Tech Questions Answers

Aug. 1, 2005
Someone who makes it a business to implement technology in dental offices has a few ideas about how those gadgets can fit in the hygiene operatory too.

Someone who makes it a business to implement technology in dental offices has a few ideas about how those gadgets can fit in the hygiene operatory too.

In my travels and observations of hygiene operatories, I notice it’s getting crowded in there! With all of the hardware, software, and find-a-place-for-it-ware, what is a dental hygienist to do? To top it off, we have to “use it” on an hourly basis with each patient. I don’t know about you, but these items are seriously adding to my job task list. Will I get paid more per hour for using this stuff?

I don’t recall a section in my hygiene education that stated, “Be ready for the technology explosion. By the way, this will happen while you’re working.”

What is an unsuspecting dental hygienist to do with all of this technology? This explosion is only the beginning. The answer is to turn it around to your advantage! Use this explosion to increase your professional worth and turn a possible nightmare into a miracle answer to the value of dental hygiene.

My friend David Jacklin consults with dentists about how to run more efficient businesses with an emphasis on technology. He believes that hygienists are an essential part of the dental office, and he understands their contribution to successful patient care. I asked him for his views about what is going on in the world of hygiene technology.

Victoria: What are the upcoming trends? Is my future paperless? How am I supposed to heal my patients with a mouse and a keyboard?

Dave: Technology is taking over the dental office. I believe that technology benefits the patient and has the potential to make the hygienist’s job easier. The mistake that most dental offices make is purchasing the technology and training on the software, but not thinking about how to implement the technology.

Training and implementation are two completely different approaches. Thus, the technology gets used for a while and then discarded because it only adds to the burden of the hygienist instead of enhancing his or her skills.

Victoria: How will the practice management software affect my daily workflow, which is already very busy? Can I customize the software to fit my hygiene day?

Dave: The effects on your workflow will depend on two things. First are the software features. All major software vendors offer similar features, they’re just arranged differently. Second is how well the system has been set up.

Taking the time to effectively set up the system should improve the flow of a hygiene appointment. For example, when I first introduced you to voice activated perio charting, it took you some time to get comfortable with the terminology and to set up the way you probed the pockets. Once you learned, you were able to use the technology to benefit your patient flow.

Victoria: What software features will help increase my professional worth to the office? What is the workflow with paper vs. software?

Dave: It is estimated that 5 to 8 percent of production is lost due to poor communication between the back and front offices. I am a big advocate of hygienists scheduling and posting features that work from their operatory. This not only helps eliminate the 5 to 8 percent of lost production, but it puts hygienists in control of their schedule. There are also features that will track production, so the contributions you make as a hygienist can be tracked.

Victoria: What about other gadgets? Dentists go to trade shows, and the next thing that happens is some stranger installing a new gadget in the hygienist’s operatory.

Dave: It is important to get everyone’s opinion before introducing new technology into the office. If the technology is purchased the way you describe it, the doctor will have an uphill battle implementing it. He or she will have to convince the staff that the purchase will benefit them. It once again comes to training, implementation, and set up of the new technology. If this is done properly, the ‘gadget’ will benefit the hygienist.

Victoria: What is all the right hardware, and what is a good size for hardware?

Dave: The set up in the operatory is very important. When it comes to computer technology, smaller is better such as flat panel monitors, wireless mice, and lightpens. You may consider using a tablet PC as well, but make sure your software vendor supports this option. The office should also look into wireless networks and Internet.

Victoria: Some practices mistakenly think the hygienist is not needed in most training sessions because much of it is front desk administrative training. You used to train the dental office trainers, so what do you tell doctors about this?

Dave: I recommend that hygienists attend the training sessions that cover scheduling, patient demographics, preventive care management (recall) and reports. The trainer should also set up a training session for the hygienist that covers the hygiene specific areas.

Victoria: When hygienists are learning to implement data on the computer from their patient appointments, they sometimes have a “What if I make a mistake?” syndrome. Do you run into this?

Dave: We run into this all the time. It is one of the biggest fears or, in many cases, objections for the hygienist or front desk staff. It is important for them to understand that if they make a mistake, whether entering patient information, scheduling or even posting, it can be easily corrected.

Victoria: What about the new HIPAA laws? I used to be able to hide my “difficult patient alert” in my paper notes. With the screen now in front of my patients, how am I supposed to hide private comments?

Dave: This involves placement of the computer equipment and creating a workflow that allows the hygienist to avoid displaying sensitive information. Many offices use a swing arm for the monitor so that it can be moved out of sight of the patient.

This is also an area where the Tablet PC could be valuable.

Victoria: How much should the doctor spend to make it worthwhile for the hygienist to be completely digital?

Dave: Costs are difficult to discuss since most practice management software vendors control their own pricing. The big three dental practice management software companies are Dentrix, EagleSoft, and SoftDent. My recommendation would be to get a quote from your current practice management vendor, then shop around to compare. Remember to compare apples to apples regarding features and benefits.

Purchasing all of the technology to go completely digital is expensive. I recommend that you hire a consultant to help you select what to purchase and in what order, but I don’t recommend purchasing everything at once. Put together a plan that will help you phase in the technology.

Once it is purchased, do not purchase another until the previous one is implemented and being used effectively.

Victoria: Thank you, Dave. I know I, like many hygienists, like to bring new information to the forefront for my patients. For now, I will rely on the available dental practice management software packages as a supplement to my digital dental hygiene day. I look forward to the future, when total implementation of digital hygiene technology will make my day easier and less stressful!

Victoria DaCosta, RDH, BS, is founder and president of Hy-Tech Solutions. A practicing dental hygienist for 18 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. She is the author of the Hy-Tech column in RDH. DaCosta can be contacted at

David Jacklin is founder and president of Timberline Leadership (, a dental practice management firm specializing in the implementation of technology. Currently, Timberline Leadership services clients in 10 states. David has presented to thousands of dental professionals throughout the United States. He can be contacted at [email protected].