Dentistry Information Systems: How Dentists Can Use Technology to Help Patients and Their Business

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Four Reasons

Many dentists use computers to manage their business. At the same time, you may not be using your computers to the best effect in your clinical practice.

My job is information. It’s what I do. But if you are a dentist, or a dental nurse, or a dental practice manager, then your job is dentistry, and that’s what you do. So why do you need better information?

I suggest that there are four reasons why you might wish to have better information:

  1. To make more money

  2. To save money

  3. To provide better care for your patients

  1. To reduce the risk of doing harm to your patients

If someone wants you to spend money or time in order to get better information, then ask them whether it will help you achieve any of these and if so, how?

In reality, in some cases, you can achieve more than one benefit. For example,if you reduce the chance of an adverse event, thereby reducing the risk of doing harm to your patients, you should be a better risk for your insurance company, and that should save you money.Alternatively, if you use information to track your patients better, then you should recall them more often and reliably. This should be good for your patients’ oral health. Assuming that your remuneration is linked to your level of activity, then, it should also increase your income.

What’s Wrong with Paper Records?

Dentists, in common with other health care professionals have always used information. The classical information system in dental care has been paper-based, with paper forms stored in envelopes. This may not seem very sexy as information systems go, but it served dentists quite well for many decades

Any replacement system must do better than this. In spite of the promise of new technology, many dental practices still depend on their old paper-based systems for much of their work. This may be because they still see the purpose of records as the traditional aide-memoir for the dental practitioner, and paper records are very good for this purpose.

The UK dental sector lags the US in terms of uptake of information technology. In 2003, in a survey of English dental practices found nearly a quarter of practices still were not using computers at all.

Of those not using computers, over half (56%) stated that they didn’t believe they were not currently necessary. Around one quarter cited staff reluctance (24%), whilst slightly less said that the systems were too expensive (19%). Only 45% had Internet and Email access at this time.

In spite of dentistry in the UK still being part of the National Health Service, and the National Program for IT spending billions to join up the entire Service, plans to connect dentistry to the rest of the system via the N3 network are still in the early stages and lag well behind the connection rates in almost every other section of the health care system.

However, technology is not an end in itself, it is a means to deliver the information that is needed to support the management and care of dental patients. Dentists need good information systems to provide high quality information. Only a small part of this task is about computers, most of it is management, and most of management is about people.

Further Reading

J. H. John, D. Thomas and D. Richards (2003) Questionnaire survey on the use of computerization in dental practices across the Thames Valley region, British Dental Journal, 195, 585–590.

Gillies AC (2007) IT and information for dentists: a handbook, Lulu Press, London

This post is part of the series: Dental informatics

This series designed to help dentists make better use of information and information technology

  1. Why Do Dentists Need Better Information?
  2. Why Dentists Need Those Horrible Computers