There is no doubt that many dental offices have moved into the digital realm over the past few years. Systems which were primarily paper-based - such as insurance processing, scheduling, and charting - are now being accomplished within the digital patient record. Many dentists use the term “paperless” to describe their ideal office. However, I don’t feel this term is completely accurate. A better term may be “chartless,” because there always will be paper forms generated in a dental practice. These forms include insurance paperwork, walk-out statements, reminder postcards and, of course, hard copy output of digital images such as digital X-rays and intraoral camera images. That’s why there will always be a need for printers in the office. This article will discuss the four types of printers available.
Almost every office will need to have at least one laser printer for day-to-day printing, even if any of the high-tech clinical devices are not used. This printer will serve as the “workhorse printer,” printing out daily forms and statements. The capacity of the printer - and its cost - will be related to the size of the practice. Every small office can get by with a lower-end laser printer, such as the Samsung ML-1740 or the HP 1012. Both of these printers can be found for under $200. For a larger practice, a laser printer with larger paper trays and greater speed will be needed. We recommend the HP 2300 and 2400 and the Brother HL-6050D. Features you should evaluate include the printing speed (in pages per minute), paper capacity, number of paper trays, cost of replacement toner, and resolution.
Some offices will opt to get a network-ready printer, but this isn’t mandatory. Any printer can be connected to a single computer and then shared across the network. If the office prefers to not have this type of setup and would like to be able to print even if the nearby computer is turned off, then a network printer or a print server will be needed. Both connect directly into the network switch (hub) and are viewed as separate network devices.
Offices utilizing digital X-rays or cameras will need a printer capable of printing good quality images. Even the best laser printer in the world cannot match the image quality of an inexpensive inkjet printer for digital X-rays. Of course, color images should be printed in color. As with the laser printers, there are many different types of inkjets which will vary in features and cost. Models we have used in the past include the Canon PIXMA iP6000D, the Epson Stylus Photo R320, and the HP 6840. The 6840 is an interesting addition to the HP line because it is one of the first inkjets to include 802.11g wireless printing. That means the printer can be positioned anywhere within range of the practice’s wireless access point and shared across the network. This would be ideal, for example, in a consult room or private office where no network cables or computers exist.
Color laser printers
At one time only within the reach of very large offices, color laser printers have dropped dramatically in price over the past year. A color laser printer, such as the HP 2550L, can be found for under $500. The advantage of this type of printer is the fact that you would need only one printer for both laser and color functions, such as printing digital images. However, the overall impression with these color lasers is that, at the low end of the price scale, the image quality is inferior to a sub-$100 inkjet. So, if image quality is important (and when is it not?), then having two printers may be a better option.
Many manufacturers have created devices designed for the small office tight on both finances and space. An all-in-one system combines a printer (laser or inkjet), a scanner, a copy machine, and often, a fax, all into one device. For an office with a very cramped front-desk area, this can be a great option since all you need is enough room for one device, not four. I would caution offices about these systems, though. If the device fails, then you lose all four functions, which can be very disruptive to the practice.
Since the idea of a truly paperless practice is not practical, dentists should take the time to find the best printer solutions for their office needs.
Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer repair technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.