Technology Improves Patient Care & Satisfaction

November 2007

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

Each generation transcends its predecessors with vast new knowledge that surpasses old standards, and gives way to “breakthroughs”, which ultimately become a “way of life”. Henry Ford gave us the automobile to replace the horse and wagon. “A new fangled contraption” in the 1930’s, as recounted by my grandfather, afforded only by the wealthy; we now commonly see two or three cars in every household and superhighways have been paved over the wagon trails of yesteryear. The Wright Brothers, in 1903, unsuspectingly solved the ancient mystery of flight, when these two young bicycle repairman and machinists defied gravity with powered flight. Met with amazement as a spectacular phenomenon at the start of the 20th century, air travel is now commonplace at the start of the 21st century, and even evokes anger for making us late to a business meeting when planes don’t stay on schedule. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, transcended the Pony Express for communication standards in 1876, and would never have imagined the evolution of his invention into the marveled convenience of wireless cell phones. For those of us old enough to remember Star Trek, “communicators” were no more likely to become the reality of modern day cell phones than the phrase “Beam Me Up, Scotty” was to activate the “transporter” and allow teleportation of a person across the universe by having their body demolecularized. Yet today, nearly ever person I know has a cell phone.

In Star Trek, Captain Kirk always referred to Space as the final frontier. However, it will be technology that gets us there. Technology is one of the great measuring sticks we use to qualify improvement in our society. Technology represents the advancements outlined above and permits wonderful opportunities to unfold in nearly every aspect of life.

As a youngster in third grade, I can remember getting called to the principle’s office, with great trepidation for absolutely no known reason. My impending encounter turned out to be an invitation to type up some reports, as they were aware of my typing skills, and because the secretary was out sick. I performed my typing at that time on a manual typewriter (ironically a Woodstock brand), and later progressed to an electric typewriter while I was in dental school. Children today have no idea what a typewriter even looks like. Today, my typing is done hands-free using voice recognition software on the computer. It is amazing how far we’ve come in such a short time.

My first dental office, back in 1988, offered the challenging decision whether to implement a computer or use a card index system like most everyone at the time. Embracing technology, and meeting it head on, I bought my first computer that had an amazing 256K memory, 10 MHz processor and ran on DOS. The only concept of Windows then was what you looked through to see outside. Just like the typewriter, times have dramatically changed, and today my dental office has fifteen computers, any one of which far exceeds the operating system used to put the first men on the moon.

Technology is a modern way of life, for which we are more dependant upon every day. For dentistry, it means a better understanding and enlightenment regarding your diagnosis and treatment. It improves the quality of your diagnosis using digital x-rays, digital photos of your teeth at 20 times magnification, and lasers all which allow better and earlier detection of bacteria in your teeth. Technology improves the quality of your treatment as well; earlier detection allows for more conservative dental procedures. The most dreaded term in dentistry is “root canal” dating back decades, and this treatment now utilizes ultrasonic technology along with numerous other breakthroughs in care, which renders root canal procedures painless and improves patient anxiety immensely. Computers are routinely used to deliver dental anesthesia with no discomfort at all negating this long term fear factor as well. These are but a few examples seen in dentistry today.

Another very important benefit that technology can provide for the dental patient, in addition to quality of care, is the quality of your visit. This is a topic that is truly under-rated and under-emphasized.

Patient care, customer service or whatever title you give it remains an important need for each of us. In a world where customer service has definitely diminished as a whole, technology may offer a solution.

My personal philosophy is that we should utilize patient-friendly technology. In dentistry, this means that patients will understand, appreciate and benefit from the technology used specifically for their needs. Technology used in this fashion will lead to a better dental experience. The patient must be the focus and the doctor and staff must coordinate their efforts, using technology, to provide a great dental visit. One example of technology in providing quality care includes television monitors mounted at the chair for viewing movies to distract the patient from the procedure. Technology found in Spa features such as paraffin wax units, wall fountains, headphones, IPods and chair massagers further enhance patient comfort and patient satisfaction. Improving patient satisfaction means people are more likely to perform treatment rather than put it off, which has been a traditional problem in dentistry for decades.

Technology theoretically can allow us more time to perform the same tasks. This results in better patient care & satisfaction. Using patient friendly technology and mastering the use of technology allows us to be superstars in what we do for our patients and creates a seamless quality result appreciated by all concerned.