Where laptops dont work

I get versions of the following question almost every week: "How about using laptops in the ops? Would it be practical to move them from room to room as part of the setup of the room? Would there be a way to bundle all the needed cable connections into a simple kind of docking station? Am I dreaming?"

Larry Emmott, DDS

I get versions of the following question almost every week: "How about using laptops in the ops? Would it be practical to move them from room to room as part of the setup of the room? Would there be a way to bundle all the needed cable connections into a simple kind of docking station? Am I dreaming?"

That`s not a dream; it`s a nightmare. I think dentists like the laptop idea for two reasons. First, they think they will save money by needing to buy fewer computers. Secondly, it just seems so cool to carry the laptop with them from room to room. Laptops appear to be a very elegant solution. But, in reality, they are completely impractical for use in the treatment rooms.

Two very important reasons about why dentists are moving toward computers in the treatment rooms are:

- They provide an instant, seamless transfer of information from the back to the front. In order for this information to be transferred, the computer must be hooked up to a network.

- Treatment room computers can be used for all kinds of advanced add-ons, such as digital radiography, digital cameras, patient education, digital image management, cosmetic imaging, voice activated charting, and more. Laptops are not well-suited for any of these applications.

The primary advantage of a laptop computer is portability. To accommodate information transfer from back to front, the computer needs to be hooked to a network. Once the computer is tied down to a network docking station, the user loses the primary advantage of portability. If the computer is moved to another room, it will need to be shut down, rebooted, and restored to the network at every move - a time consuming chore.

Laptop displays cannot support good color graphics for patient education or video. They do not show digital radiographs well. They do not work well for cosmetic imaging. The display area is small and must be viewed from a limited angle. If anything is to be shown to the patient - a cosmetic image, a radiograph, or educational program - the machine will have to be passed to the patient. The laptop could be used with a regular monitor, which, again, means it is tied down to a docking station.

Laptops (with rare exceptions) cannot be used to capture digital X-rays or photos. Any computer add-ons such as image capture, voice input, computerized probes, dual monitors, and so on are harder, more expensive, and sometimes impossible to use with a laptop.

You can get the same computing power from a desktop computer at half the price. For a laptop to be used at all in a treatment room, the user needs a docking station, in-room monitor, and add-on inputs, which make laptop use even more expensive. Laptops are also harder and more expensive to upgrade.

Some newer laptops have larger, brighter displays, which are adequate for video and graphics. They also have more connections. However, these top-end machines are priced in the $4,000-$5,000 range. They still don`t make sense for dentistry.

In the end, laptops don`t save any money at all. By the time the costs are added up, it is much less costly, and you will get better performance, to simply use a desktop configuration in each room than it is to carry a laptop around.

As for the "looking cool" factor, you could just buy a laptop to carry around for looks. Just don`t try and use it in the treatment rooms.

Dr. Larry Emmott is a practicing general dentist in Phoenix, Ariz. He also is an entertaining, award-winning professional speaker. He has addressed hundreds of professional groups and is a featured speaker at the Las Vegas Institute. He is a member of the American Academy of Dental Practice Administration and will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming ADA Technology Day. He has written many articles for national magazines on dentistry, computer use, and management. He produces a monthly newsletter on management and computer use in the dental office, and he has developed and maintains a computer users Internet Web site, www.drlarryemmott.com; e-mail: emmott@primenet.com.

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