In my last column, I discussed file storage, maintenance, and servers. This month, I would like to talk about what you can do with images once you have saved them properly to a hard drive - whether it be to a server, or a stand-alone computer such as a laptop or a computer in the consultation room.
Two of the most common uses for dental images are case presentation and digital smile designs. The images can be shown to the patient on high-definition computer monitors and/or be printed for a patient to view. In addition to printing, the images also can be burned to a CD or sent via e-mail for future viewing by a patient. Digital smile design “restores” a patient’s smile via computer simulation to show the patient possible results. This can be a powerful tool for case presentation and treatment acceptance. Before you purchase image editing and archiving software, there are a couple of items to consider so that your office will get a return on its investment:
■ Dedication to using software - No matter how much or how little you spend on software, if the software sits on a shelf, it will not provide you with a return on your investment. If you or any of your team members are not dedicated to becoming proficient with the software on a daily basis, then this might not be the right time to invest in this technology. This is a decision you will have to make, based on your desires and office goals.
■ Cost - The amount you are willing to invest in this type of software is also an important consideration. Let me say something ridiculous, and then explain what I mean. The less you or your team is dedicated toward using this type of software, the more you should spend on it. I realize this statement might make little sense. Why spend on something you may not use much? But consider this. Software that generally costs more - such as Dentrix Image, Image Fx, and Visora - are easier to use than less expensive software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Elements, or Thumbs Plus. According to the graphic artist, Adobe Photoshop is the gold standard. If Adobe cannot complete a task, then it probably cannot be done when it comes to editing. But Adobe Photoshop and Elements are not easy to learn, especially for a beginner. But once mastered, they are incredibly powerful. But you need to be dedicated to using this software. This could involve enrolling in a course if you cannot learn the software yourself. Adobe Photoshop costs $700 to $800, Elements just more than $100, while Thumbs Plus is less than $100. On the other end of the spectrum are programs like Image Fx, Dentrix Image, and Visora. This software costs from $3,500 to $5,000. While these programs do cost considerably more than their counterparts, they are easier to use. First, these programs archive your images. Images are saved automatically “within” this software, making storage and retrieval easy. Programs like Adobe Photoshop do not catalog and store images. They simply read and manipulate images found on a hard drive. With this software, you have to save manually and catalog images. But remember that Photoshop, Elements, and Thumbs Plus are not as expensive. The more-expensive software is designed for dental editing and is built with the needs of dental practices in mind. Bleaching teeth, recreating smiles by laying an image of a beautiful smile on top of a patient’s smile, closing diastema, and lengthening teeth can be mastered even by inexperienced team members. The more expensive software also has built-in case presentation modules that allow you to show patients what is possible. With Adobe Photoshop, Elements, and Thumbs Plus, a patient views images in a slide show setting. However, a program like PowerPoint is needed to create case presentations equal to what you can do with programs like Dentrix Image. While PowerPoint is easy to use and master, it is yet another program that you or your team would need to learn.
Each of these programs has its advantages and disadvantages. My dental office uses Image Fx for storing clinical images and case presentations. I use Thumbs Plus for the printing of cases to display on the office walls. I design marketing pieces with Adobe Photoshop, and use PowerPoint to create digital brochures to send to new patients. Next month, I will talk about the advantages of having different team members use this software as well as the advantages of designating different locations within your office for digital case presentations.
Dr. Tony Soileau is a general dentist from Lafayette, La. He has taught digital photography at the Pacific Aesthetic Continuum in San Francisco, the Institute of Oral Art & Design in Tampa, Fla., and the Esthetic Epitome in Charlotte, N.C. Soileau is currently a co-director for the genR8TNext digital photography program. Contact Soileau at (337) 234-3551, or at [email protected].