Bringing Technology into the Dental Office

Written by on August 30, 2013 in Practice tips - No comments

After relocating to Raleigh from New Mexico in 2009, I chose to purchase an existing dental practice from a retiring dentist.   From the beginning I knew that upgrades and updates would be necessary to take the practice to the next level.  This is where a motivated, eager and capable staff can be your best asset!

We began with the basics, installing an internet connected network of computers in each operatory and the front desk, that included Eaglesoft dental management software.  Investing good money into old technology does not make good financial sense.  So we transitioned from conventional film to digital x-rays. The new digital x-ray systems reduce radiation exposure by up to 80%, eliminate environmental waste (no processing solutions), allow immediate viewing and increase diagnostic efficiency.  Additionally, when a patient needs to be referred to a specialist sending digital x-rays via email saves time and money.

We also added a Schick intraoral camera in the operatory which adds digital photos of a patient’s tooth or tissue into their permanent record.  This “wow” feature can make a problem crystal clear to the patient and encourage them to take ownership and action.  Intraoral photos are very helpful when submitting pre-authorizations for dental treatment.  For example, a tooth fracture that runs mesial to distal cannot be seen on an x-ray but it is clearly visible in a photo.  Most insurance companies appreciate the additional information and documentation to assess the medical necessity of the proposed treatment.

Implementing technology requires adequate space, so we relocated to a newly renovated space that will support our growth for years to come.   As part of this growth an additional monitor was added in each operatory.   Patients are excited to conveniently view their x-rays on a 14” dedicated computer monitor  used for patient education and not on a 1.5” piece of film held up to a light source.

To prepare for HITECH Act compliance due by 2015, we have implemented electronic patient charts, claims submission and referrals when sending a patient to a specialist.  For instance, when we receive patient information from another provider, the documents are not printed, but imported into the patient’s digital file cabinet. These “e-tools” increase efficiency, reduce errors, and allow for faster reimbursement.

Another important technology is the use of third-party software to handle patient communications.  Using email and text messages to remind patients of their appointments has reduced overhead, no-shows and late cancellations.  We use this service to track recalls; patients due for an appointment but not scheduled.  These patients receive a combination of email, text and postcards as reminders.   In the near future, our patients will be able to access their account, patient chart and even make payments through a secure internet portal.

In 2011 we brought in CEREC CAD-CAM technology to our office.  CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics) was first introduced in 1985. It is a dental restoration product that allows a dental practitioner to produce ceramic dental restorations using computer assisted technologies, including 3D photography and CAD/CAM.

ThurmondWEBThis replaces the use of messy impression materials and physical stone models. It is possible to design inlays, onlays, veneers, and crowns on the computer, articulate the restoration with adjacent and opposing teeth, and then mill and cement the final restoration in a single appointment.  Patients appreciate the single visit appointment.   It reduces their time off from work and reduces anesthetic use.  If needed, the scans can be e-mailed to the lab for the fabrication of custom abutments used with implants and implant crowns.   Initial training classes are required for the doctor and dental assistant(s) to introduce the techniques and tools.

As new releases of the software and improvements in the technology are available, continuing education training is a must for the doctor and dental assistant(s).

As with any new technology, there is a learning curve for the implementation into the actual schedule.  The process must flow from doctor to assistant and back, letting each do their assigned tasks to achieve the final product.  Implementing the steps understandably takes much longer initially, so extra time must be built into the schedule to allow for this to occur.

Another time saving tool that we have introduced is the SonicFill™ by Kerr Dental.  It is a sonic-activated bulk fill composite delivery system.  Kerr’s sonic activation allows for a rapid flow of composite material into the cavity for effortless placement and excellent adaptation. This has become an incredibly efficient method for using tooth-colored restorative materials.  Previously we used an incremental fill technique done by hand, effective, but much more time consuming.

It is truly amazing the number of innovations that have been introduced into the dental field in the past 15-20 years and it seems that many more advancements are on the horizon.  It is easy to get overwhelmed or over extend your budget when trying to keep up with the latest and greatest.  Each segment of technology implemented must benefit the office, make fiscal sense and contribute to a patient’s oral health in a positive way.  Over the last 4 years, we have fast tracked the adoption of new and efficient technology into our dental practice and haven’t looked back!

By Beverly Thurmond, D.D.S.

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