1,800 to $2,200.
Some offices may need a consultation workstation. This computer would be used in a consultation room for case presentations. This machine would be similar to a clinical workstation, have full multimedia capacity, but would not be used to capture images, radiographs, and other data.
A remarkable number of new products and ideas will work with a computer in the dental office. These include digital radiography, interactive patient education, cosmetic-image enhancement, record storage, paperless charts, real-time insurance claims, and much more.
The future is coming and it will be amazing!
Dr. Larry Emmott is a practicing general dentist in Phoenix, Ariz. He also is an entertaining, award-winning professional speaker who has addressed hundreds of professional groups. He is a featured speaker at the Las Vegas Institute, and a member of AADPA. He has written many articles for national magazines on dentistry, computer use, and management. He produces a monthly newsletter on management and computer use in the dental office. He has developed and maintains a Web site at www.drlarryemmott.com; his e-mail address is [email protected].