Don’t become overwhelmed by technology: Boston-area dentist offers tips that improved his practice, including using the iPad

Sharing technology tips with fellow dentists can be a huge help to those getting started

May 19th, 2014
Ipad In Dental Office

Are you still contemplating some of the latest technological advancements for your dental office? Have you heard all the spiels, visited all the booths at dental meetings, and listened to your peers promote their favorite gadgets, and why you just have to have those gadgets?

It no longer needs to be a major production for dentists and their team members to integrate technology into their practices. Dr. Joseph Nelson, owner of Pure Dental in Jamaica Plain, a Boston neighborhood, explains in this Q&A why technology is beneficial for dentists today, why one of his favorite items for his office is the humble iPad, and how technology can be integrated in stages so it is not so overwhelming.

Q: When did your evolution to technology begin, and with what?
A: I have always had a strong interest in technology. My father is an engineer and very tech-savvy, so when I was growing up he always had some new computer or electronic gadget that I could play with.

Q: Explain the technological evolution of your practice.
A: When I first purchased my practice, there were two computers in the office, which were used only by the receptionists and patient coordinators. Our three-chair practice now has nine computers that are used in treatment rooms, private offices, and various other workstations. We moved from conventional film radiography to digital radiography about two years ago. We have four dedicated scanners in several locations throughout the office that are used to digitize old patient records and immediately capture any new paper that comes into the office rather than simply filing it away. We have multiple DSLR cameras that are used for photographic documentation of cases and patient education. We also recently implemented the use of MacPractice’s apps for iPads that interact with our practice management software to help streamline our new patient process, as well as decrease the creation of new paper forms in the office.

Q: What have you found to be the most helpful tech offerings?
A: At this point, it would be very difficult for me to live without any of our technology. But one of the most exciting pieces of technology that both patients and staff love is the iPad. We use MacPractice, a Mac-based practice management and clinical software program, which interacts with MacPractice apps for iPad for check-in registration and Electronic Health Records (EHR). When I purchased the practice, I converted all of the existing data from another practice management software to MacPractice because I have been a Mac user almost exclusively since my father brought home his first Mac c in the early ’90s.

Q: How does your use of technology benefit your patients?
A: There are many ways that technology benefits our patients. One of the first that patients notice is being able to complete their paperwork on an iPad in the waiting room before their appointment. Digital X-rays allow patients to see the images we take of their mouths instantly and in high resolution on a large chairside screen. Using digital charts and scanning of all documents that come into the office means that we can transmit information to other providers rapidly, and if a patient moves away or needs copies of any of their information, all of that data is easily accessible and transmittable. These are just a few of the many benefits for patients.

Q: What have you tried that you would NOT recommend?
A: I do a great deal of research before I make a decision about new technology, so I have been lucky to not have any regrets regarding items that I have purchased.

Q: Why would you encourage your peers to look into technological advances?
A: I think most of my peers understand the importance of technology in a modern dental practice. The time savings, improvement in treatment planning, and freedom to focus more on dentistry are some of the great things that happen when the appropriate technology is used in a productive way.

Q: What do you advise your peers start with if this is all new to them?
A: My advice would be to start by researching the many offerings available and the company that develops and supports them. They should try to get a live demo of anything they are considering. Technology that looks impressive in an ad or video may function differently under real life office circumstances, so ask for referrals. Taking the time to determine what products would be most beneficial to a particular office is also important. Consider the annual IT support cost. Macs require far less support than PCs. Incorporating new technology doesn’t have to be done all at once. In my office, I focused on adding one or two new products or services at a time to allow my staff and me to get used to it. Once everyone was comfortable and we had integrated those things into our daily routine, we then focused on what could be added next. This helped prevent everyone from getting overwhelmed with too many new things to learn all at once. The availability of on site training is paramount to the greatest success.

Q: Are you ready for EHRs? Do you think they are a good thing?
A: The software I use, MacPractice, has EHR integrated into its operating system. We use the features it offers on a daily basis and have found it to be extremely easy to use, highly customizable, and very useful in our practice. Based on the way it has been implemented in my software and how we use them, EHRs are definitely a good thing. We can collect and organize health information, review that information with the patient, view digital X-rays and scanned attachments, and create treatment notes from blank forms or custom templates. In addition, we can create and access all of this information from our desktop computers in the operatories or iPads that are given to patients or used by a provider or assistant. These capabilities have been very helpful in saving time and increasing efficiency in our practice.

Q: What's the next tech development you're anticipating?
A: I have not officially taken the dive into digital impression taking yet. I have used several systems in the past, but I’ve not purchased one for my office. I hope that in the coming years I can begin to incorporate into my practice the immense opportunities and conveniences this technology offers to both dentists and patients.

Dr. Joseph Nelson has been practicing dentistry for 10 years, and he credits his father with his interest in technology and iMac products.

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