Making your technology an investment

May 26, 2010

By David Hanning
CEO, Dental TI

Many dental offices consider themselves to be “digital.” They have incorporated computers at the front desk and treatment rooms, and have software that manages their practice and electronic images, both camera and radiographic. The dentists with these offices have invested time and money, and have often endured a good amount of frustration. In addition, many high tech offices are underutilizing their systems and derive only a fraction of the benefit that could be gained from the correct “vision of utilization” and “proper training.” If an office spends roughly $5 per patient to be “high tech,” the return on investment should yield more than $5 per patient to be considered a sound investment. What is the difference between practices that generate $5 per patient and barely cover their costs, and those that see $20+ revenue gains per patient and consider technology a game changer? The difference can be summed up in two words — vision and execution.

Turning vision and execution into profit
The offices with the highest return on investment from technology had a vision of increased efficiency and effectiveness when they embarked on becoming high tech. This became a specific vision of what being high tech would mean to their day-to-day operations. The flow of information was discussed with the staff so they understood their roles in implementing the technology to make it a success. Also, the specific efficiencies gained were conveyed to the staff in relation to their daily duties, e.g., “Mary, when patients come to the front desk you will always access their treatment to be scheduled through the patient chart and treatment plan.”

The entry in the patient treatment plan can be right clicked and scheduled without having to reenter it. Mary will immediately see the benefit of having the information readily at hand, and she can eliminate the step of typing something in from the handwritten notes. She can focus on patients and make sure their experience is pleasant.
Patients understanding treatment is probably the single most profitable use of technology because it translates directly to scheduled appointments. Offices that are profitable with technology use their intraoral cameras and digital X-ray to create a clear visual presentation of patients’ oral health. The following process illustrates the time savings to the dentist and the stress relief that comes from always making visual communication a part of the exam.

1) Intraoral camera images and X-rays are always displayed when the dentist enters the room. A clear, diagnostic image and X-ray are one click away for the dentist when conveying the need for treatment to the patient.

2) The hygienist orchestrates the exam flow by controlling two screens: one with X-rays and camera images and one with the patient’s electronic chart.

3) Treatment plans are entered as the dentist has dictated them.

4) When the patient leaves the room, all of the information that was entered chairside is available at any other terminal in the office. At the front desk or in a consult room the person scheduling treatment can review the images associated with areas that need treatment, and can print or e-mail those images to patients to solidify their commitment to the scheduled appointment.

Offices that maximize their profit with technology use it for what it was intended: improved efficiency in dealing with information, and increased effectiveness in communicating with patients.

Training is the missing link
Even if you did not have a vision of how to use technology when you made the leap into the digital world, it is never too late to develop a vision and put it into place. Chances are your staff has struggled with certain elements of your system since it was deployed. Has your office consistently experienced any of the following?

1) Digital X-rays that are not of diagnostic quality, or great variances in quality from one exposure to the next.

2) Intraoral camera images not being taken routinely. Or, when they are taken they are not clearly identified and are cloudy or out of focus.

3) Information is taken from handwritten notes and entered into the practice management software at the front desk rather than chairside.

The key to getting more from your technology investment is to couple a required electronic flow of information with training focused on helping your office achieve that flow.

The following action plan will help you achieve the correct flow in your practice:

1) Record your existing patient experience step by step to determine how you are currently using your hardware and software.

2) Contrast your existing flow with an ideal flow. An ideal flow captures all information electronically and eliminates all redundant data entry. Note where the holes are in your current flow.

3) Patient imaging — intraoral and radiographs — are diagnostic and complete. Compare your existing full patient exam with Dental TI’s full patient exam. Modify your existing protocol to create an efficient and complete examination. Many image management programs allow for user created templates. Check with your software vendor to see if a template is available for organizing intraoral camera images when the images are taken in a particular order.

The dentist should never have to discuss treatment without a clear image of the tooth on the screen and an accompanying radiograph. When the patient gets treatment the camera should be used to clearly demonstrate and record the procedure, and the result should build value for future treatment. The office should get professional training for optimal use of their software and hardware — intraoral cameras and digital X-ray. Additionally, the office vision should be clear and the day-to-day path should be clearly defined before a trainer is employed. When the path is shared with the trainer, the training will ensure a process is in place that maximizes technology while making the patient experience more personal. If you have made the investment in technology and feel that it is more of an expense than revenue generator, perhaps it is time to visualize successful implementation and get the staff trained to make it happen!

David Hanning is chief executive officer of Dental Technology Integrators Inc. He can be reached through his Web site at or by e-mail at [email protected].