Digital radiography and patient-centered diagnosis

Dec. 1, 2004
This is the third in a series of articles about the effectiveness of digital radiography in making diagnoses. I've talked previously about how digital radiography enables us to take the guesswork out of diagnosis...

This is the third in a series of articles about the effectiveness of digital radiography in making diagnoses. I've talked previously about how digital radiography enables us to take the guesswork out of diagnosis, and I've discussed the consistency of image quality that digital radiography provides over film.

Now, I'd like to focus on an aspect of diagnosis that many dentists, especially those who are still using film, don't consider: the importance of the patient in the diagnostic process.

The reason most dentists who are still using film X-rays don't consider the patient when making diagnoses is that it's virtually impossible to do so. About the best you can hope for with film is getting the patient to utter a grudging "I'll take your word for it, doc. Let's just go ahead."

That's because, if you wanted to show the patient what you'd found on a tiny 2" x 2" piece of film, you'd have to get him or her up out of the chair, have them trudge over to the light box, and attempt to point out miniscule aspects of the film image. And, of course, you'd have to interpret every tiny shadow or imperfection for them. All in black and white, I might add, with varying shades of gray.

In other words, why bother? In a black-and-white film world, the patient is not much more than an afterthought, at least when it comes to sharing your diagnosis. You tell the patient what you've found, recommend a treatment plan, and the patient nods assent. Not a very inviting prospect for the patient, wouldn't you agree?

Since we've installed digital radiography in our practice, the focus of our attention, especially in diagnosis, has shifted dramatically toward the patient. We now have what I would describe as a patient-centered practice, thanks in no small part to our digital X-ray capability.

From the first time a patient comes into the practice, we're able to send the message that they're the center of attention. During the office tour, we point out our digital radiography system, explain that we've replaced old-fashioned film X-rays with this new technology and let them know that it's part of our commitment to give them the finest available treatment.

But it's when they finally sit in the chair and see the image of the radiograph that was taken only seconds before pop up on the 17-inch computer monitor that they really begin to understand in a concrete way just what we mean when we say "patient-centered practice."

First, of course, there's the WOW! factor. They can't believe just how large and clear the image is they're seeing. But it's after they get over their initial wonder that the real understanding of what digital radiography means begins to set in.

That's because we're able to use the image enhancement features, such as magnification and color, to emphasize certain aspects of the image for our patients' and our benefit. With a few mouse clicks, we're able to hone in on a certain area of the image on the screen, magnify it, and point out to the patient as he or she sits in the chair exactly what problems we're finding.

These enhancements, which highlight different aspects of the X-ray images, greatly improve diagnostic capabilities. Among other things, this translates to advanced diagnostic capabilities not only for dentists but for patients as well. From the very beginning, patients feel that they're part of the diagnostic process, and that helps immeasurably in building trust between the patient and the dental team.

Patients no longer have to rely on blind faith to know that we're giving them the proper treatment. They can see what we're talking about right on the computer screen. And they can make an informed decision about proceeding with treatment.

I'd strongly recommend that you call your DEXIS representative for more information. It will be your most important step in moving toward a truly patient-centered practice.

Dr. Steven P. Lynch is in private practice in Oxford, AL. Since 1995, he has been teaching dentists, team members, dental students, and faculty the applications of lasers and digital radiography. Contact Dr. Lynch by email at [email protected] or visit his Web site at www.lynch for more information.

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