Th 156683

Taking FullAdvantage of Technology

Aug. 1, 2004
Digital integration can be a difficult concept to understand when trying to explain it, but I think it comes down to one simple concept.

By Tom Kemlage, DDS

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Digital integration can be a difficult concept to understand when trying to explain it, but I think it comes down to one simple concept. Digital integration takes dentists to the next level in getting the most out of the technology they employ in their offices. For example, you might have a digital radiography system that you love because the radiographs come out in a couple of seconds, but do you stop there? Are you taking full advantage of the numerous diagnostic tools in your clinical software system to analyze the images? Optimal diagnostics require using the technology to its fullest. Confusing? A little, but it doesn't have to be.

Now, I'm a sports fan. I like playing sports, watching sports, and even coaching my sons in their sporting endeavors. One of my favorite athletic activities is running. One year ago, I ran my first marathon. Accom-plishing this feat requires a lot of integration in your own body and routine. You start with your body — a complex system if there ever was one. It makes technology seem like child's play! You begin training your muscles and lungs for the task ahead. A program to build endurance, weight training to increase strength, a proper diet to store energy, focusing on the mental aspects of the run, and even breaking in the appropriate shoes are all incorporated into this effort. But it must be a total effort. Every aspect from strength to endurance to mental toughness must be in alignment. This is integration at its finest. A close second would be my dental practice.

We all have practices that have numerous technological wonders within them — each designed to increase efficiency and help us deliver superior oral care to our patients. In my case, we work with practice-management and clinical software (Patterson EagleSoft), digital radiography (Schick), intraoral camera, digital camera, and a CAESY patient-education system, among other technologies. The entire office requires training and practice with each technology to bring out the fullest potential the system has to offer. We have certified trainers come out from our software company to teach us how to get the most out of our software, radiography, cameras, etc. All of our patient data is converted into this system, supplying a steady "diet" of information that can be stored in one patient record. Because our software is digitally integrated with every other digital device in the office, everything is seamless. I pull up one patient record and have access to radiographs, intraoral images, digital imaging, chart notes, treatment plans, etc., without ever leaving one screen. It's all integrated into one program; in our case, Patterson EagleSoft.

Yes, you could run a marathon without training, lifting weights, eating right, etc.; however, I'm certain your performance would not be what you hoped for, and you likely wouldn't be successful enough to finish. Similarly, you can run your practice using the bare minimum capabilities of your practice-management and clinical technologies, but I bet you would not be as successful as you could be if you learned more about what your total system is capable of doing for you. Technology is great — and when it's integrated it's even better. The "seamlessness" is something you won't even notice until it's not there. For example, my digital radiography system is amazing, and I realized how spoiled I am when the system went down one day and I was forced back to the old, slow method of developing film X-rays.

It is vitally important to be in touch with all aspects of your technology and understand how they work together. I have seen countless dental offices where the dentist invests his or her hard-earned money on a quality digital radiography system — and then installs cheap monitors in the operatories! The X-ray images look bad, but it's not the radiography system, it's the pixilated monitors that are causing the problems.

Once you become acquainted with all the features of your digital system, you can truly begin to appreciate integrated technologies. We selected practice-management and clinical software that directly integrates with other best-in-class digital components, such as our Schick digital radiography system. We let our software company do the integrating within their own system, so it requires no bridging software. Bridging software translates the language of one device to another, and is just one more area that can break down. Our digital equipment needs no translators because they all "speak" the same language. The software integrates Schick digital radiography, intraoral imaging, the CAESY patient-education system, etc., with nothing else required.

Through my software, I can input images from my intraoral camera. I don't have to move to a new window to take digital radiography. It is great for educating — I can show patients exactly what I'm doing using pictures of their teeth from intraoral images, X-rays, etc. Furthermore, this all can be done quickly and easily on the same screen in one patient record, so I don't have to ask the patient to remember what he or she was looking at while I switch programs. If my technologies weren't fully integrated, it would slow me down significantly.

A great example is when working with specialists. I had a case I wanted a specialist to look at for a second opinion. Instead of mailing an X-ray to the specialist and rescheduling my patient to come back, I simply telephoned the specialist and told him to check his e-mail because I was sending over a digital radiograph for him to take a look. In just seconds, we were having a conversation about my patient's radiograph, and I was able to continue with treatment.

The integration continues beyond monitors and keyboards. When purchasing technology, we decided to go through a single provider, Patterson Dental Supply. Doing this made the process more convenient, efficient, and cost-effective than trying to put the different pieces together. I make one phone call to my representative if there's a problem with anything, and this person knows exactly what's going on regardless of whether it's a hardware, software, or digital device. It would be a headache to make dozens of phone calls to multiple providers — something I have no time to do!

Choosing a single technology provider with a solid reputation, the capabilities to connect it all together, and ongoing support has really made the difference in my practice. My practice is using our digital system to its fullest capacity. The ability to have all of my technology-driven devices working seamlessly together in one patient record has delivered a powerful tool into my hands — a tool I can use to create a more efficient practice, an exciting work environment, and a place where my patients feel comfortable and know they're getting the best dental care for themselves and their families.

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