The "hand-me-down" cycle

March 21, 2012

It’s just a matter of time really. Eventually everything in your practice will come due for update or replacement. But, whether you’re a tech junkie who goes for the latest gadgets, or someone who prefers to stick with a trusted and well-used tool, the equipment and technology in your practice can still have a useful life after you have found its replacement.

It’s just a matter of time really. Eventually everything in your practice will come due for update or replacement. But, whether you’re a tech junkie who goes for the latest gadgets, or someone who prefers to stick with a trusted and well-used tool, the equipment and technology in your practice can still have a useful life after you have found its replacement.

If you take care of the tools of craft and they are in good working order-whether they are relatively new or have been around a while-it is a good idea to pass them along so another member of your staff can continue to put them to use. Sometimes the item being handed down might be put to a slightly different use, but if it’s still functional, it’s likely still a valuable asset to your practice.

"Whether we’re talking about computers, or high tech, or handpieces, or whatever, as long as it’s working and it’s functional, I don’t think it makes sense to get rid of it,” said Dr. Lorne Lavine, Founder and President of Dental Technology Consultants. “If the item is usable there’s no reason to think that it can’t go to another staff member or to a junior associate who comes into the office.”

Identify opportunity

Whether you’re in the market for a new pair of loupes, the latest intraoral camera, a new caries detection technology, an ultrasonic unit or a new handpiece, Dr. Lavine said anything that still performs the task it was purchased for should be put to use somewhere in the practice.

Still, it is important to remember that a practice functions as a system and the staff as well as the technology and equipment must be able to work together, said Nancy H. Dukes, BA, RDH, CBM, Director of Clinical Coaching at Jameson Management. If a staff member gets the job done with the tools he or she uses, forcing a hand-me-down replacement into his or her hands doesn’t always make sense.

Efficiency should be the driver of all equipment changes, and if handing something down to another staff member will make that person a more valuable and efficient part of the team, then helping with the adjustment should be part of the hand-me-down process, Dukes said. Conversely if technology being replaced is so old it makes it difficult to work with other equipment in the practice, and handing it down to another team member would hurt efficiency, that move doesn’t make sense.

“Sometimes we have to update because we need equipment that will be more user friendly with the equipment we have,” Dukes said.

Know what you have

When it comes to making a hand-me-down decision, it is important to keep track of what you already have in your practice that might be put to other uses. Dr. Lavine said any equipment that is just sitting in a box should be put to use somewhere, even if a dentist has tried it and didn’t like the results. If  it’s workable, why not let another member of the team see if he or she likes putting it to use.

“There’s a lot of money in those boxes. Often times for a typical practice there’s 10s of thousands of dollars in equipment that’s perfectly functional that the office just never got around to recycling or to having someone else use,” he said. “The fact that a dentist wasn’t able to adapt to a new technology or a new device doesn’t mean that someone else in the office won’t be able to use it. You’ve already got it, you’ve already paid for it, why not see if a staff member or a junior associate is going to be comfortable with it.”

Repurposing technology

Sometimes a product’s new life might look very different than it’s previous one, especially when it comes to computers, Dr. Lavine said. He advises practices to place the newest, most powerful machines in the operatories where they are used for processor intensive imaging and other tasks.

He said operatory computers should have a lifespan of about 3 years with those in other parts of the practice expected to last another year or two. When updating the operatory computers, the older ones can find new homes at the front desk, in a staff room, a consult room or for patient use in the reception area. Computers being retired from the practice completely can be given to staff to take home, or donated to schools, but Dr. Lavine said handing any computer down to a non-clinical use must be preceded by professional data wiping to make sure all patient data is completely and irretrievably erased.

Hand-me-ups

Typically, the dentist who owns and runs a practice is the one making the purchasing decisions and the person who gets the latest in technology and equipment. However, Dukes said it is critical to get the equipment to the place where it will be most valuable to the practice, and sometimes that means adding the newest purchase to the hygiene department and keeping or putting what the practice already has in the dentist’s hands.

This can be particularly true for items such as intraoral cameras and caries detection systems that can be used during just about every hygiene appointment, but might not be used with every patient the dentist treats. Dukes said it is important to consider how the new addition or upgrade to the practice will benefit patient care.

“If it’s of benefit to the patient, more than likely, that’s the place where it’s going to most likely pay for itself,” she said. “In some cases it would be better to upgrade and put the latest, greatest tool in the hands of the hygienist, the person who’s probably going to be using it most often.”

When considered over the long term, handing equipment and technology down to other members of a team can be an important way for a practice to get the biggest return on investments. If everything is kept in good working order, someone should be able to put it to use, and when something reaches the end of its useful life, then it can be retired and replaced outright.

“For the most part, if it’s usable and functional, then it’s probably a good idea to keep it,” Dr. Lavine said. “There’s nothing that comes to my mind that says this is something you should avoid handing down.”