Technology from the patient’s viewpoint

July 1, 2006
There’s no denying the fact that dentistry as it is practiced today is much more dependent on technology than ever before.

There’s no denying the fact that dentistry as it is practiced today is much more dependent on technology than ever before. We rely heavily on new and improved technological devices to enhance our ability to provide quality dental diagnosis and treatment. And that trend is here to stay.

The question for me in the rush to add new technology to our practices is, “What does this mean for our patients?”

Another way of phrasing this question might be, “Does adding new technology to our practices improve or diminish our patients’ experience?”

Most new technologies provide some enhancements that directly benefit our patients. It might be a reduction in noise or discomfort, or perhaps the new technology might speed up a procedure so patients have to spend less time in the chair.

There is one technology, however, that so dramatically improves the patient’s experience that it is a must-have - digital radiography. Every patient I’ve treated since I installed digital radiography in my practice has commented positively on it, and some have been positively rapturous.

As everyone knows, X-rays are the backbone of the dental practice and have been since they first became available. It was a revolutionary technology more than half a century ago, and the advent of digital radiography has revolutionized X-rays once again.

One of the first things my patients commented on when they first experienced digital radiography was the speed with which the X-ray process was completed. The question was no longer, “How long will it take?” In fact, that’s no longer even a question. The patient sees the radiographic image on a large computer monitor within a few seconds of its being taken. It’s instantaneous.

Patients no longer have to spend 15 to 20 minutes sitting idly in the chair while their film X-rays are processed. The doctor no longer has to interrupt other tasks to review X-rays “when they’re ready.” They’re ready now.

Another thing that patients comment on is the fact that with film they simply had no idea what was going on with their X-rays. Even if I had found a convenient way to share the tiny 1¾” x 1” film radiographs with them, they wouldn’t have been able to see the same problems I found. They were “in the dark” where film radiographs were concerned, even after the films came back from the darkroom.

With digital, one of my more astute patients commented immediately on the fact that the process now involved what she called “co-diagnosis” between the dentist and the patient. While I’m still the expert, now I can review X-rays with each patient, pointing out the flaws and problems I find and enhancing them digitally so that they stand out more clearly for patients. My patients appreciate being part of the process. Digital radiography truly fosters a professional “consultation.”

Another area where patients really appreciate my digital radiography system is that of comfort and safety. When I tell them that there is up to 80 percent less radiation with the system I now use than there was with film, they understand right away. And when they feel the rounded edges of the single sensor of my digital radiography system, they almost always comment on how much more comfortable it is than the sharp edges of the film.

A phrase I always recall when I think about the focus of my practice is: “People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.” And I know of no better way to tell them how much you care than to install digital radiography. It’s the one key way to focus their attention on how much you know.

Dr. Cynthia Brattesani maintains a private practice in San Francisco. She won the prestigious ADA Golden Apple New Dentist Leadership Award in 1996. She is an enthusiastic member of organized dentistry, having held positions at the local, state, and national levels. You may reach her at [email protected].

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