Paul Feuerstein, DMD
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There are still some holdouts. Some do not have computers in the treatment rooms and because of that continue to resist setting up a digital office. They have heard digital radiography could make things easy, but the initial network investment has them concerned. Here are a few products that can make this situation work, without the hassle.
Most new sensors connect via USB. Since new laptops have this connection, you can get a sensor - and after installing software - images can be taken, viewed, and stored on the laptop. A few things, though, make this less than desirable.
First, laptops are clumsy to trek around and are difficult to keep clean in the dental environment. A few manufacturers make industrial strength units that can withstand a "beating" and minimal moisture. But a price comes with this. Also, the screen resolution is lower-end on most off-the-shelf laptops, and graphics cards have minimal specs.
Of course, laptops will still have to connect to the network and have practice-management software to make a smooth integration. Finally, they take up much free counter space in order to keep them stable and easy to type on.
An interesting alternative comes from MyRay Corp. The company has attached a sensor to a little device with a screen reminiscent of an iPod that is complete with software and an SD card. It is called the X-Pod.
There is no setup. Turn it on and you are ready to take digital radiographs. The images show up on the touch- screen, and can be manipulated in all the standard ways of digital software. The images are stored on the SD card and can be easily copied to the main computer in the office either from the card, with a direct USB cable, or wirelessly with Bluetooth. Complete information including a descriptive YouTube video can be seen at www.my-ray.com.
Another group of holdouts are offices that have older, film-based panoramic machines. To be honest, for many practitioners who supplement these with intraoral images, the old "pans" seem fine. The problem is in the duplication or digitizing of these images. Most of us know that a film- based duplicate loses much of the clarity. Even a scanner with transparency adaptors at 300 dpi settings are only fair.
A few companies make a retrofit, a digital sensor that is mounted on the film carrier. There is also the phosphor plate option in which you replace the film with a plate. This still has to be "developed" digitally and requires an additional piece of equipment. Some dental manufacturers have introduced digital pans that cost about $25,000. These are quite affordable if you want to upgrade.
If the practitioner is satisfied with the current film and does not want to invest in a new, expensive piece of equipment for a perfectly functioning unit, but still wants to get the office digital, there is an interesting new option.
Vidar Corporation has been in the medical imaging business for 19 years, and is a highly respected company with clients such as GE Imaging, Panasonic, and Toshiba. Vidar has introduced a new scanner that allows the operator to simply feed the panoramic film into a slot. In less than 30 seconds, you get a digital copy. This is not just a straight copy but one that is "digitally enhanced." The copies are clearer and much easier to read than the originals.
Do not confuse this technology with the old X-ray scanner. Vidar's scanner is in a class of its own and produces an amazing transformation of the film to the digital enhancement. This technology is just less than $8,000, but the company offers discounts. The simplicity and small size make it a great option for digitizing your films. The unit can also copy your other films into a digital format, including intraoral films that can remain in clear mounts. This makes for a simple scan. They are also digitally enhanced. Complete information is available at www.vidar.com.
One more reason to get digital films (if you need one) is to deal with insurance companies more easily. A product to help with this, that has been around for several years and continues to grow, is NEA (National Electronic Attachments).
With the conversion to paperless and sending insurance claims electronically, there is still a problem when a radiograph, image, charting, or narrative is required. Via a simple program, NEA allows you to digitally attach items to the e-claim. NEA does not have to integrate with your dental programs since it uses a screen capture - whatever is on the screen can be attached to the insurance form. There are no more lost films or insurance company statements saying the forms were not received. This can actually speed up the process. Complete information is at www.nea-fast.com.
You are running out of excuses to not go digital!
Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached at email@example.com.