Going digital: The basics

April 10, 2015
Getting to the video store and finding out all of the copies of the movie you wanted were gone. Hunting down a pay phone to ask your spouse if there is anything else he or she wants to watch. Listening to your favorite CD on the way home, only to hear it skip (thanks to a scratch) . . .

Edward Shellard, DMD

Getting to the video store and finding out all of the copies of the movie you wanted were gone. Hunting down a pay phone to ask your spouse if there is anything else he or she wants to watch. Listening to your favorite CD on the way home, only to hear it skip (thanks to a scratch) . . .

What do all of these things have in common? They are all hassles that have been eliminated thanks to the introduction of new digital technology. While technology is not without its problems (I'm looking at you, employees who can't stop texting), it has, for the most part, made our lives simpler in a myriad of ways.

In this three-part series, I want to explore how digital technology can eliminate the problems-both small and large-you experience during your daily workflow. Whether you're just flirting with the idea of incorporating digital into your office, or you're an experienced technology user who wants to add new services and procedures to your repertoire, there are always some tweaks that can improve your practice.

When we talk about "going digital" in dentistry, there are a number of topics that come to mind. While going digital may mean setting up a paperless practice to some, to others it means making the switch from film to digital radiography. But no matter which way you look at it, the goal of digital technology is to eliminate many of the hassles we experience during our routine in an effort to maximize productivity and revenue.

Streamline patient-facing activities

Many patient-facing activities can be time consuming for your staff-keeping them from working on tasks that could have more impact on your bottom line. Today there are a number of electronic services that can automate these time drains, while still ensuring patients are contacted and billed appropriately.

Electronic reminder services allow you to customize how patients are reminded about their upcoming appointment, either by text, email, or phone. Studies have shown that using appointment reminders reduce no-shows by up to 30%, eliminating lost revenue and the hassle of rescheduling.

You can also save your team from stuffing envelopes and licking stamps by using a third-party service to send automated statements. You still have control of the billing process, but without wasting valuable staff time (and finding a place to store all the forms and envelopes on-site).

Enhance imaging, diagnoses and treatment planning

Embracing digital imaging doesn't necessarily mean scrapping your old products and bringing in shiny new systems. Even something as simple as implementing an intraoral camera into your operatory can provide benefits to both you and your patients.

An intraoral camera can remove the hassle of explaining problems that patients cannot see. By putting an image up on the screen, you can show (rather than tell) a patient his cracked tooth and explain the ramifications he may experience if the problem isn't addressed in a timely manner.

Of course, the benefits of switching from film to digital radiography have been widely discussed over the past few years. Digital radiography eliminates the hassle of dealing with broken processors, waiting for the film to develop, and retakes. You now can capture the image and view it almost instantaneously on your computer.

When you acquire radiographs with an intraoral sensor or phosphor plate, you also have more control over your imaging capabilities than ever before. Whether you want to magnify the image or customize the contrast to your specific tastes, there are a number of benefits over analog film. The best part is that you don't have to sacrifice image quality for the convenience of digital.

The takeaway

At its most basic level, adding new digital imaging systems or electronic services can save valuable time for you, your staff, and your patients. Most doctors worry about the up-front costs associated with these equipment/software purchases; however, many of those who were worried about the initial expense have found that eliminating many of the routine costs associated with analog processes has allowed the technology to pay for itself. Not to mention, it's added the benefit of increased case acceptance.

Edward Shellard, DMD, has more than two decades of clinical and executive experience in the dental industry. Since joining Carestream Dental in 2008, Dr. Shellard has driven global marketing strategy and product development efforts for the latest innovations in dental and practice-management technology.

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