by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
We live in a world of ever-changing electronic technology and almost everyone I know is on the cutting edge. I’ve seen children as young as eight sitting on airplanes frantically racing to finish one last tweet on their iPhones before the flight attendant activates the off switch. Facebook status updates from family members younger than my animals have the notation “via Facebook by mobile phone” after them. It boggles my mind.
While I’m secretly plotting the purchase of an iPad or at least an iPod, my technology center is slightly behind the times. My office includes two desktops and two laptops — all running Windows XP or Vista. Just last year I bought my first cell phone with a QWERTY keyboard. (OK, it was a free upgrade, but I did spend an extra $5 to get it in maroon.)
So yes, I want to be among the technologically gifted, but my budget consciousness keeps me from playing in the big leagues. Yet I miss very little being trapped in my 2005 electronic world. I check my e-mail dozens of times a day from various locations, communicate with my children and parents daily no matter where I am, and surf the Web for pertinent research from airports and hotels without much trouble. Being connected does not always require the latest and greatest.
While at a continuing education event recently, I overheard a conversation in which one RDH commented on the lack of digital advances in another’s practice. This dental hygienist was astonished that her colleague could function within the confines of a nondigital space. Her parting comment gave me cause to ponder. She said, “There is no way I could work in such an outdated environment. It isn’t fair to patients.”
I agree that the paperless office has arrived and will be the standard, if not mandatory in the not-too-distant future. However, I do not believe all the gadgets and screens make any of us better health-care providers. Computerized devices make charting easier, eliminate the need for someone to write numbers, and even enhance infection control efforts, but the result of charting is much the same as the dictated method. Illumination devices help identify oral lesions and abnormalities, yet the fact remains that only 10% of us really do a comprehensive oral exam in the first place.
Every advancement in technology that improves patient care and decreases clinician injury is useful, but not everything is essential at this very moment. We can and do provide excellent patient care with the tools at hand. My fourth grade teacher told our class almost daily, “Bloom where you are planted.” Good advice for our professional life as well.
In this economy, not every RDH has the opportunity or ability to remain unemployed until the perfect position comes along. It is a wonderful dream, but a shortsighted reality. Some of us are lucky enough to practice in an environment where technology is embraced and progressive health care is offered. Others must create as much of this environment as possible in their current setting. It may include purchasing some of their own equipment and instruments, or even bringing in their own examples of home care products they recommend. Perhaps creating home care instruction sheets and educational brochures will add just the touch needed to elevate their health care delivery. Maybe it starts with something as simple as taking every patient’s blood pressure, even if the hygienist is the only one doing it.
Reality dictates that employment is necessary for most of us. Creativity and attitude can make that reality just a bit more dreamlike. Providing the best possible health care is not based in cutting edge electronics, but rather a desire to improve health and impact lives for the better. This is something every RDH can accomplish even when planted in the shade.
About the Author
Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics.