Under my thumb

June 1, 2004
By now, those of you with digital cameras have taken hundreds — or thousands — of pictures. Of course, if you were looking for a particular image, could you find it quickly?

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

By now, those of you with digital cameras have taken hundreds — or thousands — of pictures. Of course, if you were looking for a particular image, could you find it quickly? The digital camera multi-megabyte memory card allows you to take several shots until you get the one you want. Overexpose that molar shot? No problem — just take another one with the chair light off. Since most of us are in a hurry, it's easiest to let the software download all of the pictures, since you will have time to review and edit them later. But cameras are not very helpful in this process because the photos are saved with such cryptic names as "Cimg1234," which will require you to re-name it in the future. If you have a practice-management system that allows integration of camera images, you are a step ahead; however, many practitioners find this interface a bit slow, and "do it later."

All digital cameras come with photo manipulation disks, and some are very good. One program, for example, comes with the Kodak dental package. Their Easy Share software coupled with a USB download cradle (4900 as well as 6490 models) makes image transfer and sorting very easy. The default has the photos organized by date and time, which makes them easy to find if you record that information in the patient's record.

The trick to any system is to save the images consistently in an easy-to-edit interface. One off-the-shelf product can do it all at a very low cost. The program is Thumbs Plus from www.cerious.com. This program costs $90 for the "pro" version, and $50 for the standard. You can download a free demo version, and there also is a version that can be used directly from the Web site.

This program goes far beyond sorting. It's valuable not only for your office needs, but for home photos and PowerPoint presentations. You can, for example easily resize a large image to one of a few KB for email attachment or Web site use. The documentation is very good, although some dental camera retailers such as Photomed.net have more comprehensive, dental-specific manuals available. Complete details of its many capabilities is on the Cerious Web site.

In most office situations, you will use the images on a monitor. However, many times you may want a printed copy. Most networked offices have an inkjet printer available. Epson and HP get consistently high marks, although the models change too rapidly for a specific recommendation here. When looking at printers, be sure to check the availability and pricing of its ink cartridges. Also be aware that cartridge clones can actually damage the printers as well as void any warrantees. Beware of inexpensive cartridges even if they come in name brand boxes, as there have been recent reports of counterfeiting.

The type of paper used will have a great impact on print quality. You will see a "brightness" number on many brands. The higher numbers are whiter, which will give you better looking prints. Kodak has a glossy Medical Imaging paper that, in my opinion, gives the best quality prints. This also is a great paper for printing digital radiographs. Other printer options include dye sublimation printers and color laser printers. These give excellent quality prints, but tend to cost more per unit. The differences are too numerous to explain in detail, but they are worth a look. Kodak's new dental camera comes with a mini-dye sublimation printer built into the recharge/download dock. It prints 4x6 photos right from the camera with the touch of a button.

An interesting option for printing can be found in retail stores such as Wal-Mart or CVS. These stores have kiosks that allow you to plug in your camera memory card, choose the size and number of prints, and deliver high quality photos for as little as .25 cents. You also can get enlargements, crop the photos, edit out red-eye, download the photos to a CD, and do a few other simple manipulations. Wal-Mart also now has a service that will convert your 35mm slides to digital and burn them on to a disk at a minimal cost.

I've barely grazed the surface of this topic, but I encourage you to read up on the subject and attend hands-on digital photography courses. Ask lots of questions from the very helpful dental camera companies. As always, email me and I can direct you to more specific information.

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 [email protected].

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