The benefits of digital radiography flow both ways

At its best, the dentist-patient relationship is mutually beneficial. Dentists improve their patients' health, and patients improve their dentists' financial success.

Sep 24th, 2013

by Dr. Alex Parsi

At its best, the dentist-patient relationship is mutually beneficial. Dentists improve their patients' health, and patients improve their dentists' financial success. A financially successful practice can provide better treatment than a practice that is not financially successful. Dentists' best interests and patients' best interests are not mutually exclusive.

But like any other customer-business relationship, there are tensions and trade-offs, inefficiencies that are detrimental to the aligned interests of dentists and their patients: in order to create a treatment plan they are confident about, dentists often have to expose patients to excessive amounts of radiation. Despite the harm it poses to their health, patients are occasionally resistant to accepting their dentists' treatment plans.

That's why the advantages of digital radiography -- rapid acquisition time, image enhancement, and low radiation -- are a boon for dentists and patients. I hesitate to say the benefits "trickle down" because the advantages of digital radiography are as clear and immediate for patients as they are for the dentists who adopt the technology.

Take, for instance, case acceptance rates between film and digital radiography. Seventy-three percent of respondents in a recent survey claimed digital radiography to be more diagnostic than film. This is because the ability to capture a diagnostic image in seconds and display the magnified image to a patient -- compared to the 10 or 15 minutes it takes to capture and develop film X-rays -- facilitates trust between patient and dentist.

Leaving a patient in the dental chair and returning minutes later with a one-inch diagnostic image lends a recondite air to the proposed treatment plan and engenders distrust. You do not want your patients to have to take a leap of faith in accepting treatment.

At my endodontic practice in Los Angeles, I show patients pre- and post-treatment radiographs. Patients experience a sort of "light bulb effect." By clearly demonstrating to them on a digital monitor their diagnosis and proposed treatment plan, I have seen significant improvements in case acceptance. Greater case acceptance means greater financial success for your practice and improved dental health for patients -- a win-win for everyone.

Efficiency in capturing X-rays also translates to time saved. Less time spent developing film X-rays and taking patients through their treatment plans means more time actually treating patients. Over weeks and months, the minutes wasted developing film turn to hours. In my experience, I would estimate that by eliminating the time spent waiting for film radiographs to develop, I am able to see one more patient for every two or three that I treat.

The benefits of time saved also extend to patients. No matter how congenial an environment we create for patients, nobody wants to stay at the dentist's office a minute longer than necessary. If you are able to reduce the average treatment time from 1.5 hours to one hour, patients are more likely to believe their time at your practice was well-spent. If patients believe their time is valued when they visit the dentist, they will be more likely to return or refer.

Patients today are also far more likely to harbor health concerns about radiation exposure. At my practice, we believe in delivering critical care that we are confident about. This means taking multiple intraoral X-rays to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.

Patients often move or squirm, though, and X-rays need to be retaken. Not only is the process of positioning and repositioning, capturing and recapturing film X-rays time-consuming and costly, but it also exposes patients to unnecessary amounts of radiation.

But digital radiography can reduce radiation exposure levels by up to as much as 85%. Fast acquisition times mean immediate feedback. This allows positioning adjustments to be made on the fly while minimizing patients' radiation exposure. Garnering information through digital radiography is less harmful to the patient's health and less costly for dentists.

Digital radiography minimizes the costly inefficiencies inherent to film and promotes a more symbiotic dentist-patient relationship. When dentists and patients are more in sync, both of their interests are better served -- patients can reap the benefits of better health, doctors the rewards of a more financially successful practice.

Alex Parsi, DDS, is a Los Angeles root canal specialist. He started Los Angeles Endodontics in 2007. His office features 3-D imaging (CBCT), digital radiography, digital imaging, Zeiss microscopy, an advanced anesthesia delivery system, and diode lasers. He may be reached by email at doctorendo@gmail.com.

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