FIGURE 5-1The five elements of an information system.
1. Computers or hardware (the equipment)
2. Apps or software (programs)
Computers and Other Hardware
Hardware is the information system’s physical equipment. The central piece of hardware in the information system is the computer (Figure 5-2). A computing device collects data, processes the data arithmetically and logically, produces output as a result of the processing, and stores the result for future use. This device could take the form of a smartphone, a tablet, a notebook, a hand-held device, a headset, a laptop, a card reader, a digital pen, or even a desktop computer.
Other digital technologies prevalent in the business office today include telephone systems with the capacity for voicemail or paging, voice headsets, facsimile (fax) machines, copy machines, calculators, dental imagers, scanners, and digital cameras (Box 5-3). The notebook, laptop, or tablet computer with a wireless network is becoming popular with dentists as they seek to work from room to room or to conduct office business outside of the office. Digital technology can help enhance productivity and customer service within a dental practice in the following ways:
Selected Technology Terms
Storage device: There are three main types of consumer-grade computer storage: internal, external, and network attached. Internal storage is generally a hard drive or a solid-state drive (SSD) that hosts your computer’s operating systems and programs. External storage comes mostly in the form of external drives that connect to a computer via a peripheral port, such as a USB flash drive, a memory card, or an optical drive (CD or DVD). Finally, network attached storage (NAS) solutions are those that connect to a switch or a router to provide storage space and services to the entire network.
Card reader/writer: A card reader/writer is useful for transferring data directly to and from a removable flash memory card, such as the ones used in a camera or a music player. Make sure that the card reader/writer can read from and write to the flash memory cards that are used.
Cloud storage: Cloud storage is an Internet service that provides offsite storage to computer users. Cloud storage companies can provide storage for patient records, radiographs, or other professional documents. This can create a backup or duplicate version in case the original is lost, damaged, or destroyed.
Desktop computer: A desktop computer is a personal computer designed to be in a stationary location, where all of its components fit on or under a desk. Minimal configuration would include a screen, a keyboard, and a mouse with a tower. Sometimes the processing circuitry of the tower is contained in the screen, thereby eliminating the tower.
Digital camera: For the dental office, an inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera should be considered. These are small enough to carry around, they usually operate automatically in terms of lighting and focus, and they contain storage cards for storing photographs. All of these features may also be built into smartphones or other mobile devices.
Hard disk: A hard disk is a storage device that contains one or more inflexible circular platters that use magnetic particles to store data, instructions, and information. Desktop and laptop computers often contain at least one hard disk that is mounted inside the computer’s case; this is called a fixed disk because this hard disk is not portable. External hard disks are separate, portable, freestanding hard disks that either attach with a cable or are wireless. Hard disks today have capacities that are measured in gigabytes and terabytes.
Joystick/wheel: If a computer is used to play games, then a joystick or wheel should be purchased. These devices—especially the more expensive ones—provide for realistic game play with force feedback, programmable buttons, and specialized levers and wheels. These might be useful for patient education apps in which the joystick can be used to allow the patient to navigate through a virtual tour of the mouth.
Keyboard: The keyboard is one of the more important devices used to communicate with the computer. For this reason, make sure that the keyboard purchased has 101 to 105 keys, that it is comfortable and easy to use, and that it has a USB connection. A wireless keyboard should be considered, especially if there is a small desk area.
Laptop, notebook, or tablet computer: These are portable personal computers that are designed to fit on a user’s lap. Sometimes they may have detachable keyboards, or they may involve the use of virtual keyboards that can be found on the screen.
Microphone: To record audio or to use speech recognition to enter text and commands, purchase a close-talk headset with gain adjustment support or a desktop plug-in model. Either one could use a person’s voice to send a text message, schedule an appointment, and dial a phone number. Alternatively, you may opt for video calling instead of traditional phone calls so that you and the person you called can see each other as you chat on a computer or a mobile device.
Modem: Most computers come with modems to connect them with the Internet or with a wireless network. Some modems also have fax capabilities. The modem chosen should be rated at 56 kbp.
Monitor: The monitor is the screen on which documents are viewed, e-mail messages are read, and pictures are observed. A screen with a minimum size of 17 inches is recommended, but, if you are planning to use the computer for graphic design or game playing, a 19- or 21-inch monitor should be chosen. An LCD flat-panel monitor should be considered, especially if space is an issue. A touch-screen monitor may be used in some areas; this allows the user to interact by touching areas of the screen without using the mouse. Mobile computers and devices typically integrate the display into their same physical case and support touch-screen input.
Mouse or pointing device: The mouse is used constantly with the computer. For this reason, spend a few extra dollars, if necessary, and purchase a mouse with an optical sensor and a USB connection. The optical sensor replaces the need for a mouse ball, which means that a mouse pad is not needed. For a personal computer (PC), make sure that the mouse has a wheel, which acts as a third button in addition to the top two buttons on the left and right. An ergonomic design is also important, because the hand is on the mouse most of the time when using the computer. A wireless mouse should be considered to eliminate the cord and to allow the assistant work at short distances from the computer. A pointing device is an input device that allows a user to control a small symbol on the screen; this is typically used with laptops or tablets.
Network card: If planning to connect to a network or use broadband (cable or DSL) to connect to the Internet, then purchase a network card. Broadband connections require a 10/100 PCI Ethernet network card.
