Dental EHRs: Hardware and Software Task-Oriented Integration for Optimal Performance

Most, if not all, dental offices use many technologies and associated software: digital radiography, intraoral imaging, computers, paper-based and electronic health records (EHRs), and practice management software, just to name a few. Dental specialists may use all of these and more depending on the specialty.

While all of this is great for patients and providers, issues surrounding these different software modules “talking to each other” is still problematic. Interfaces between software are still often frustrating or performed with manual entry. Patients would receive better care and dental professionals could provide more effective and efficient care if optimal integration occurred between hardware and software.

“Many dentists use several programs for practice management, digital imaging, capturing clinic data, and supporting various aspects of diagnosis and treatment. The programs look and work as differently as the hardware menagerie that surrounds them” (2004).

Some dental practices are still paper-based and film-based. Some are somewhere in the middle, slowly upgrading to more modern equipment, hardware and software. And finally, some offices are full functioning technological marvels. Whatever stage the practice is in, integration is key to making it all run smooth and efficient. Currently, the best dental practices are sub-optimal. Of course, reaching absolute optimal integration and interoperability is the goal. Selection and evaluation of dental software needs to consider this crucial issue.

In the meantime, dentists must work with what is available and improve as technology allows. However, when discussing with vendors, evaluating software and selecting software for purchase, dentists need to ask and expect answers about software interfaces. Software cannot be self-contained, isolated modules; the best software connects and shares data across applications to provide the right information at the right time.

Titus K.L. Schleyer, D.M.D., Ph.D. Associate Professor and Director, Center for Dental Informatics, University of Pittsburgh has this to say about integration:

“To achieve true integration, one must think of hardware, information and software in the dental office as one system… Task-oriented integration means that the work environment and its functions are configured optimally to support specific tasks” (2004)

Dental professionals can perform their work more effectively when it there is a better fit between hardware, software and tasks involved. Chair-side examinations are better conducted when all of the components, such as EHR, digital imaging, and practice management systems are easily accessed and working together efficiently. Dentists deserve the same high-functioning interfaces between software modules that are expected and provided for medical practices.

Lessons learned:

  • Dental practices that achieve hardware and software integration are in a position to provide better care.
  • Integrating EHRs and Practice Management Systems with a user-centric methodology improves processes.
  • Task-oriented integration allows providers and office staff to establish better workflows and patients receive better care.
  • When selecting EHR and Practice Management Systems, talk to the vendor about interfacing between systems and use that as evaluative criteria.

Schleyer, T. (2004, Oct.). Why integration is key for dental office technology. JADA, 135; 4s-9s. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15543814. July 18, 2012.