Breakdown

Another article about digital radiography? You probably think it has been covered ad infinitum

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: digital radiography, sensors, warranty, service contract, replacement, Dr. Paul Feuerstein.

Another article about digital radiography? You probably think it has been covered ad infinitum. Sensors have been in use for a while, and as mechanical and electrical objects, things do go wrong.

I started looking at longevity, maintenance, and problems. I asked some companies to explain their warranty policies. I wanted to get a sense of the ongoing costs of maintenance contracts and whether they are worth the expense. Also, I wanted to know what problems are covered and what ones are not. Quite a range was reported and there are some gray areas. Just as with many products, the basic warranty covers defects in materials or workmanship. Most of these defects would be realized quickly during use.

Most companies are clear in stating “abuse beyond normal wear and tear” is not covered. After the initial period, they offer extended warranties and service contracts. If you don’t sign up for these services, you are liable for repair or replacement costs out-of-pocket. The maintenance agreements also cover software upgrades. In some cases, they allow for free calls to support the “how do I do this” questions.

The most common reason for sensor failure seems to be loss of communication between the sensor and the computer. This probably is related to breakage in the wire.

There can be a break at the insertion point on the sensor or at the connector point to the computer since these spots are the most “bent” and manipulated. The wire can have a break anywhere in the length. Some operators wind them up tightly or bend them so they can be put away in a drawer.

Any metal wire will fatigue and break similar to if you bend a metal hanger back and forth many times. There is usually a set of instructions called “sensor care” that comes with the units. They caution against winding up the wires or hanging the sensor on a wall from the wire (all have holders that have the wire hanging from the sensor).

Sometimes there is an actual sensor failure. This would show up as unclear or distorted images, missing areas in the image, or unexplained lines. A few service calls discussed a dark line running across some images. The operative word here is “some,” which turned out to be the wire positioned between the X-ray head and the sensor.

I asked about other “unusual problems” that companies see when sensors are submitted for repair. “Sensor run over by stool” is an unfortunate common issue. Soaking the sensor for an extended time in disinfectant, or running the sensor through the autoclave also were interesting problems reported. (Some sensors are totally immersible, so please check.)

There is the common issue of “patient bit through it and cracked it.” Cables also can be run over, tripped over, stepped on, or caught in drawers. There were reports of clamping the sensor or the wire with a hemostat or “snap- type” device (still in the office from film days) to achieve a difficult position.

Solutions

As a result of repetitive issues, there have been changes in design. Here are a few examples. Schick has answered wire breakage with its newest models. They have created a connector on the sensor where the wire comes in that is simply replaceable by snapping in a new wire. Kodak has added “shock absorption” inside the sensor to reduce failure if the sensor is dropped. Planmeca’s sensors are sealed and can be fully immersed in disinfectant. Companies look at these issues and implement improvements in the newer models. Unfortunately, the sensor upgrade usually requires purchase of a new sensor. At times, a manufacturer runs “specials” for existing customers, so keep an eye out for these occasions.

Warranties and maintenance

These are wildly different so I offer a few random situations. One company gives a three-year warranty; however, if the sensor needs replacement in years two and three, there is a $2,500 fee. This could be construed as costing $2,500 a year if you use it. If not, you are home free. Others have a one-year warranty with a $2,000 annual maintenance fee. Suni warrants one of its sensors for three years, and allows an additional three years for $1,995. Schick has a flat annual fee for the office regardless of the number of sensors. The company waives the fee for EagleSoft customers. Although this seems like a variation, there are many things to consider when evaluating this area, such as the costs for replacement under warranty (this can vary) and access to overnight replacements.

No sensor is free from failure. So accept this, do your homework, and make your purchase decisions carefully.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry’s first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. He was named “Clinician of the Year” at the 2010 Yankee Dental Congress. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at drpaul@toothfairy.com.

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