by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
Chairside patient education tools have changed a lot with the introduction of digital technology in the dental office. While the mirror and demonstration technique remain vital to education, adding supplemental tools increases patient attention, learning, and even fun.
The change to less hands-on and more visual patient education started with TVs in dental offices. Reception area and operatory monitors often run a continuous loop of dental procedures and preventive instruction, which grabs the attention of patients initially, but if the loop is too long or too generic, patients will inevitably tune it out. The content on the screen must be personalized to keep patients’ attention.
Web-based programs take media-based education one step further. The information can be updated when dentistry changes without having to buy another disk. Feedback from dental professionals can be incorporated almost immediately, and losing or breaking a disk is no longer cause for concern. My office uses web-based images on an iPad2 that the patient actually controls — helping engage the learner beyond looking at a screen. The program we use is CurveEd (CurveEd.com).
CurveEd has several components that I find helpful. First, it is completely separate from practice management software. There is nothing to integrate or install; one can simply sign up and start using the program. The videos are easy to understand and do a good job of explaining the basics, which leads to more communication between patient and clinician.
The graphics are in high quality 3-D, adding to a professional look. While I like to interact with patients during education, if I do need to leave for a moment, the program is easy for anyone to use, and this allows patients to choose topics that interest them. Additionally, videos can be emailed to patients for more reinforcement. The program is free, but registration is required.
An online search reveals other options for web-based patient education tools, though most require purchasing DVDs or services. Many programs offer the ability to include videos on an office website, which starts education before patients arrive at the office. MediaMed (mediamed.com) offers disks to install on your computer, videos to download onto your website, and a web-based education program that does not require installation. There is even an option to incorporate an intraoral camera to some programs. Other systems such as Orasphere (orasphere.com) and Dental SideKick (dentalsidekick.com) offer web-based access to their videos and images.
I found it especially interesting that nearly every website for educational software touted the same benefits for the practice, namely, less time explaining procedures to patients and more time doing profitable procedures. I’ve never met a dental professional who wanted less time to educate clients. In fact, many of us address dental issues when we aren’t at work, at school functions, in store checkout lines, and even at family gatherings. The occasional patient who has too many questions can try even the most saintly among us, but quality time spent in client conversation can mean the difference between a highly productive and quality office and a low performing office.
Technology will continue to change the way we practice health care. Easy access, immediate updating, and accurately delivered patient instruction will improve treatment acceptance and understanding. We’ve watched education go from tray cover drawings and flip charts, to videos and streaming images, to web-based programs that require no computers or monitors — only an iPad or PC Tablet. Through it all, I firmly believe being present and available during education is supremely important. Using the latest in tools and materials can make us better health-care providers, but screens, fancy graphics, or robots will never replace personal interaction. We are indispensable!
The author did not receive compensation in any manner from companies mentioned in this article.
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.
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