The Vital Role of Connectivity in Modern Dentistry: Enhancing Practice Productivity and Patient Care

As modern dentistry continues to progress in the digital realm, the current lack of interconnectedness between its dental professionals has never been more apparent. Communication, what should be the great unifier, rears its ugly head frequently as the great disruptor in the current digital workflow environment of haphazard convoluted email chains and missed or mistranslated phone calls. In dentistry, where so much depends on how well we communicate with our dental labs, dental specialists, imaging centers, and general dentists, there is not a single unifying platform that does this effectively, efficiently, and is transparent in this process. Ultimately the breakdown impacts treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction with the dental industry. Let’s dive deeper into the benefits of having a more interconnected dental profession and its profound impact on both practitioners and patients alike.

Seamless Collaboration:

As dentistry continues its march towards advanced technologies, the digital workflow continues to evolve and morph with each innovation. Unfortunately, the myriad of digital systems has left each practitioner on an island, often with the auxiliary services such as the dental lab having to individualize the experience based on the system in place by the clinician. While this keeps each dental clinician satisfied, it creates a host of problems for the dental labs. Signing into multiple platforms a day to check if cases have come in, downloading and compiling data from each of these, and then transferring them into either a more streamlined platform or something as simple as a spreadsheet for tracking, is an extremely inefficient process that can result in errors and frustration.

The lack of easy collaboration doesn’t stop with just the dental lab. A CD with patient data is hand delivered or God forbid sent through the mail, creating not only a delay in data received but worse yet a HIPAA violation waiting to happen. A USB flash drive is sent with patient imaging, only to be found to be blank when inserting it into the computer by the practice receiving it, resulting in further unnecessary imaging, possible cost for the now frustrated patient, and loss of valuable time by the provider.  A unified email address for a practice may sound like a good idea until someone clicks on an email accidentally, containing important patient information relevant to a case, only to be passed over by the person it was intended for because it was already “read.”

Having a collaborative mindset for clinicians, labs, and dental radiologists, and a platform that mirrors those ideals, is needed in dentistry. An interconnected system where dentists can easily communicate with labs to share DICOM data, STL files, and images to give the lab everything they need to process a case. And in return a transparent system that the lab can use to track cases and provide feedback in. As clinicians work together on planning and executing a treatment plan, more frequently involving dental radiologists, the ability to communicate and discuss cases in real-time, without the need to send endless email chains or phone calls, would truly bring dentistry into the 21st century.

Preservation of Patient Data:

USB flash drives and CDs – how are we still using these physical media in the 21st century, especially for transferring such sensitive data as patient health information? A centralized database that can leverage accessibility and preservation of patient data is needed. This not only removes the need for repetition of data at multiple locations and the storage costs this incurs but allows for ease of access to those given specific permission to do so by the original treating provider. Did the patient have a CBCT scan taken last month and then was referred to an oral surgeon by the general dentist? The oral surgeon can be given permission to see the case, view not only the imaging but any relevant treatment notes and clinical history as well as photos taken that are related to that patient. An endodontist receives a referred patient for possible root canal treatment on tooth no. 3 from a general dentist who doesn’t have a CBCT. As is becoming standard in so many endodontic practices, the endodontist takes a CBCT, determines the tooth needs a root canal, and shares the case with the general dentist. That general dentist now has the DICOM files they can view (make no mistake there are free viewers out there) in addition to the follow-up note with what was found and what treatment was completed by the endodontists. All of this can be captured within a HIPAA compliant unified platform that minimizes risks for leakage of patient data in a securely stored location. Wouldn’t that be something?

Enhanced Practice Productivity:

Efficient communication and connectivity also contribute to enhanced practice productivity and operational efficiency. The dental profession continues to move towards automation of typical front office administrative tasks (i.e. patient insurance verification) and patient scheduling, so it is only logical we pursue the automation of back office tasks. Many have already begun to switch from the storage of patient imaging data to a cloud service. But simply being able to store the data for safekeeping is only one step in the right direction and doesn’t address how we can leverage that platform for more efficient office operations. Incorrect patient data entry, or simply the lack of inputting all relevant patient data, when taking imaging is not uncommon. This can lead to mismatch of patients within the system with their previous imaging, resulting in the inability to review the image within the context of previous imagining or taking new imaging because of the perception that no previous imaging exists. With the ever-increasing exploration of AI technology and how we can implement that technology in dentistry, the idea that we can better match patients and implement safeguards is not so far-fetched. These stumbling blocks ultimately lead to an inefficient back office if these feature sets are not implemented appropriately.

The end goal of these features is to harness them across multiple offices and dental service providers (i.e. dental labs), and eliminate time needed to check patient records that are across multiple platforms. Having a process that automatically uploads patient information and data to a centralized platform and organizes it in a readily accessible way is paramount. Further allowing that data to be easily shared and all communication related to that case to be attached to that case would eliminate unnecessary phone calls, strings of unnecessary emails, and a lack of accountability and transparency that often leads to wasted time by the office staff. Ultimately, the office would run more efficiently and save time for the providers and assistants to be free to take care of more pressing matters, thereby improving practice profitability and enhancing the overall patient experience.

Improved Patient Care and Outcomes:

As in any healthcare profession, the end goal of any systems in place is to provide the best care and outcomes of the patient’s treatment. A breakdown of communication can lead to delays in treatment and frustration by all members of the dental team. The ability to have collaborative case discussions and shared expertise between all aspects of the dental field can lead to a more comprehensive treatment plan that can address the diverse needs of patients effectively. A complex case that may require a multitude of clinical dental specialists, including dental radiologists and/or pathologists, and a dental lab to fabricate the prosthetic, would be better positioned to leverage the collective knowledge and skills of the entire dental team in real-time, resulting in better clinical outcomes, enhanced patient satisfaction, and higher success rates. This might feel like a pipedream at present, however, interconnective platforms are coming to the dental field and we should embrace the chance to collaborate with each other more readily.

Connectivity serves as the cornerstone of modern dentistry, enabling seamless collaboration, preservation of patient data, and enhanced practice productivity. By fostering interdisciplinary communication and leveraging advanced technologies, dental professionals can elevate the quality of care they provide and ensure optimal outcomes for their patients. As the dental industry continues to evolve, embracing connectivity and harnessing its transformative potential will be essential for driving innovation, improving efficiency, and advancing the standard of oral healthcare nationwide.

Ryan Holmes, DDS
Oral & Maxillofacial Radiologist / Co-Founder
True View Dental Radiology