Steps toward buying digital

Feb. 1, 2006
There has been much written about converting from film to digital radiography, but there are also steps to choose the right system.

There has been much written about converting from film to digital radiography, but there are also steps to choose the right system.

It’s a good idea to introduce it to your team, present it, and allow them to express themselves. You want them to buy in on anything new, so don’t just announce, “Oh, we’re getting a new digital radiography system next week, so do what you must to get ready for it.”

I presented the benefits to my team members at a meeting. I told them the technology represents the future of dentistry. I explained that digital radiography means up to 90 percent less radiation for patients and team members involved in taking X-rays. I told them I owe it to patients and the team to provide the most healthful treatment alternatives available.

I also mentioned the environmental benefits of not having to dispose of toxic chemicals associated with film radiography, and of the health benefits of not having to deal with developer chemicals. I explained that the new technology would significantly improve workflow in the office and result in time saved. That would mean more time to devote to each patient.

Things we were looking for varied depending on our jobs. Clinical team members were interested in the ease of the software. We all wanted to know how many mouse clicks it takes, how well we can customize the software to our way of taking X-rays, and the image quality.

Hygienists were interested in how much they had to do while taking multiple X-rays such as a full-mouth series. They didn’t want to go back to the computer to reset the software every time they captured an image. They also looked for how quickly each image could be captured and displayed. They were looking for a system that was much faster than film. And they were concerned about multiple sensors and whether they would have to change sensors during a session. They saw that as a significant drawback.

We had heard about digital sensors being uncomfortable for patients, so two members of the clinical team had X-rays taken at each presentation so they could experience each of the sensors. Only one of the systems was considered more comfortable than film.

Another clinical issue was taking vertical bitewing X-rays. With some digital radiography systems, you can’t take vertical bitewings because of problems with how the cord connecting the sensor to the computer is attached to the sensor. Again, in only one system was the sensor designed so that the cord did not interfere with taking a vertical bitewing.

Another set of concerns was that of the administrative staff. Again, easy use of the software was important. Did it integrate well with the practice-management software? Could X-rays be sent electronically with insurance claims? How easy was that? Could they communicate using the computer software with the clinical team about what X-rays would need to be sent for insurance?

The entire team was concerned with training. Who would do the training? How long would it take? They were also concerned with technical support. Was there an 800 number for questions or problems? Could the vendor access our office’s computer - with our permission - and diagnose and make software repairs and upgrades without sending a technical person to our office?

I called the top-three digital radiography companies and scheduled demonstrations during lunch so everyone could see each presentation and ask questions.

After we had seen all of the presentations, we sat down for a staff meeting to review the presentations and discuss our options. In our case, the choice was easy. There was only one vendor that met all the criteria we were looking for in the new system. Once we had our system installed, we were satisfied with the results. Our training took only four of the six hours allotted for it. The system was so straightforward that we didn’t need all of the scheduled time.

After we had been running for a while, one of my team members said, “You know, I’m sure glad we didn’t take the first system we saw. I was so impressed by the first demo that I was ready to say, ‘Where do I sign?’ But, in fact, the first system was the worst of the three.”

We learned an important lesson I’ll pass along to you: Don’t purchase the first digital radiography system you see. Take your time and put the sales reps through their paces. Ask tough questions, as we did. The payoff will be getting a system that meets your needs. After all, I was serious when I said that digital radiography is the future of dentistry.

Dr. Cynthia Brattesani maintains a private practice in San Francisco. She won the prestigious ADA Golden Apple New Dentist Leadership Award in 1996. She is an enthusiastic member of organized dentistry, having held positions at the local, state, and national levels. You may reach her at [email protected].

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