Why image is everything for dental practices
Communicating with images—and having imaging systems that communicate with one another—can make a big difference for your practice and your patients.
I've just finished reading a few articles written by attendees at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and one point continues to be reinforced by every tech book and article I read. Simply put, our practices and our world continue to evolve in a more and more digital manner.
Nowadays, the majority of things you want to add to your practice is going to either require a computer connection or will somehow create digital data. While anything digital is going to be faster and more efficient, there are some downsides to current digital systems. While it pains me greatly to type those words, I have to admit that they are, in a way true. The main drawback to which I’m referring is the current lack of communication between many of our systems.
Can’t we all just get along?
In the early days of technology in dentistry we went through what I refer to as the “Innovation Phase”. This phase saw the creation of several technologies such as intraoral cameras and digital radiography. While these, and other, technological wonders began to make inroads and change the way we practiced, they were standalone units that were kept on carts and brought into the treatment area only when they were needed. This did, of course, slow down the adoption of these new technologies but despite these shortcomings, people saw the advantage of visual communication.
What really changed things and fueled a rapid growth in technology adoption in dentistry was the revolution in computer processing power. As computers became more and more affordable, they began to migrate into the operatory. This was driven by low cost and the fact that practice management software had begun to include clinical packages that allowed for charting… and most importantly, imaging.
For manufacturers this meant they could do away with much of the clunky hardware that made their products cart based and connect them to the operatory computer instead. Suddenly the intraoral camera and the digital X-ray sensor could connect to the computer, be shown to patients on the screen, and stored directly into the patient’s digital chart.
What followed was more and more technologies began to be connected to the operatory computer. This made the computer the technological hub and the devices were all spokes that connected to it. This is what I refer to as the “Integration Phase”.
We progressed fairly well with integration until around 2007. At that point the profession began to see growth in two fields: digital impressions and cone beam 3D radiography. These two technologies were standalone, using their own computers and their own software. The standalone aspect of these technologies worked well at first. Cone beam was very expensive in the beginning and digital impression systems required doctors to revamp their approach to prosthetics. These factors kept the growth of the technologies to modest levels.
Yet, like what happens with any successful product, the more it proves itself successful the more users being to adopt it. Currently we are seeing both of these product categories passing the realm of the early adopters and moving more toward mainstream adoption. Because of this, dentistry is now in need of another “Integration Phase”.
Picking gnats out of pepper
As someone who has been using an i-Cat cone beam and the iTero digital impression system for over seven years, I’ve had the opportunity to see our practice grow in usage and understanding of these unique technologies. While our early days of usage didn’t require universal access to the data, we are now at a point where I would prefer one software where we could store and access all our imaging files.
That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to sophisticated software to edit, treatment, plan, etc. It would just be nice to have a basic viewer built into my management software as well as a universal place to store this data and back it up. As things currently exist, if an office has multiple imaging modalities at their disposal, chances are those differing modalities are stored in different locations. That includes offices that use a digital radiography system that is independent of the practice software. Backing them up successfully and regularly requires a degree of tech expertise that is not always readily available in the normal dental office. This doesn’t even factor in the possibility of an office adding a technology that they don’t even know requires backup.
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