Digital Intraoral Imaging: A Beneficial Patient Education Tool
Intraoral imaging is certainly nothing new—to the contrary, it’s long been a staple of dentistry. Yet, it is still considered an innovative technology primarily because of its ever-increasing impact on the way doctors approach patients. The ability to capture an image that can then be shown to patients to help them commit to treatment is an essential element that many practitioners fail to take full advantage of. Beyond the basics of intraoral imaging, there are advancements that can add to a practice’s bottom line; there are some hidden assets, as well, that can be utilized.
Beyond the Basics
New developments in intraoral imaging can strongly support patient treatment as well as enhance income to the practice. For example, more advanced devices use liquid lensing to allow for excellent short-range views. This technology has redefined the concept of “close-up,” delivering crisp images at previously unobtainable distances. Variable focus allows for a wide focus range while preserving sharp images. Using either a ring or slide, these wand systems can focus from 1 mm to infinity.
Another key area of development involves caries detection, whereby areas of decay that would be difficult to otherwise detect can be verified by taking advantage of fluorescence of carious dental structure. This caries detection option uses advanced software and specified wavelength LED light emission via a wand to define the existence of carious structure. A new segment of the intraoral camera market provides imaging on patient-held devices to allow patients to genuinely be a part of the diagnostic process.
When it comes to incorporating new technology into a practice, ease of use in a product is especially important. For intraoral cameras to be effective and valuable to the practice, they must be easy enough to use so that staff can be quickly trained and able to employ the product confidently and consistently. Therefore, when purchasing an intraoral camera, it is important to think in terms of simplicity and not be overwhelmed by such details as megapixel resolution. When in doubt, the practitioner should request a demonstration from the manufacturer or a trial period to ensure every staff member can easily use the product. If an intraoral camera is not used consistently among the staff, it can hinder production.
While enhancing patient care, intraoral imaging can increase case acceptance, and thereby improve profitability. The following suggestions can help a practice maximize the value of an intraoral camera:
Get advance notification—If there are any issues that the doctor should know about before crossing the operatory threshold, a staff member can show the doctor an image of the issue to view in advance. Having a portable device is ideal for this; otherwise, an open operatory can be used. This allows the doctor to carefully evaluate the case and present a professional approach to what may be significant patient treatment.
Show a portfolio of success—The doctor can assemble several images that he or she has taken on a given treatment, such as replacing an old, large amalgam restoration with an attractive ceramic crown, to show the patient. Images can be kept on a file on the desktop of each operatory computer or on a secure digital (SD) card for use with individual computers or a handheld intraoral camera.
Confirm insurance payment—The imaging system can also be used to help confirm insurance coverage. If the system allows, the practitioner can flag problem areas, such as a symptomatic fracture, by circling them on the image and/or adding a written note, to bring them to the attention of the insurance company. Upon electronic transmission of such a notated image, the doctor can anticipate approval. In addition, patients usually appreciate the extra effort made to obtain insurance approval.
Give a tangible takeaway—Even if the patient ultimately does not commit to treatment, patients can be sent home with or emailed these images so they are not leaving the office empty-handed. This gives them something tangible to think about regarding the treatment and helps leave open the possibility of them changing their mind and reconsidering their decision.
There are many more ways—not all of which are readily apparent—that doctors can use intraoral images to improve their success in patient commitment to treatment. Intraoral cameras can deliver significant rewards to dental practices if they work simply and improve efficiency. Coupling an intraoral camera with patient education is an effective way to finalize a dental treatment commitment, as having the ability to use multiple modalities improves the chance of success. Once the patient has enough information to commit to the prescribed treatment, the next hurdle is ensuring that they make and keep the appointment.
About the Author
Robert Clark, DDS
Founder, DrQuickLook Inc.