Steve Lynch, DMD
The title of this article is actually a bit misleading. If I were going to write about what you need to do to "maintain" your digital-radiography system, I wouldn't produce a column this month. That's because there is nothing you need to do to maintain your digital X-ray equipment.
What I do plan to cover in this month's column is one of the most compelling reasons why you need to convert from film to digital radiography. The key is maintenance. To be more specific, it's lack of maintenance. I'm going to discuss the maintenance activities you have to undertake to even attempt to ensure your film images are at least acceptable. Then, I'll compare that to the complete lack of maintenance work needed to keep getting instantaneous, top-quality, large-size radiographic images from your digital X-ray system.
Let's start with film and chemicals. First, as you know, the film and chemicals you use to process film X-rays always should be fresh. But how can you be sure they're really fresh? Among the things that can affect the "freshness" of these consumable supplies are the conditions under which they're stored. You no doubt take precautions to store them under the proper conditions, but do you know how they were stored in the warehouse before they were shipped to you? Did they sit on a loading dock in the sun? Has the film been properly refrigerated since it left the manufacturer? Did you ever get a price break on developer chemicals with "use by" dates close to expiration? It's very difficult to be sure the chemicals and film you need to produce consistently high-quality film X-rays are truly fresh. Compromised film or chemicals past their prime or which have been used to process too many X-rays can often mean less-than-adequate film X-ray quality. Simply put, you have to maintain your film and developer chemicals to make sure they function as they should, and, even then, there are no guarantees.
Contrast this with digital X-ray images. Since no film or chemicals are needed to produce a digital X-ray, you don't have to worry about these issues. With the digital radiography system I have installed in my office, I get a large, crisp, high-definition X-ray image displayed on my computer screen in less than two seconds. I get the same impeccable quality every single time, and I no longer need to worry if my film and developer chemicals are fresh.
The "maintenance" issue actually goes much further than just having to worry about such things as how fresh your film and chemicals are and whether the proper water temperature is being maintained in your developer. I often think that the time my team members used to waste in the darkroom processing film X-rays should have been accounted for under "maintenance costs." Film X-rays are truly "high maintenance," and the people in my office frequently told me so. Scarcely a week went by when one of my assistants or hygienists didn't have clothing damaged by accidental contact with film X-ray processing chemicals. Of course, with digital radiography, that simply never happens. No chemicals, no ruined clothing. But the biggest "maintenance" cost — one which I'm no longer paying since I switched to digital radiography — is the cost of staff time processing film X-rays. I think you can legitimately argue that this is a form of maintenance. Let me go over what those costs amounted to when my practice still used film.
Although the time spent in the darkroom processing film can vary from seven or eight minutes to as long as 15 minutes depending on the number of X-rays processed at one time, I've found that an average of 10 minutes per developing session is a fairly accurate measure. Using this number, maintenance time for 15 to 30 darkroom sessions can range from 2.5 to 5 hours every day. At about $20 per hour, this means that I was spending between $50 and $100 a day. My maintenance costs for this film X-ray development function were running between $200 and $400 per week. That's "high maintenance," and high maintenance translates into high costs!
Since I installed DEXIS digital-radiography equipment in my office, this cost is now $0! This explains why I'm so much in favor of my low-maintenance, high-quality, digital X-ray system. So if "maintenance" issues are compromising the quality of the X-rays you produce and eating into your bottom line, consider converting from film to digital radiography. In fact, I'd strongly encourage you to consider the change today.
Steve P. Lynch, DMD, is in private practice in Oxford, Ala. Since 1995, he has been teaching dentists, team members, dental students and faculty the applications of lasers and digital radiography. You may reach Dr. Lynch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his Web site at www.lynchdmd.com for more information.