More dentists converting to digital records

The technology revolution that has changed so many things in our lives, including the ways we communicate, bank and pay for our groceries, has come to dental offices.

Dentists can now show patients their digital X-rays with the swipe of finger on a computer tablet, and in some cases expand the image’s size for better viewing.

“If I want to talk to the patients about something, I’ll grab the tablet and sit side by side and go over it with the patient,” said Dr. Jim Haberman, an Edmonds dentist. “I feel like it’s really personal.”

While it’s second nature for a dentist to look at an X-ray and spot problems, such as a cavity, that’s not the case with many patients.

“A lot of people don’t see that,” Haberman said. “If you can enlarge it, you can say, ‘OK, see this area?’”

The switch to digital X-rays is part of move many dental offices are making to paperless offices. The days of having rooms with floor to ceiling shelves filled with folders of patient records are becoming obsolete.

“We’re hoping in one more year we’ll have no more charts and have a room we won’t know what to do with,” Haberman said.

The changes in Haberman’s office are part of a general trend toward digital technology in all health professions, said Dr. Rod Wentworth, immediate past president of the Washington State Dental Association.

Dr. Serve Wahan, an oral surgeon with OM3, a group practice with offices in Everett, Mill Creek and Smokey Point, estimated that about 80 percent of area dentists either have made the switch to digital records or are in the process of doing so.

Haberman said at his office, the conversion to a paperless system, which began in November, will take about a year. Records and X-rays taken on film are being scanned and put into electronic charts.

All new patients have their information entered electronically, not on paper.

With OM3’s three offices in Snohomish County and a staff of 20, its digital system allows Wahan and his partners to access records quickly, even when they’re on-call and they’re away from the office, he said.

Conversion to digital dental records isn’t cheap. Haberman estimates his costs at about $50,000.

Wahan said that the latest update to the electronic medical records system in his company’s offices will cost upwards of $150,000.

But in addition to traditional patient record keeping, “the computer will keep track of everything for us,” Wahan said.

Its wide-ranging functions include sending prescriptions directly to a pharmacy without the need for a phone call, tracking the medications patients are taking to look for potentially dangerous drug interactions, and noting a patient’s blood pressure while they’re being treated.

Taking the financial plunge to upgrade to the newest digital technology wasn’t easy, Wahan acknowledged.

“But looking at the next 15 years of my practice, it makes sense,” he said. “In the long run, it will make us a lot more efficient.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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