Get ready for DICOM

DICOM stands for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine. Dr. Jeffrey B. Dalin explains how it allows images on one system to be available on another.

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by Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS

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What exactly is DICOM? It is a word that you will be hearing a lot about during the next few years. DICOM stands for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine. It is a set of rules that allows digital images and associated information to be exchanged between imaging equipment, computers, dental offices, and other interested parties.

The standard establishes a common language that permits dental images and information produced on one vendor's machine to be available for use on the digital system of another vendor. The ultimate goal here is to establish total interconnectivity between all medical and dental devices.

With the introduction of computerized tomography (CT), followed by other digital diagnostic-imaging modalities in the 1970s - and the increasing use of computers in clinical applications - the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the National Electrical Manufacturers Assoc iation (NEMA) recognized the emerging need for a standard method for transferring images and associated information between devices manufactured by various vendors. Each of these devices produces a variety of digital-image formats. In 1983, these two groups formed a joint committee to develop a standard that would promote communication of digital-image information, regardless of device manufacturer. This has evolved into the DICOM standard.

The American Dental Assoc iation "infomatics" task force is under the direction of Dr. Brent Dove from the University of Texas-San Antonio. The task force has been working with industry leaders for many years now, trying to develop a standard for all dental-digital images. They have settled on the DICOM standard.

This means that all dental images could be transferred from one software data base to any others, even those from different vendors. In practical terms, this means that you can send images to another dentist and have that dentist view these images with any DICOM- conformant system. You would be able to do the same thing with third-party insurers.

At the present time, most dental insurance companies will not accept digital images because they arrive in so many different formats. This is where another huge advantage to DICOM conformance comes in. You would no longer be tied to any one software system. You would be able to change to a different digitalimaging system with no negative consequences if you find one you like better, or if your present system decides to shut down its operations.

Dental digital radiography is no longer the future. The advantages to a dental practice cannot be overlooked any longer. You will use less radiation (your patients will love this fact), capture images instantly, magnify or enhance your images, stop using developing chemicals (which is good for the environment), stop purchasing film (this will undoubtedly save you money), and save time (you will no longer need to develop and mount films). Your patients will greatly appreciate the fact that you have lowered their exposure to radiation and will be truly amazed by this technology. You will find that your treatment-acceptance rate will rise sharply.

Your only decision now should be which system to purchase. Evaluate sensor comfort and the software. Look at the stability of the manufacturer. With the advance of DICOM conformance, seamless integration to practice- management systems is no longer an issue. Digital radiography is a remarkable technology - don't be left behind!

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