Welcome to the year 2001! In the hallmark movie "2001, A Space Odyssey," Stanley Kubrick was somewhat off in his prognostications. This was supposed to be the year that commercial passenger flights to the moon would be routine and we would embark on a mission to one of Jupiter's moons in search of alternative life forms. Well ... none of those things have happened, but I finally found a good dental floss that does not shred the third time it passes interproximally. Actually, this is a very exciting time in dentistry and the world. The explosion of information technology may have temporarily quenched some of our thirst for space travel. Who would have predicted 30 years ago there would be computer-generated radiographs, digitally manipulated images of teeth, or Internet access to the sum total of humankind's knowledge base?
With all the exciting advances in dental technology, the question is how do you decide which, if any, to purchase? If you have been disappointed in the past with equipment that ultimately ended up underutilized or in storage, how about a different approach to purchasing this year? The next time you peruse a catalogue or walk a convention floor, consider these three criteria.
Any new equipment purchases must:
- increase practice productivity
- improve the quality of care provided to patients and
- integrate ergonomically into the facility without displacing existing dental equipment or disrupting the practice of four-handed dentistry
In fact, it requires a different shopping mindset to purchase equipment that fulfills all these criteria. And not all dental-equipment or technology-purchase criteria is limited to the operatories. Even business, consultation, lab, and sterilization products should increase practice productivity, improve the quality of patient care and be consistent with established workplace ergonomics.
When considering a purchase, consider both of the following selection parameters:
- Unit performance
- Unit design - dimensions, utility requirements, stand-alone, or integrated component
Unfortunately, equipment is often selected based on unit performance alone. Purchasing equipment based on the best "bells and whistles" may mean paying for functions you never utilize.
Consider this hypothetical example: A practice wants to increase the amount of cosmetic and adhesive dentistry procedures performed. The following purchase would fulfill all the above purchase criteria and contribute to the desired practice outcome.
In fact, operatory productivity can often be dramatically increased through "less glamorous" solutions such as providing your assistant with an ergonomically positioned work surface. Or avoiding selection of a dental patient chair that is so thick-backed and flared that you and your assistant have to become contortionists to perform routine procedures. Perhaps we can explore more basic equipment concepts in a later column.
In the meantime, operatory computerization is currently a very hot topic. How do you decide if now is the right time for you? You can also utilize the purchase criteria previously outlined to guide you in this decision. One reason to bring computers into the operatories is the desire to alleviate patient congestion at the front desk. Be careful with this one. The rationale that all scheduling and even financial transactions can take place in the operatory immediately following treatment is what we at T.H.E. Design classify as a zoning violation. If you interject business area functions into an area designed for dental treatment, you will increase the stress level of doctors, staff, and patients. Increased stress levels result in decreased productivity.
Routine electronic scheduling and preparation of patient transaction information can take place in the operatory, but subsequently the patient electronic file should be accessed in the business area to complete the actual transaction. This protocol can partially alleviate front-desk congestion. A closer examination of many front desk "bottlenecks" often reveals problems with office design rather than technology. For example, a busy, five-operatory office should have two workstations in the business area specifically to handle patient appointments and transactions. This transaction area should have 12' - 14' of counter surface and be buffered from the patient check-in and waiting area. If your situation is similar to this five-operatory model, you may be better served by a re-design of the front-desk area and the addition of another checkout workstation vs. operatory computerization.
Any new equipment purchases in the year 2001 must:
- increase practice productivity
- improve the quality of care provided to patients
- integrate ergonomically into the facility without displacing existing dental equipment or disrupting the practice of four-handed dentistry and nobody is going anywhere near Jupiter this year.