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The five "hidden" costs of digital sensors

Feb. 1, 2012
When shopping for a new digital sensor, it is important to become familiar with the various costs associated with the sensor ...

by Jim Ramey

When shopping for a new digital sensor, it is important to become familiar with the various costs associated with the sensor, rather than just the cost of the sensor itself. Some of these costs are fairly obvious, such as the extended warranty cost, and others are not so obvious, such as monthly recurring fees and opportunity costs. Applying the five cost factors I discuss in this article will help you determine a sensor’s true cost, and provide you with the information you need to make accurate cost comparisons among today’s sensor market offerings.

The sensor itself is just one component of your total digital imaging system’s cost.

No. 1 — Monthly fees

Monthly fees can add up fast, and are something that you may end up paying as long as you own your sensors. Find out what these fees are before you make your purchase. Monthly fees can show up as software support agreements, warranty fees, or maintenance fees. These can run as much as several hundred dollars each month. I’ve heard many practices complain, “We can’t even talk to a real person until they make sure our support fees are current.” Make sure that you know what these total monthly fees are, and multiply that figure by how many years you plan to keep your practice. You may be surprised at how much monthly fees can add to the true cost of the sensor.

No. 2 — Warranties

Most companies automatically include a limited manufacturer’s warranty with their sensors, and offer an extended warranty for an additional fee. Extended warranties vary greatly in terms of what they cover, how long they last, and how much they cost. It usually is a good idea to get an extended warranty on your sensor, especially if you purchase only one. But the terms and costs, as well as the conditions of these warranties, vary widely. Not only do you need to include the warranty cost in the total price of the sensor (some warranties are paid monthly for the life of your practice), but you need to be aware of the terms and conditions so you know how and when you can get a replacement sensor or a loaner sensor if yours goes in for repairs.

No. 3 — Updates

Many companies charge fees to get updates and bug fixes for their imaging software. Make sure you ask about software update fees and the frequency of these updates, and then add these amounts to the cost of your imaging system. Better to ask now than to be surprised later.

No. 4 — Bridging software

Practice management compatibility can be a confusing aspect of digital sensors and the corresponding imaging software. Most imaging programs can link, bridge, or integrate with your practice management software. This may be an additional cost that is buried in your sensor quote. Or worse, this cost is sometimes omitted completely. In addition, make sure that you understand how the bridge works, as well as which “side” is responsible for “bridging” the systems. The last thing you want is finger pointing when the bridge stops working. If you have a new practice and you are not already attached to a practice management software, consider purchasing sensors and practice management software from the same company. Companies like DentiMax offer both systems, which completely removes the possibility of any finger pointing.

No. 5 — Imaging software

The imaging software that comes with your sensor may not work with a competitor’s sensor. What does this mean? When it comes time to purchase a new sensor, you will be forced to purchase from the same manfacturer again. There will be no other option. Unfortunately, no sensor will last forever.

The deal you get now to purchase your initial system may not be the deal you get down the road. Also, the company that has the best sensor today may not be the company that will have the best sensor in five or 10 years. Choose a company that provides software that will give you the freedom to use any sensor, digital pan, or digital camera. Fortunately, DentiMax and a few other companies offer universal imaging software that works with most sensors on the market. Locking yourself into a closed software program may make you feel trapped and claustrophobic when it comes time to shop for a new sensor, which is a very unfortunate opportunity cost.

Know the true cost

Make sure you figure all fees into the total price of your digital sensor purchase. By looking at the individual costs for support/maintenance, warranties, updates, bridges, and imaging software, you will know your sensor system’s true price. Armed with this knowledge, you can cut through sales talk and make the best and most informed decision possible.

James W. Ramey holds a Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems from the University of Akron. For the past eight years, he has worked exclusively with digital radiography technology and has experience with most sensors on the market, including digital, panoramic, cephalometric, and intraoral cameras. Contact Ramey at [email protected].

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