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Push the Boundaries of Communication with Patient Education Software
There is no such thing as too much information
Since the beginning of time, human beings have tried to communicate with one another through pictures and, eventually, through words. From their earliest drawings on cave walls, they have sought to tell their stories. The same holds true in the dental world.
Dental teams have been trying to impart information to their patients to give them a greater understanding of their dental conditions and recommended treatments. Whether it is drawing pictures, using models, or pointing out pathology on a radiograph, the dental team members and the patient must effectively communicate with each other about dental problems. Patient education has progressed through the use of digital imaging. Both intraoral cameras and extraoral cameras allow teams to bring large pictures onto computer monitors. These images allow patients to view their teeth and oral health issues in ways that were previously difficult to convey. Digital radiography has made it easier for dentists to view radiographs, and that has made it easier to describe radiologic issues to the patient. Instead of trying to impart information to the patient by showing them a #2 film, the image can be seen on a large monitor for easier discussion. Another advantage is that the use of digital images may be incorporated into most patient education software.
Computerized Patient Education
With the advent of computers and the ability to show computer-generated images in a multimedia presentation, messages can be delivered more comprehensively to patients to help them understand the available treatment options like never before. Patient education software assists by showing patients the reasons for their diagnosed condition along with the procedures necessary for their treatment (Figure 1). Patient education software also helps to protect practices legally by assisting with informed consent—accurately describing the various treatment options and possible complications associated with a procedure. The software helps to reinforce the dental team’s recommendations and offers an unbiased second opinion.
With patient education software, dental teams can communicate with their patients effectively at every stage of contact with the practice, starting with when they make their first appointment, continuing through when they are seated in the reception area, receiving their diagnosis and treatment planning, and following them through the trip home after the visit.
The ability to share intraoral images with patients is no longer limited to the dental operatory. Information and videos can be placed for viewing on the practice’s website. There are education videos designed for the reception area that are different than the patient education provided in the operatory. Patients can be emailed links to the education videos they have seen, which they can share with family members while in the comfort of their own home. Patients do not even need a computer to access this information, now that tablet devices and smart phones offer easy access to the Internet.
Patient education should start as soon as the patient contacts the office, as described below using examples from the author’s practice.
Before the Appointment
When a patient calls or emails to make an appointment, an email is generated with the intake forms the patient needs to complete. Along with this email, links can be placed into the email to reference the office website to educate the patient about the office.
In the Reception Area
The use of a large-screen television in the reception area can be used either for patient entertainment to help patients relax, or to begin the patient education process. When the patient enters the office, patient education begins with informative DVDs that can be viewed by patients while they are waiting to be seen. Most DVDs contain modules on a variety of oral conditions and treatments. The practice can run the complete DVD on repeat or select the specific education modules to be displayed. This software makes patient wait times more productive for the practice in that it may introduce and promote discussion of dental conditions and treatment options. 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, which is especially helpful for anxious patients.
In the Operatory
Once an examination has been completed and diagnosis attained, patient education software—either customized for the office or one of the commercially available systems described below—offers an effective means by which the clinician can explain findings to the patient, incorporating the pertinent patient information and images with information about the recommended procedures. With the advent of tablet computers patient education can be brought directly to the operatory chair or anywhere it is convenient to educate a patient. Most software packages now incorporate the use of tablets for ease of use and portability.
Commercial Software Packages
There are a number of patient education packages available. However, before making a purchase, the author highly recommends receiving a product demonstration to be sure it meets the needs of the clinician’s office and communication style. Some of the more popular patient education software programs will be described here. This is not a complete list, and the author recommends that dental teams familiarize themselves with all of the available patient education software programs to pick the correct package for their practices.
Guru (Henry Schein, Inc., www.howdoyouguru.com) is now on version 5. Guru has been updated and has a redesigned graphic interface emphasizing usability. All core functions are accessible with one-click operation, so there is no need to navigate through menus and submenus. Guru 5 comes with a well-structured library of hundreds of individual 3D animations covering dental procedures and techniques, as well as technology and equipment relevant to dentistry, including lasers, digital radiography, digital impressions, and CAD/CAM (Figure 2). All clips are designed in an informative, concise format, which covers general dentistry as well as most specialties as well as hygiene. It functions much like iTunes, with a library of animations instead of songs, and the ability to create custom case presentations from those individual animations, like an iTunes playlist.
CAESY Education Systems (Patterson Technology, www.caesy.com) is a multimedia patient education system highlighting preventive, restorative, and esthetic treatment options. Its presentations are designed to help dental practices educate their patients and grow their practices (Figure 3). With full-motion video, full-color graphics, and dynamic 3D animation, CAESY is available in a variety of delivery formats, including online/cloud-based, server-based, and DVD. Its front-office programming software, Smile Channel, prompts patients to ask the dental team about additional services once in the operatory.
CurveED (Curve Dental, Inc., www.curveed.com) is a free, web-based patient education system that provides more than 60 different educational 3D videos in 11 different categories (Figure 4). Each video is professionally narrated, covering a wide range of topics from restorative procedures to cosmetic procedures to endodontics. Created by a team of dentists, every video is accurate with regard to anatomy and procedure, but is tempered with a light narrative and artistic style. It is designed to help dental professionals build trust by providing their patients with an understanding of their current oral health condition and proposed treatment and outcomes.
Consult-PRO™ Dental Patient Education Software 2011 (Consult-PRO, www.consult-pro.com) provides detailed information from every dental specialty, covering all dental procedures and concepts from general dentistry, implants, oral surgery, periodontics, orthodontics, and endodontics (Figure 5). Consult-PRO includes 500 videos, 150 brochures, and 800 total presentations.
More to Come
Clearly, patient education software is continuing to evolve. There are more patient education options then ever before. Patient education is no longer relegated to the dental office. The information has been freed from the confines of the office and gives dental teams many options as to how, when, and where to educate their patients.
About the Author
Martin Jablow, DMD
Woodbridge, New Jersey