Printer: The two basic printer choices are ink jet and laser. Color ink jet printers cost from $50 to $300, on average, whereas laser printers cost from $300 to $2000. In general, the cheaper the printer, the lower the resolution and speed and the more often the ink cartridge or toner must be changed. Laser printers print faster and with a higher quality than an ink jet printer, and their toner generally costs less. If color is desired, then go with a high-end ink jet printer to ensure the quality of the printing. The duty cycle (i.e., the number of pages that will be printed each month) also should be a determining factor. If the duty cycle is on the low end (i.e., hundreds of pages per month), then stay with a high-end ink jet printer rather than purchasing a laser printer. If planning to print photographs taken with a digital camera, then purchase a photo printer. A photo printer is a dye-sublimation printer or an ink jet printer with higher resolution and features that allow for the printing of quality photographs. Most printers support wireless connectivity.
Processor: To select the right processor, first determine your needs. Determine the amount of power that you have with your current processor, and then research current processors. Another thing to consider when updating processors is considering that what used to be done with a desktop model may now be accomplished with a tablet or laptop or even with a hand-held mobile device.
RAM: Random access memory (RAM) plays a vital role in the speed of the computer. Make sure that the computer purchased has at least 1 GB of RAM. If there is extra money to invest in the computer, consider increasing the amount of RAM. The extra money spent for RAM will be well spent.
Scanner: The most popular scanner purchased with a computer today is the flatbed scanner that can attach to the computer either with a cable or wirelessly. When evaluating a flatbed scanner, check the color depth and resolution. Some scanners are duplex scanners, which means that they can scan both sides of a document.
Smartphone: A smartphone is an Internet-capable phone that usually includes a calendar, an appointment book, an address book, a calculator, a notepad, games, and several other apps. Smartphones typically communicate wirelessly with other devices or computers.
Speakers: Speakers allow you to hear audio in the form of music, voice, or other sounds. Most personal computers and mobile devices have small internal speakers, or you can attach earbuds or headphones for personalized listening. Purchasing a good sound card, quality speakers, and a separate subwoofer that amplifies the bass frequencies of the speakers can turn the computer into a premium stereo system.
Video graphics card: Most standard video cards satisfy the monitor display needs of home and small office users. If the purchaser is a game player or a graphic designer, a higher-quality video card can be selected. The higher refresh rate will further enhance the display of games, graphics, and movies.
PC video camera: A PC video or web cam is a small camera that can be used to capture and display live video (in some cases with sound), primarily on the Internet. A PC video camera can also be used to capture, edit, and share videos and still photos. The camera sits on the monitor or desk. These functions can also be found on a smartphone.
USB flash (jump) drive: If different computers are used and if access to the same data and information is needed, then this portable miniature storage device that can fit on a key chain is ideal. USB flash drive capacities vary from 128 MB to 4 GB.
Wireless LAN access point: A wireless local area network (LAN) access point allows for the networking of several computers so that they can share files and access the Internet through a single cable modem or DSL connection. Each device connected requires a wireless card. A wireless LAN access point can offer a range of operation of up to several hundred feet, so be sure that the device has a high-powered antenna.
Data from Shelly GB, Cashman TJ, Vermaat ME: Discovering computers: Fundamentals edition, Boston, 2004, Course Technology.
• Digital voicemail allows both incoming and outgoing telephone messages to be recorded and processed.
• Pagers carried by members of the office staff allow them to be signaled when needed.
• Digital voice equipment records voice sounds as input for a voice-activated system; for later transcription; for referral letters; for recording information for a patient’s clinical record; or for recording research reports, minutes of a staff meeting, or the summary of a conference.
• Fax machines send and receive documents or other graphic images over the telephone systems or the Internet.
• Copy machines reproduce letters, pages from magazines and books, charts and drawings, financial reports, clinical records, and statements from patients’ ledger cards. (Box 5-4 lists several features of copiers.)
Box 5-4 Features to Consider When Selecting or Using Copiers
• Style of copier: tabletop size or standalone floor model
• Volume of work to be done: low, mid, or high volume
• Quality of copy desired: clear and sharp
• Selection of paper size for reports, ledger cards, and letters
• Ability to reproduce from a colored original or colored ink
• Speed and output: number of copies per minute
• Ability to make copies on regular office forms and paper
• Availability of outside copying business or other specialized copying services to handle a large volume of documents (e.g., a new office policy manual)
• Calculators found in computer software or those purchased separately are a great help to assistants with many routine duties that require mathematical skills. Many other calculators 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 its number of 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).
Box 5-5 Features to Consider When Selecting a Calculator
• Type of display
• Printing capabilities
• Quality of keyboard
• Type of batteries: For portable models, are they easily obtained? Are they throwaway or rechargeable?
• Durability of components and materials: Factors other than cost will influence the selection of a calculator.
• Ease of operation: The calculator should allow for the basic computations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Some machines can solve difficult trigonometry problems that only an accomplished mathematician could answer accurately.
• Decimal functions: A fixed decimal restricts the number of decimals; a floating decimal puts no restriction on the position of the decimal point.
• Repeat and constant operations: This feature allows the operator to add or subtract a series of identical numbers by depressing the add or subtract function key repeatedly.
• Memory register: Figures can be added to or subtracted from and are available until the register is cleared.
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