Moving Toward the Electronic Dental Office

Read my blips. No technical talk. No gigi- or mega-anything to do with computers. No brand-name systems. No hardware. None of the tough stuff like directory drives, unix, xenix, pentium and slash/colon/slash. Instead, we will focus on usable, practical, business ideas that arise from our use of computers. We expect nothing less from Dental Economics.

Feb 1st, 1996

Duane Schmidt, DDS

Read my blips. No technical talk. No gigi- or mega-anything to do with computers. No brand-name systems. No hardware. None of the tough stuff like directory drives, unix, xenix, pentium and slash/colon/slash. Instead, we will focus on usable, practical, business ideas that arise from our use of computers. We expect nothing less from Dental Economics.

"User-Friendly" will offer some observations gleaned from nearly 20 years of dental-computer use. That experience led us from using an outside service bureau in the 1970s to what we now call an electronic dental office, or an EDO. My goal never was to understand computers completely; "sufficiently" was good enough for my purposes. I do not completely understand a laser, a mirror or an air-turbine handpiece. Yet, I can enjoy the value and use of each of them because I understand them sufficiently.

The most important knowledge a dentist can have about computers has nothing to do with what goes on inside the chips. Dental computers only mean something when they become tools to simplify problems with people. That thrust then becomes our vision.

Our goal is to improve the quality of the dental experience through the intelligent use of smart machines.

Since many dentists have unearthed new ways to employ computers intelligently, in coming months we plan to feature the ones you will share with your colleagues. I invite your questions, comments and opinions. Please remember our beginning caveat: We should remain practical and let the computer gurus hardwire the hardware.

A Computer Parallels a Brain

A computer works much like a brain by accepting information through a keyboard, just as we learn through our senses. A computer processes inputted data according to a set of commands grouped together into what we call software. Our own mental "software," which predicts how we process inputted data, comes from our education, experience and cultural influences.

The computer then screens or prints out the result, in the same way that we react to the results of our mental process through our behavior. It`s quite a straightforward process, but the metaphor goes further.

Right Brain/Left Brain

The right brain/left brain theory holds that each hemisphere of the brain performs certain functions. The left brain deals in logic, sequential thought, numbers, words, hard data and being sure that things get done right. Our left brain is time-and-space oriented.

Liken that aspect of our brain with dental-computer functions that deal with numbers, such as billings, statements, receivables, payables and payroll, for example. Our computer left brain counts the beans.

The right brain deals with concepts, ideas, creativity and is not as time-and-space oriented. It sees that the right things get done.

Liken dental-computer, right-brain functions with the aspects that attract, bond and improve both patient acceptance and referral. Our computer right brain sees that we have beans to count.

Dentistry demands a left-brain focus, what with the facts and data of science. Entrepreneurship, treatment-planning and selling, practice-building and cosmetic dentistry call on right-brain functions. Where ledger notes (left brain) record what went on, a treatment plan (right brain) foretells what will go on. Because of their unique characteristics and parallels, dental-computer systems can expand our strengths and widen the dental mission.

An EDO Stores No Paper

Visionaries of days-gone-by sought to create the elusive "paperless" dental office, but that misstates the case. Counter to belief, an EDO employs even more paper than a conventional dental office. The extra use of paper comes from new demands imposed by new capabilities. We just don`t save all that paper.

In an EDO, we generate management reports with a keystroke, meaning more reports get printed, read, then recycled. More treatment plans, tooth and perio charts walk home with the patient, along with the receipts, appointment cards, prescriptions, work excuses and post-op instructions, all freshly printed for the occasion.

The mail carrier hauls away letters of thank you, referral, collection and welcome, while doctors carry home patient-care forms to prompt their post-op telephone calls.

Both the brain and the computer have marvelous complexities. When we use the one that we carry with us to enhance the one we keep in the office, we make the best use of both.

Next month: Features of the EDO, what the goal looks like. Address E-mail commentary to duanedds@aol.com, or to User-Friendly, Dental Economics, Box 3408, Tulsa, OK 74101.

The author practices dentistry in Cedar Rapids, IA, in an electronic dental office. He employs a team of 36 staff members, including four doctors and six hygienists. He has written three best-selling, practice-building books. He also lectures frequently on profit-building with dental computers.

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