There is no doubt that the modern dental practice has changed rapidly during the past 10 years. Dentists have come to realize that with new technology, they can create a practice that is more efficient, costs less to run, and allows for decentralization of the office. Records that were primarily paper- and film-based are being replaced by digital radiography, electronic records, and a move towards a paperless or, at the very least, chartless practice.
The challenge for most offices is to develop the best plan on how to evaluate their current and future purchases to ensure that all the systems will integrate properly together. I have developed a six-point checklist that I feel is mandatory for any practices that are adding new technologies, and I recommend that each step be completed in order:
1Practice-management software: It all starts with the administrative software that is running the practice. To develop a chartless practice, this software must be capable of some very basic functions, such as the ability to enter charting and treatment plans, handle insurance estimation and processing with e-claims, perform ongoing patient retention and recall activation, schedule appointments, and do dozens of other functions that are used on a daily basis. It is also vitally important that the software provide security measures to address patient concerns over privacy. Many older programs do not have these features. If an office wants to move forward, it will have to look at more modern practice software.
2Image-management software: This is probably the most challenging decision for any office. Most of the practice-management programs will offer an image-management module. These modules are tightly integrated with the practice-management software and will tend to work best with digital systems sold by the same company. However, there are also many third-party image programs that will bridge very easily to the practice-management software and offer more flexibility and choices, albeit with slightly less integration. Just as with the practice-management software, protecting patient privacy should be a key feature.
3Operatory design: The days of a single intraoral camera and a TV in the upper corner are being replaced by more modern systems. The majority of offices are placing two monitors in the operatories, one for the patient to view images or for patient education and entertainment, and one for the dentist and staff to use for charting and treatment-planning. There are numerous ergonomic issues that must be addressed when placing the monitors, keyboards, and mice. For example, a keyboard placed in a position that requires the dentist to twist his or her back will cause problems, as will a monitor that is improperly positioned.
4Computer hardware: After the software has been chosen and the operatories designed, it’s time to add the computers. Most offices will require a dedicated server to protect their data and to have the necessary horsepower to run the network. The workstations also must be configured to handle the higher graphical needs of the office.
5Digital systems: The choice of image software will dictate which systems are compatible. Digital radiography is the hot technology at this time, due to the benefits of faster times to view images, higher resolution, and the ability to easily enhance images. However, intraoral cameras are still an excellent addition to any office, since they allow patients to see the things that typically only a practitioner could see. Most dentists are using or considering the use of a digital camera as well, since they are superior to intraoral cameras for case documentation and lab communications.
6Data protection: With a chartless practice, protecting the data is absolutely crucial to prevent data loss due to malfunctioning software or user errors. Every office, at a minimum, should be using antivirus software to protect against the multitude of known viruses and worms; have a firewall to protect against hackers who try to infiltrate the network; and have an easy-to-verify backup protocol to be able to recover from any disaster.
While most dentists are visually oriented and tend to focus on things they can see and touch, it is important to spend as much time considering the more abstract issues, such as software and ergonomics, when planning to become a chartless practice.
Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer repair technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. Lavine can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.