Wiping the bleeding edge

March 1, 2005
As the son of a small-town newspaperman, I was taught to avoid clichés when communicating in written form.

As the son of a small-town newspaperman, I was taught to avoid clichés when communicating in written form. Unfortunately, our topic is often best understood through clichés and buzzwords describing current technological developments as they relate to the practice of dentistry.

As dentists, most of us want to be considered cutting-edge. That used to mean technology-wise and equipment-wise you were purchasing and incorporating the latest successful advancements into your practice. The terms “leading-edge” and “bleeding-edge” often referred to brave souls that were ahead of the cutting-edge and taking risks with software, hardware, and configuration schemes that may ultimately prove unsuccessful. The results were hard-earned practice dollars invested in temporary failures and possibly ultimate failures.

The pace of technological advancement has so accelerated that proven solutions are often fleeting and most of us are on the bleeding edge - like it or not. I got bloody a couple of months ago purchasing a top-of-the-line Sony Vaio computer off the shelf at my local computer superstore. I selected a unit with a 3.4 MHz Intel processor, 256 MB video card, 1 GB of RAM, fire-wire, AV ports to capture and process video, mirrored 200 GB hard drives, and an assortment of other bells and whistles.

After one week of intense CAD work, my bleeding edge, $2,100 CPU-only unit had a meltdown. Even minute demands for processing power would prompt the CPU to repeatedly turn on and off. I gave it my best shot to figure out what was wrong and bailed out after 10 frustrating hours. With several design deadlines looming, I had no choice but to return the unit for servicing. Fortunately, at the computer superstore’s servicing department, the CPU duplicated the problem and repeatedly turned on and shut off for no apparent reason. The service technicians could find no obvious reason either for the malfunction. I was faced with leaving the unit for further tests or swapping out for a new identical Sony Vaio CPU with all the same specifications at no charge thanks to the warranty and service contract. My fear now turned to taking a new unit back to the office, connecting it to the network, reconfiguring my e-mail accounts, and loading all the necessary software only to have the new unit encounter the same issues after a few days. I had already lost two full days of productive time.

Enter what I now consider a wiper of the bleeding edge. A 20ish-looking lad behind the service counter literally said to me, “Dude, we can build you a machine from scratch that will kick the *$% # out of that Sony and we’ll save you some bucks!” I was about to have the blood wiped from my previous failed attempt to advance technologically. I specifically requested the best and fastest components available today to go inside my new machine regardless of the manufacturer. One-by-one, six wipers of the bleeding edge guided me through the selection of the best products available in each required component category. My new machine was comprised of an Antec case, an Intel Extreme Series motherboard designed for high-end gamers and power users, dual channel 2GB DDR2 memory, an Intel Pentium 4 - 3.4 GHz processor, an ATI 256 MB video card, an 80 GB Maxtor hard drive for programs and a separate Maxtor 300 GB hard drive for data, a HP DVD writer with double-layer recording, and several more bells and whistles.

Each component had its own 20ish man or woman who was an expert on the options for one particular component. No one wiper could manage the whole component assembly alone - a testament to the complexity of our current technological evolution. The new extreme unit assembled from scratch was a little more than $1,900. Whenever components display the word “extreme,” you may get a little bloody but if you ever get the thing to work it will be great. I love my new machine (CPU) which processes at lightning speed and has performed flawlessly for two months. This love affair will last until something better comes out - which will probably be next week.

Successful wipers of the bleeding edge track and work with specific technologies continuously over time. For example, if you were to take six months off tracking the latest in plasma and LCD monitors and someone asked you which manufacturer and model to buy, you might as well throw a dart at the available options and select the one it hits.

Computing options in general are challenging enough without the additional complications we face merging that world with dentistry. The number of successful wipers drops precipitously when we attempt to integrate digital radiography, full-motion digital video, software, reliable networking solutions, database backup, and so on.

I recently became acquainted with some great dental wipers in the Central Texas area, Brian Kroeger, MCSE, and Brad Callis, MCSE, CAN, of Datasavior. Brian and Brad deal every day with the multitude of issues that arise in the dental office with hardware, software, and integration strategies.

Brian and Brad pass along these great examples of inside wiper information to us:

  • Consider MediaDent or Mogo as great alternatives to Dentrix, Softdent, Practiceworks, or Eaglesoft when choosing practice-management and clinical software.
  • MediaDent has a terrific imaging program that automatically optimizes Scan-X digital images upon rendering, yielding crisp images far superior to the Image FX software that is packaged with the purchase of Scan-X.
  • Mogo utilizes a sequel database configuration versus the typical c-tree file manager system and is also scalable as the network expands. These key features facilitate faster access to data on the network.
  • MediaDent and Mogo do not insert a proprietary algorithm into their software database, which makes it much easier for a future wiper to transfer your existing database if you choose to switch software vendors.
  • Typically, Dell assembles the only off-the-shelf computers with an Intel USB 2.0 chipset.
  • Dentrix digital X-ray sensors are only compatible with the Intel USB 2.0 chipset.
  • All medical devices that utilize full-motion digital video capture through the computer require the use of an Intel USB 2.0 chipset. For example, the integration of the SciCan LED intraoral camera requires an Intel USB 2.0 chipset in each operatory CPU.
  • External hard drives for database backup have become very popular alternatives to tape drives. External hard drives require an Intel USB 2.0 chipset.
  • If your computer is two years old or more, it will not have an Intel USB 2.0 chipset and you may not be able to successfully upgrade the unit, therefore eliminating the potential to integrate the above-mentioned products unless you buy a new computer.
  • Brian and Brad recently completed a paperless dental facility with dual identical servers connected to a RAID array. One server is Windows-based and the other server is Linux-based. In addition to off-site Internet-based data storage, the dual servers provide an additional safety layer in case of data corruption. The terrific feature of the Linux server is that you do not incur additional network software users’ licenses as you will if the additional server is Windows-based and the network exceeds 10 workstations.
  • This same paperless facility also integrates a media server that stores 80 GB of movies and music. Patients enjoy access to the same type of video on demand we have come to expect in hotels and in our home theaters. Video is streamed to a wide-format Sharp LCD monitor suspended from an Ergodontics Pendulum Mount in each operatory.

Whew, I’m wiped out. That’s enough inside information for one article. Thanks to Brian and Brad at Datasavior and the 20-year-old wiper dudes at my local computer superstore. Be brave and accept the fact you will encounter the bleeding edge soon and often.

Author’s Note: To contact Brian Kroeger, president of DATASAVIOR, send an e-mail to [email protected]. To contact Brad Callis of DATASAVIOR, send an e-mail to [email protected]. Other contact information for DATASAVIOR - 6513 Boyce Lane, Manor, TX 78653. Phone: (512) 272-8311. Fax: (512) 272-8363. The Web site is www.datasavior.com.

Dr. Jeff Carter is co-owner of the Practice Design Group, based in Austin, Texas. PDG specializes in providing architectural, interior design and equipment, and technology integration services to dentists nationwide. Dr. Carter may be reached at (512) 295-2224 or by e-mail at [email protected].