Time Out-Take 5

Can the staff easily adapt to new technologies? Many of us ponder our decisions to network our offices, add digital photography and radiographs.

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

Can the staff easily adapt to new technologies? Many of us ponder our decisions to network our offices, add digital photography and radiographs. This is all fine, but how many of us are coordinated enough to actually implement these into the work flow? All too often, the enthusiastic dentist gets a reality kick in the rear when the computers sit idle, showing nothing more than beautiful screen savers.

Think back to your transition from paper ledger cards to the new "billing computers," or the transition from the appointment book to the digital scheduler. Since this was "only" the front desk, it was not difficult arranging training and implementation while the "back office" continued to work. It is easy to put on an answering service and tell patients you will call them the next day with billing or appointment information. However, it is not as simple to get all of the assistants, hygienists, and, if present, doctors in one place at one time without disrupting the production. It is not sufficient, as I can personally attest, to train staff in between patients or at staff meetings. As one with a large number of tech devices, many sit idly on countertops in the treatment rooms. Out of frustration, I will walk into a hygiene room as if to check a patient, pick up a device and say, "Why didn't you use this?" "Well, DOCTOR," (in a firm voice with the exorcist stare). "You never showed me how it works!" Through clenched teeth, I loudly snap on my gloves, pick up the instrument, go over to the patient and say, "Hi, Mrs. Patient—let's have a look here, and Kam (the hygienist) will watch this for next time." The tension is remarkable and I, of course, get chastised later that day.

So, what do we do? Although it may cut into production time (Heaven help us if we ask staff members to come in on off times), you must schedule training. In many cases, a company will send a representative to the office, but training still has to come from the practitioner. It is one thing to teach a staff member to take a full series of digital radiographs, but another to put it in the normal work flow.

Ray Voller of Kittanning, Penn., has recently made the jump to high tech with a goal of establishing a digital office out of, as he describes it, a "country bumpkin dentist office in a small little borough." He spent about 15 years refining his craft to become a top-shelf restorative dentist, as well as an excellent photographer to document his cases (He also is a premier guitar player, performing locally in his "spare" time as well as nationally with the GenR8Ters). He realized that all of the finest equipment in the world would be wasted if he could not deliver the treatment at the highest level. To make the digital move, he thoroughly researched the hardware, software, integrators and tech equipment, using many resources including online Internet advice. In this case, he used genR8TNext.com. Then, before the next step, Voller essentially set a mandate to his staff that members had to be involved in this transition. They scheduled office time together, as a team, to learn such things as how to add a photo or digital radiograph to a file. In addition, Ray brought in outside people for training—the hardware installers, the digital radiograph company, as well as several hours of training from the software company. The down time in the office, as well as the expense of these sessions, was the office investment into what Voller sees as the future of his entire practice.

This does not always work smoothly. Voller has run into glitches in hardware, which slowed down some of the implementation. Some of the software did not operate up to his original expectations. Instead of hiding this from the patients, however, he just brings them along on this journey, laughing together with them as they both sit staring at a frozen screen. The patients enjoy being part of the transformation of the practice into the digital age, knowing full well that they will be the ultimate beneficiaries. Voller sums this up by saying, "Being digital in our area sets us apart and makes dentistry even more interesting" to the dentist, his staff, and his patients. "It's not about fixing a tooth anymore." We'll drop in and see how Ray Voller is doing next year.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions, including annual appearances at the Yankee.Dental Congress, and he is an ADA Seminar series speaker. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by email at drpaul@computersindentistry.com.

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