Technology in the Business Office
The use of modern technology in dentistry today helps the staff to be productive and the dentist remain on the cutting edge. Technology in the office is the application of computers and associated electronic equipment to prepare and distribute information. Indeed the computer has made an impact on the profession of dentistry and is used routinely in the clinical and business applications of the office. The dental staff should expect their duties as well as the way they work to change from time to time. The need for high productivity and quality performance means that all Dental Health Care Workers (DHCWs) must be willing to change work methods and adapt to this change.
Few businesses today can avoid the explosion in the need for more information. The prudent selection of technology equipment is a major component of dental office productivity and efficiency. Presently there are millions of electronic workstations in all types of offices in the United States, and the numbers are growing. In fact office automation using the Internet has been called the “primary way to do business in a high-tech world.” Some form of computer usage is now installed in more than 90% of dental offices in North America. The electronic office is a workplace in which sophisticated computers and other electronic equipment carry out many of the office’s routine tasks and provide more options for gathering, processing, displaying, and storing information. Some applications of technology in the business office are outlined in Box 5-1.
The technological revolution that led to the information age has had a profound effect on the business office. The use of electronic office technology in the dental business office allows the staff to be more organized and efficient. It can help to automate routine office tasks, improve cash flow, and increase accuracy. Today a patient in a general practice can have a radiograph digitally processed and transferred to the oral surgeon before the patient even leaves the general dentist’s office. This concept can be likened to the application of four-handed dentistry in the clinical setting, because both result in improved patient care, increased productivity, and reduction of stress on the dental staff.
An information system is a collection of elements that provide accurate, timely, and useful information. To understand the procedure of an information system, the administrative assistant must understand basic terminology related to this concept. A glossary of terms and definitions helps the novice understand the terminology of the modern electronic office and is useful in selecting contemporary office equipment. Box 5-2 contains a detailed list of basic information system terms.
Figure 5-1 depicts the five elements that make up the information system:
Hardware is the information system’s physical equipment. The central piece of hardware in the information system is the computer (Figure 5-2). A computer is a device that electronically accepts data, processes the data arithmetically and logically, produces output from the processing, and stores the result for future use.
Other technologies prevalent in the business office today include telephone systems with the capacity for voicemail or paging, voice equipment, fax (facsimile) machines, copy machines, calculators, dental imagers, scanners, and digital cameras (Box 5-3). The notebook/laptop computer is becoming popular with dentists as they seek to work on office business outside the office. Technology can help enhance productivity and customer service within a dental practice, as follows:
• Voice equipment records voice sounds as input for a voice-activated system or for later transcription, for referral letters or for recording information to be transferred to the clinical records, or to record research reports, minutes of a staff meeting, or the summary of a conference.
• Copy machines reproduce letters, pages from magazines and books, charts and drawings, financial reports, clinical records, and statements from the patients’ ledger cards. (See Box 5-4 and Figure 5-3 for features of copiers.)
• Calculators found in computer software or those purchased separately are a great help to assistants with many routine duties that require mathematical skill. Except for the computer calculators, many are inexpensive enough to be sold at department and discount stores and also at office machine dealers. The price of a calculator is not determined entirely by the number of its functions, although this is an important factor. The types of components and materials used to produce the machine also affect the price (Box 5-5 and Figure 5-4).
• Digital cameras or intraoral cameras allow images to become part of the patient record. Data are stored, and a hard copy of the intraoral condition can be printed. Cosmetic imagers are capable of displaying proposed changes that will result from specific treatment.
• Scanners input text or graphical data directly into computer storage. Any of these devices may be directly connected to the computer system and provide a centralized source for information. Chapter 10 includes detailed descriptions of telecommunications systems and techniques.