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    Tablet technology leads evolution in dental practice computing

    How tablets, smartphones, apps and cloud computing are changing the way dentists interact with patients and data.

    We’ve seen a steady evolution of computing and computer usage in our offices with major upgrades/changes since the year 2000. We’ve moved from computers strictly in the business office to computers in the treatment areas.

    When we first moved computers into clinical areas, they were there for doctor and staff only. As the hardware and applications improved, we saw a rapid change to computers doing double duty to help with patient education and entertainment.

    This led to the “dual monitor” configuration consisting of one computer in the operatory that connects to two monitors. One is used for “dental tasks” while the other is located on an arm that patients can view from any angle. This allows patients to see clinical images, patient education videos, or to watch TV. I’ve used this setup for years and find it incredibly useful. It was created when the only dental software solutions were client/server based, but functions just as well with cloud-based solutions.

    There have been many changes in computing in the last few years and now we’re faced with new formats that can change how we use and interact with this new generation of hardware.

    Tablet PCs

    The Tablet PC is probably the easiest of these new concepts. This device that, unlike Apple and Android tablet devices, is a fully functioning Windows computer. The difference between a Tablet PC and a traditional PC is the Tablet PC is designed for mobility and combines the form factor of an iPad with the processing power of a Windows PC. These devices can do anything a standard PC can do, just in a more portable format. They access the office network and the Internet over the office wireless network instead of connecting via an Ethernet cable. They allow the doctor and staff to move freely and eliminate the need for PCs in every room.

    // XLDent solution

    XLDent is a practice management software solution that is designed to work with Tablet PCs. This software suite harnesses the power of Tablet PCs to give users all of the functions and services expected from any client/server local network solution combined with the power of mobility that comes with Tablet PCs.

    XLDent integrates with outside solutions such as Lexicomp (Rx and other info), Dosepot (for ePrescribing), eReminder solutions (such as Lighthouse, Smile Reminder, and others), as well as other types of external solutions.

    Because Tablet PCs are fully functioning computers they can be used for image capture by connecting to intraoral cameras and digital sensors. XLDent features a built-in patient education suite called XLTeach that lets offices share videos directly on the Tablet PC. They also feature mobile access when the doctor is out of the office, patient check-in, and more.

    XLDent has done an excellent job of creating a new type of work atmosphere that combines the best of a fully functional networked client/server computer environment with the mobility of the tablet. Software users appreciate the efficiency the mobility aspect provides.

    iPads and Androids and Apps

    Many of the major software vendors are beginning to work in the use of iPads and Android tablets as part of their programs.

    A bit of clarification is in order here. Many of the major players in the software market are allowing more tablet integration into their systems, but these devices are not capable of running the full software suite. To do that requires the Tablet PC. Instead, the major software vendors are working to allow usage for limited things like patient check-in and health history updates.

    // DEXIS go

    DEXIS go is the iPad integration with the most buzz. Announced at the October 2012 ADA meeting and now available, DEXIS go is an iPad app that allows access to DEXIS images on an iPad. The app allows users to access the DEXIS patient database over the office’s existing wireless network and then open those images on the iPad. Because the newest iPads employ what Apple refers to as “retina display,” meaning the human eye can no longer discern pixels on the screen, the images are incredibly amazing to view.

    However, DEXIS go still requires the complete “back end” of a server to store the images, computers to connect the sensor to and acquire the image, and everything else you would need to do sensor-based digital radiography. The app is simply an add-on for current users that allows for viewing and sharing the images on the iPad. DEXIS go is currently a free download from Apple’s App Store.

    The forecast is cloudy

    The final piece of this discussion lies with the cloud. This is a move completely away from software that requires a client/server type network setup and instead has the software run completely over the Internet. A website is accessed, you enter your username and password, and have access to the dental software and all of the office data.

    While iPads and Android tablets both have browsers and can access the Internet, at this point not all functions of Web-based software are available on these devices. However,cloud-based solutions have some compelling reasons for consideration:

    • No need for client/server setup in the office
    • No software or configuration is required
    • Updates/Upgrades are performed by the software company on their computers
    • Backups are no longer necessary
    • It’s flexible, convenient and simple

    Cloud software is agnostic in that it doesn’t care whether you are Mac or Windows. As long as you have a Web browser, you are good to go.

    // Curve Dental

    The most well known cloud-based system is Curve Dental and its program, Curve Hero. The company was the first to really get a toe hold in dentistry from a cloud perspective and has done some pretty amazing things, such as being the first to take digital x-rays directly through a Web browser.  

    Curve continues to grow and provide product enhancements. Two recent improvements are:

    1. Smartphone capabilities: Curve users can view basic patient contact information and the practice’s schedule. By late spring users will be able to create, delete, or modify appointments. By the end of the year users will have image access capabilities and Rx history.
    2. Tablets: Customers can create custom patient forms in Curve Hero. Patients can complete these forms using an iPad or Android tablet when they come to the office. To complete the form, the patient touches a “submit” button. Curve Hero then packages up the data in a pdf file that the office manager can review. This feature, called Storyline, will evolve to the point where the office manager can quickly click on the data and have it written directly to the patient’s database. By the end of the year all of Curve Dental should be accessible with a tablet. With the exception of capturing images, the doctor and staff can switch between a PC or tablet within the practice and should not lose any functionality.

    // Dentrix Ascend

    At the Chicago MidWinter meeting, the folks at Dentrix announced Dentrix Ascend, a cloud-based program from Henry Schein Practice Solutions. This is the first cloud-based system from a company with an established client/server program. To that end, the company is hoping industry familiarity with Dentrix will help drive sales.

    Here are a few benefits of the new Ascend software:

    1. Full and complete functionality via iPad. Ascend does not care whether access is accomplished by a PC or an iPad. The software runs equally on both as long as it is accessed using the Google Chrome browser.
    2. Dentrix Ascend eliminates the need to search through multiple screens by presenting a dashboard, which gives the user one-click access to all pertinent patient information and allows them to focus on providing exceptional customer service.  

    Wrapping up

    The evolution of these systems will only continue. Heck, just a few years ago we didn’t even know we needed iPads and now many of us are spending more time on them than on any other electronic device.

    These changes continue to offer offices solutions and flexibility. That means a doctor and team members can find something they feel works for them and then use it in the manner that best fits their practice.

    If you are looking at making changes to the way your office manages data, definitely take the time to explore the multiple options that are out there. There is something out there that can make the difference for everyone.

    Dr. John Flucke
    Dr. John Flucke is in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He also serves as technology editor for Dental Products Report magazine and ...