Digital Imaging Transforms Dental EHRs

If your dental practice is still using film and all the chemicals to process dental radiology studies, you are missing out on delivering better patient care. Improving dental health and ultimately overall health, your oral health often tells tales about any systemic issues that may be lurking. Dental professionals must invest in progressive care by keeping abreast of improved and updated technologies and techniques. Dental digital imaging is an absolutely necessary part of delivering dental that without it would be detrimental to providing thorough, effective and efficient dental care. And partnering digital imaging with electronic health records (EHRs) shows a patient that the dental professional cares about providing the best in dental treatments.

“Digital imaging—X-rays, panoramic, intraoral cameras can cone beam technology—is part of today’s dental landscape. And it’s likely it will only increase, particularly as the industry pushes ahead with electronic medical records” (2011).

Digital imaging offers many benefits to dental practice’s hygienists, physicians, office staff, and patients. There is reduced waste in that film, chemicals, and processors are no longer necessary. It is also environmentally friendly. Efficiencies in workflow are more streamlined and organized and save office staff valuable time; time that can be devoted to patient care. Patients become more proactively involved in the decision processes regarding their dental care. Additionally, they are more confident in their dental treatments since they can be more visually involved.

“Digital technology allows the doctor to put in front of the patient, on the big screen, what the concern it. Even if they don’t totally understand what they’re looking at, they become a part of the decision-making process. The opportunity to portray images on a monitor while the patient is in the chair is huge. That’s true whether the image is generated by intraoral camera, X-ray, caries detection device, etc. Usually, case acceptance goes through the roof, because you’re now able to show the patient what you see.” (2011).

When dental imaging technologies can be integrated with EHRs, patient care becomes even more efficient and effective. Diagnosing is better and more concise leading to improved and safer treatment planning. Dental practices seeking to implement, update, or integrate to new technologies need to work closely with their existing vendor or strategize a new system all together. Many vendors offer complete packages that include imaging, practice management and electronic records. Other more established practices may choose bridge options to integrate.

“Most practice management software packages either have their own imaging modules, or they offer a bridge to another vendor’s imaging software. Most digital equipment vendors, meanwhile, either offer what’s called a TWAIN interface, that is, a standard protocol that allows the device to communicate openly with software packages; or they have directly integrated with a handful of software packages with whom they have chosen to do business” (2011).

Along with the EHR, digital technologies require special handling in terms of software to make them useful and manageable for now and in the future. Being interoperable with other software applications benefits dental practice and patient care. Electronic records combined with digital imaging can be accessed quickly and handled electronically for transmitting to other dentists and medical providers. One way that has been successful in the medical industry is to use software that is DICOM compliant. Utilizing DICOM throughout the dental and medical communities improves access to radiological studies reducing the need for duplicate examinations as well as reducing unnecessary radiation exposure.

“DICOM, which stands for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine, is a standard digital format for handling, storing, printing, and transmitting medical images” (2011).

Dental and medical professionals can better coordinate and co-manage patients when they share similar integrated and interoperable technologies. Patients can be more confident in their dental and medical partners that their overall health will benefit with advanced technologies.

Lessons learned:
• Dental practices should keep abreast of advancements of digital imaging technologies.
• Digital technologies go hand-in-hand with EHRs.
• EHRs should integrate with digital imaging and practice management software.
• Seek vendors to meet the needs of your practices.
• Patients can be more involved in their own care when they can see the issues.
• Digital imaging is environmentally friendly, eliminating film and toxic chemicals.
• EHRs and digital imaging improves efficiencies of workflow and organization.
• Patients more accepting of treatment plans with visual evidence.

The digital transformation. (2011, Dec.). First Impressions, 22-27.