'Grab and go' technology

A tablet PC is the next technology craze in dental operatory computing! The dental profession is now catching up with the medical profession.

Mar 1st, 2004

by Victoria DaCosta

A tablet PC is the next technology craze in dental operatory computing! The dental profession is now catching up with the medical profession. Dental hygienists can use the same technology that physicians and nurses use in hospitals.

What is a tablet PC? The tablet PC literally clips off and away from its keyboard. It's the coolest pen-driven gadget out there — much like an overgrown PDA (personal digital assistant).

Today's technology is giving us more freedom then ever to conquer the "space issues" inside our operatories. Along with wireless networks, mobility, and versatility, you can literally "share" your "ware."

Why do I like this so much? For starters, I can put the tablet PC on my lap while I discuss and educate my patients about their health. Much like using a PDA, my tablet PC is also pen driven. I handwrite, draw, and/or click drop-down menus to record data. It's that easy!

At chairside, use the tablet PC to show patients their digital X-rays. You can literally bring these images to reality right in front of your patient sitting in the chair, instead of using the wall-mounted X-ray viewer that displays 2-inch size films from three feet away. For increased understanding and education during hygiene instruction, the mobility of the hardware is extremely convenient.

The application of imaging software also gets me fired up about tablet PCs. For example, I take a picture of my patient's mouth with a digital camera. I then hook up the camera cable to my tablet PC and view that "Kodak moment" inside my patient's mouth. I begin to play "extreme makeover," changing the look from yellow teeth to a whiter glow, turning an unsightly crown to beautiful porcelain, or, of course, changing amalgam to composite fillings. If you have not used imaging software, you are missing out!

Overall, once you have experience the "grab and go" of the tablet PC, you will never want to be stuck on land again!

The tablet PC uses an operating system called Microsoft Windows XP. Sorry, Mac users cannot use Macintosh software on a tablet PC.

Features

• Handwriting recognition — Using the digital pen makes handwriting a snap! Once you get the hang of this feature, the process is much like handwriting on a patient's chart. Notations and handwritten notes are turned into typed data entries. This feature mimics what we are familiar with — patient chart notations.

• Voice recognition — The tablet PC comes with voice recognition. Most dental management software programs make this feature available. You can use this with a headset or with out. When using the voice activation or recognition during perio charting, I prefer using a headset.

• Size and lightweight — At about an inch in thickness and a mere 3.2 pounds, the tablet PC is an easy item to carry. The dimension display is 10.4 inches. The tablet PC can be displayed in portrait or landscape. It will automatically change display screens depending on how you hold the tablet.

• Docking station — The tablet PC has a docking station, which includes a regular sized keyboard and tablet PC cradle holder. You will be able to recharge the tablet PC using the cradle (battery life is six hours). This takes up very little space on your counter. It is like propping up a notebook or chart to look at. When you need to educate your patient, simply lift it up off of the cradle.

• Wireless mobility — This feature is very convenient. The design of the tablet PC allows you to access the Internet from any location in your office. You will also be able to connect wireless to your office's local network too.

You can take the tablet PC into the break room to finish up writing in charts if needed. It is nice because most dental hygienists do not have their own administrative area to do office business.

We are stuck in our operatories, which double as our "offices." I personally do not like doing my paperwork inside my operatory (where germs are generating). I like the change in a working space. But that's just my opinion. Regardless of your needs, the tablet PC will accommodate them.

Benefits

• Shareware — We now can move the hardware to shareware. The mobility and portability allows us to share with other co-workers. If a practice's budget is a concern, having a tablet PC can help cut costs. When the hygiene department is not using the tablet PC, it is available for use by the restorative department. Depending on the setup of operatories, having the option to move a computer without unplugging it from room to room is nice.

• First impressions — Most patients like the fact that we are staying updated with technology. Being able to hold the tablet PC in front of your patients with a CAESY program, or images of their mouths, makes it that much more real and interesting as opposed to verbally explaining it while their mind wanders off to what is going on in their world. This visual aid is a very powerful tool for education.

• Productivity — The reaction to using a computer for most of us is, "I don't have the "time." Inputting data and taking the time to learn seems like too much! With the tablet PC, you pick up a special pen. The tablet PC looks like a chart, and you simply touch the screen. I believe that, because of how easy it is, we will input more data on our patients, and capture charges we normally don't record. This, of course, would increase daily production, which, in turn, affects our negotiation for our worth in total office production. This has already been proven in hospital production research. It is called "charge capturing."

Advantages

• Patient education is in front of the patient, commanding his or her attention.• Increased access to patient information from any location.
• A more efficient, flexible work environment for busy health-care providers is created.
• No clumsy hinges such as that found on a traditional laptop.
• Docking station with portability to grab and go!
• Space saver.
• Familiarity with "pen" method of input lowers the learning curve.

Disadvantages

• More expensive
• Loose parts
• Unreliable features
• Imperfect handwriting recognition
• Possibility of dropping the tablet PC
• Imperfect voice recognition
• Having only one tablet PC in an office creates a "who has it now?" environment
• Lost battery charge; having to use the docking cradle to recharge
• Can be misplaced
• Easily removed from dental office


Hy-Tech user tips ...for tablet PC

• Practice with tablet PC touch screen
• Buy more than one digital pen
• Train your voice with the voice recognition software program
• Become familiar with trouble shooting
• Learn all of the features the tablet PC has to offer


Victoria DaCosta, RDH, BS, is founder and president of Hy-Tech Solutions. A practicing dental hygienist for 17 years, DaCosta is a speaker, author, consultant, and an expert in the design of medical/dental software. She is also on the new technologies committee for the California Dental Hygienists' Association. DaCosta can be contacted at contact victoria at victoria@hy-techsolutions.com.

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