The perfect fit

Sept. 1, 2004
Looking for that perfect techno office for that perfect digital dental hygiene day? Have you even considered that as you become mobile and change dental practices...

by Victoria DaCosta

Looking for that perfect techno office for that perfect digital dental hygiene day? Have you even considered that as you become mobile and change dental practices, technology may play a central role in which office you choose? OK, I admit I face my own challenges in the search for a "perfect practice." Since I've worked in more than 600 dental practices throughout my career, mostly as a temporary, I realized that the perfect fit lies within myself.

How much can "I" tolerate in any given environment? Though I have come close to being in the "perfect" dental practice, I find that daily challenges exist everywhere and with all co-workers no matter how "perfect" everyone in a practice is. So how will technology be a part of this search for perfection? To begin with, it can certainly make a dental hygienist's life easier.

Years ago, before in-operatory computers, I worked in a dental clinic with a main computer terminal workstation in the hallway. The dental hygienists were instructed to use it after each patient's appointment. The clinic employed eight dentists, 16 dental assistants, and eight dental hygienists. The dental clinic also had station areas for X-ray, sterilization, and patient check-in and checkout. We posted our patient procedures not only in charts, but on the computers. This computer workstation system pre-dated any Windows operating system we have today. I was instructed very quickly on the computer how to clock in for my day, post all my patients' procedures, and clock out. This entire system was created and managed by a non-clinical practicing dental hygienist who was the clinic manager.

Dentists from all over the state visited the office to check it out. The system ran just about flawlessly. Talk about ahead of the times! Perhaps my interest in this experience has brought me to writing and speaking about technology today.

What technology to look for

• Hardware — When I enter any dental office, my first interest is in what type of computers are in use. The kind of computers will determine the amount of data stored, and the speed with which the data can be disseminated throughout the practice. For example, if you see only one computer in the office located at the front desk, this office's technology implementation is probably very low.

I suggest touring each operatory to see what hardware is visible.

• Monitors — either flat screen or a PC tablet with a docking station.

• Tower mainframe computer — this should be stored under the counter.

• Color printer — this will aid in immediate printing of any reports or information for your production or patient handouts.

• Wireless keyboard and mouse — it's important to have no worries about cables and extra wires on your countertop, especially for OSHA concerns.

• Software — One the most important things to consider is the ease with which the dental management software can be used. How easy is it for you to navigate and feel comfortable with the software? If you are not familiar with a certain type of office practice management software, ask for some time to do some clicking. The key is to feel comfortable with it. You will most likely be expected to use it every hour of the day. We have the ability to increase patient care with digital X-rays and intraoral cameras.

• Upgraded software versions — You will find that most offices fall behind on updating software versions. It is possible to use old versions to get by, but these lack the new features needed for data input.

• User friendly — How easy is the office software to use?

• Digital X-rays — What kind of radiation technology is offered, and can you be trained on it?

• Imaging — This is a new kind of software that incorporates the intraoral and digital cameras. There is definitely a learning curve to use this, but it is well worth it!

• Network — The way the dental practice workflow is organized in any office will create either more or less stress for you. I feel it is important to take note of what kind of network system is in place.

• Local in-office — If there are computers in each operatory, what kind of communication is established from the hygiene room to the front office and other computers? Can you send an instant message to the front? If you have a patient chart open on your computer, can your patient's chart be viewed on another computer in another room at the same time? If the front desk has your patient's digital chart open and you seat your patient, can you also view your patient's digital chart at the same time?

• Online — Is the office connected to the Internet? This is a key networking advantage inside your operatory. With the Internet, I can quickly access online and print out information for patients in minutes.

• Design lay out — Placement of technology is key to your digital dental hygiene day. If the technology is not convenient to use, this will slow down your day and increase your tension!

• Monitor location — In front of, behind the patient or, both.

• Ergonomics — The body position of the computer workstation is important to overcome daily fatigue.

Questions to ask
• How much training is required to learn the office computer systems?
• Who does the posting?
• Do you schedule patient appointments for recall or restorative or both?
• Is ongoing software training set up for upgraded versions?
• Is the hygiene supply ordering done online?
• Are you required to attend training classes?
• Are you required to take patient digital photos for the digital chart?
• What kind of case presentation set up is required for the dentist prior to recall exams?
• How much hygiene time is scheduled for all of your technology tasks?

Hy-Tech user tips ...
for technology friendly offices

• Look, observe, and ask questions!
• List the technology skills you have acquired through training on your resume.
• Find out about technology maintenance for your workstation.
• Before interviewing for a job, ask the previous hygienist, if possible, about usage of technology in that office.
• If you come up with more skills than the practice has, become a digital dental hygiene day consultant for the practice!

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. DaCosta can be contacted at