Content Dam De Print Articles Volume 107 Issue 9 Dreamstime Xxl 64427874

The importance of total cost of ownership in digital impression systems

Sept. 13, 2017
Gary Kaye, DDS, FAGD, Founder, New York Center for Digital Dentistry

The rapid growth of digital dentistry has impacted virtually every dental practice in some form or another, whether through the enthusiastic adoption of cutting-edge technology, the slow transition away from material-intensive techniques, or even the knowledge that advancements exist as potential investments. But no matter the effect, the digital dentistry revolution has fundamentally changed the field, and each practice now operates within the scope of these new technologies.

The technology that enables digital dental impression systems is an integral part of my practice. It has changed the way I approach crowns, bridges, implants, and other restorative and cosmetic procedures. A digital impression system eliminates the need for physical impression materials. It also offers incredible accuracy with rapid turnaround time, thanks to direct digital communication with a lab.

However, despite its many benefits, the adoption of a digital impression system, should not be considered lightly. It is incredibly important to approach these systems with a full understanding of the technology, its integration into your practice, and the full cost.

I have written before about the adoption of new technologies, stressing the importance of total cost of ownership (TCO). Considering the TCO of a new piece of equipment, software, or system is a fundamental step that we all must take before purchasing technology. Impatience is understandable, as new technology is exciting and we want to see how it can positively affect our practices, workflows, and patients. The excitement is similar to that familiar feeling we get when we purchase a new smartphone or tablet. However, when it comes to our practices, eagerness can cause us to overlook the required work and actual costs that accompany new technology. Technology investments have a wide impact, affecting our practices, patients, and employees.

It’s for these reasons that understanding the TCO of digital impression systems is a vital step in successful integration. Let us now look at some of the components of TCO for digital impression systems.

Initial hardware and software

Far from a hidden cost, the initial hardware and software expenses for digital dental impressions are included in the price of the equipment. This portion of the TCO is straightforward and impossible to overlook.

Workflow and training

The purchase of a digital impression system comes with a well-defined price tag, but the costs associated with adoption and integration are another matter. Practices that are ill-prepared to integrate this new technology can see their workflows interrupted. This hidden cost of interruption is difficult to calculate, but it is no less real than the price of the equipment itself. Thankfully, this cost can be mitigated by thoughtful preparation and careful integration. For example, the negative impact can be mitigated through competent management decisions, group discussions, plenty of prior warning, and assistance to any team members who are struggling. These actions prevent wasted time and reduce transition stress. They allow the workflow benefits of digital impression systems to manifest quicker.

For most practices, training may be necessary to take advantage of the many features of digital impression technology. To maximize workflow, appropriate staff should be familiar with setting up hardware, using the software, scanning patients with proper technique, correctly handling the sterilization of fragile pieces, and sending files to the lab for production. Ideally, some team members should even be proficient enough to diagnose and repair simple internet connectivity issues, avoiding superfluous IT support. This can be learned through dedicated training, the price of which should be considered in the TCO.

Upkeep and maintenance

As with any digital equipment, the components of a digital impression system require upkeep to software and hardware components. For software, the cost of future system upgrades should always be considered in TCO, as should the IT support that will minimize downtime experienced due to errors or connectivity issues. IT infrastructure serves as a preventative cost, protecting equipment from interruptions that could damage the workflow of the practice. In the case of laptops, which are used with some digital impression machines in lieu of a dedicated tower, the software upkeep cost may include firewall and antivirus subscriptions, particularly if the laptop is also used for general Internet access.

Hardware maintenance can be particularly costly, especially in bustling practices where the equipment endures near-constant use. Accidents happen, potentially requiring the replacement of necessary hardware. The delicate nature of many scanner heads makes them susceptible to scratches or to being crushed in improper storage. The TCO of digital dental impressions should be considered as if these accidents were inevitable. Otherwise, we risk not only the surprise of maintenance costs, but having to remove the equipment from use, negatively impacting our workflow and ongoing cases. A potential method of preventing this issue is through redundancy, though this may not be an option for most practices. If it is, the additional equipment should be added to the TCO.

The final consideration regarding TCO and upkeep is the lifespan of the equipment. Eventually, each piece of technology will reach its end phase, when replacement becomes preferable to maintenance. Though it can technically be seen as the beginning of a new TCO for the next, usually upgraded version, it is still important to consider the potential cost when investing in a system.

Auxiliary costs

While the majority of the TCO for a digital impression system relates directly to the hardware, software, and workflow implementation, there are auxiliary costs that should be considered. These include a monthly internet connection, licensing fees, and storage. These costs are generally recurring, sometimes causing them to be separated from the TCO. But it is important to recognize that they are, in fact, a part of it.

It may seem overwhelming to consider the TCO of a digital dental impression system. However, it is the key to successfully preparing for and implementing this new and exciting technology. When all the potential costs are considered, the focus can be on the adoption and continued use of this advancement in digital dentistry.

Gary Kaye, DDS, FAGD, is the founder of the New York Center for Digital Dentistry and has practiced in New York City since 1993. He is a graduate of the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. Dr. Kaye consults with other dentists and dental manufacturers, and lectures on topics including ceramics, occlusion, and digital dentistry. He is a guest faculty member of Planmeca University in Dallas, Texas.

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