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Communication is Key
Patient education software can increase treatment plan acceptance.
Dentists have always tried to convey information to patients through a variety of methods. Sometimes, what was in the patients’ best interests was lost because of the dentists’ inability to educate patients properly. From drawing pictures on bracket table paper to viewing No. 2 radiographic films on a view box, dentists have been trying to create the proper co-diagnosis situations. With the advent of computers and computer-generated images in a multimedia presentation, messages can be delivered more consistently to allow patients the ability to understand treatment like never before. The old belief, “If the patient cannot understand the problem, the patient is unlikely to accept the solution,” still rings true today. That is why patient education software can be a valuable solution to the co-diagnosis paradox.
Communication is the key to patient education, and any method that makes information easier to understand can help the patient comprehend the need for necessary treatment. Education is primarily visual. Combine words and pictures and people can better understand. Therefore, through computer animation and words in a multimedia format, patients can be shown an entire dental procedure in great detail, and clinicians can expect them to retain more of what has been described than if they were educated through words alone.1
So, why is patient education software needed? It simplifies treatment plan acceptance by showing patients the reasons for the necessary treatment and how procedures will be performed. Patient education software helps to protect dentists by assisting with informed consent, accurately describing the various treatment options along with possible complications associated with a procedure. The software also can be a nonbiased second opinion, helping to reinforce the dentist’s recommendations.
In the Waiting Room
Patient education can start in the reception area. Most patient education software is available for use on a personal computer or can be played on a television screen with a DVD player, making educating patients while they are waiting to be seen quite simple. Most DVDs contain modules on a variety of oral conditions and treatments. The practice can run the complete DVD on repeat or select certain education modules to be displayed on a monitor or television in the reception area (Figure 1). This software makes patient wait times much more productive for the practice than playing the all-news station or local programming. The mental seeds can be planted on a variety of dental conditions and treatment options. Patients will start asking questions based on the videos that they have seen in the waiting room. It is a perfect way to educate patients on periodontal diseases or other services the office has to offer, such as whitening options, cosmetic procedures, or implant dentistry. One patient-education software package produces a reception room DVD that mimics a news magazine show. This format is something most patients are accustomed to viewing and can inform them in a less clinical way.
In the Treatment Room
Using patient education is a real timesaver. An auxiliary can play the multimedia animations for one patient while the dentist gives another patient anesthesia or performs a hygiene check. Then, the dentist can return to the first patient and go over the patient’s treatment and answer any questions the patient may have after viewing the education module. Because the dentist previously has viewed the education module, he or she knows exactly what was told to the patient without being present. The message is consistent to all patients.
The following is a true instance with a patient many years ago. The patient recently had a tooth extracted and inquired as to how the tooth could be replaced. The choices were fixed or removable partial dentures or a dental implant. After the treatment options were explained to him, the patient elected to have a fixed bridge placed. After the teeth were prepared, the patient was visibly upset and informed the dentist that he had no idea that his teeth were going to be shaved down. Although the dentist believed the procedure had been described adequately, the patient did not totally comprehend the treatment. If patient education software had been available, a short computer animation would have shown the patient the act of the dental drill being applied to a tooth, eliminating entirely this patient’s misperception and confusion. For medical-legal reasons, all patients need to understand the treatment options for replacing teeth. Today, patient education software can accurately deliver the message about implant surgery and prosthetics along with fixed and removable treatment options. The message is consistent from one patient to the next and does not include any dentist bias. After viewing, the patient and the dentist can discuss the treatment options in more detail. In some patient education software, annotations can be made on diagrams, further customizing the informed consent.
The informed consent can be added to the patient’s electronic record automatically and signed (if compatible with your practice-management software), or the documents can be printed and signed and included in the patient’s chart and given to a patient to bring home if more time is needed to make a treatment decision.
How to Begin
To maximize the use of patient-education software, a local area network (LAN) is the preferred method to distribute the material. The software may be installed on an existing server, a new dedicated server, or individual workstations. Check with the software vendor to make sure the office’s hardware will meet the minimum requirements to have the software run efficiently on the existing network. Some software allows custom CDs to be burned with the modules patients have viewed so that the information can be available to them at home if they need more time to decide on their course of treatment.
For practices that are unsure about the value of this software, there are Web-based patient-education packages that are subscription-based. A small monthly fee will enable the practice to have the most current education modules at all times. Using these portals eliminates the need to install software, and the information can be made available to office staff or patients 24/7. The information is location-independent, as long as there is a personal computer with Internet access.
If no computer or network is available, a low-cost portable DVD player can be used to show the patient-education content on a computer. This less expensive option may place some limits on the practice, such as the inability to draw or customize presentations for patients.
When selecting the software, check that it matches the staff ’s personal style. For example, if the dentist likes to talk and educate patients, the software should offer the ability to turn off the audio. For the dentist who does not like to talk, the software should contain education modules with audio tracks. For dentists who like to draw, the software should accept annotations to the images or modules. Also check that the animations are not too graphic or too child-like; that the software offers different options for each education module, so staff members can select the type that best fits each patient; and that there are enough modules to cover the types of treatments normally performed in the office.
Through the use of patient-education software, dental offices should have better informed patients. Better-informed patients can make better treatment decisions, and hopefully allow the practice to have greater treatment plan acceptance.
1. Mayer R. Multimedia Learning. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; 2001.
About the Author
Martin Jablow, DMD
Woodbridge, New Jersey