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May 2013
Volume 34, Issue 5

Switching from Film to Digital Radiography: Many Benefits for Dentists to Reap

Heather Tuggle

As small business owners, dentists should focus on maximizing their return on investment (ROI) when making important technological decisions for their practices. In recent years, an increasing number of oral healthcare professionals have been turning to digital radiography not only to improve their ROI and practice revenue, but also to enhance patient care and staff productivity. The advantages of transitioning from film to digital radiography include:

Reduced expenses—Without film and processing chemicals, practices no longer have to purchase expensive consumables, while integrating a digital system into practice management software reduces paper costs.

Increased case acceptance—Whether trying to explain a treatment recommendation to a patient or insurance company, digital images can help increase case acceptance.

Improved efficiency—With digital technology, processor malfunctions and related delays are eliminated. Digital radiography allows dentists and their staffs to capture images instantly, while integrated technology can streamline the workflow.

Measureable ROI

A common concern for dentists considering the move from film to digital radiography is the upfront expense associated with acquiring a new system and computerizing the back office. While products such as intraoral sensors and panoramic imaging units are expensive initially, many dentists will benefit financially long term.

Consider the case of a practice that captures 30 images—including a mix of full-mouth series, bitewing series, periapical files, and other film images—each day for 20 days per month (approximately 600 images). On average, this practice may incur a monthly cost of $1,060 for supplies, such as film, chemicals, and mounts/hangers, as well as waste disposal and production expenses. This practice can actually save on monthly expenses by switching to a digital radiography system, such as an intraoral sensor. With a $17,000 investment in a two-sensor bundle (including training and installation) at 4.5% financing over 60 months, the total monthly cost comes to $316, yielding a positive cash flow of approximately $740 from the first month. This benefit will continue to grow over time, with a profit of approximately $17,800 over 2 years and $44,470 over a 5-year period.

Increased Revenue through Case Acceptance

The first hurdle dentists face when recommending a treatment plan is explaining to patients what they cannot see. But because digital radiography provides enhanced and larger images, dentists are able to greatly improve patient communication. When patients can actually view the problem, they are more likely to accept the recommended treatment option.

Similarly, when explaining the proposed treatment to insurance companies, using digital radiography to capture images can expedite the predetermination and insurance claims process. Film images sent to the third-party payer can potentially become lost or damaged. However, images sent via digital attachment can facilitate this process and may even increase the chance that the procedure will be approved in a timelier manner and prevent image loss.

Additional Benefits

While ROI can be measured through direct means, such as the cost savings of eliminating film and process-related expenses, other factors associated with digital radiography can indirectly play a role in increasing practice revenue, including patient satisfaction, a streamlined workflow, and improved referral collaboration.

Unlike film processing, which takes time and can be affected by delays, digital images can be acquired immediately. This not only improves patient satisfaction, but the extra time gained by using digital technology can free up staff to focus on more productive patient interaction as well as other revenue-generating tasks. Digital radiography systems can also be integrated into practice management and imaging software to improve the entire workflow process.

Strategic relationships also play a role in a practice’s bottom line. General practitioners and specialists report that technological competency is a factor when choosing one colleague over another, and adapting to digital radiography is viewed as a sign that an oral health professional is keeping up with emerging technology. In addition, digital technology can also facilitate communication and education during colleague collaboration.

While digital radiography is a diagnostic tool, it also provides benefits that can help increase efficiency and improve ROI. By “going digital,” dentists can reap the rewards for years to come.


This article was sponsored by Carestream Dental through an educational grant.

About the Author

Heather Tuggle
Carestream Dental, Atlanta, Georgia


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