Buying Digital Imaging Equipment and what to consider from an IT perspective.
Dental IT has been working in the dental market for some 15 years now, so we know a thing or two about digital imaging. There is hardly a make or model of equipment, from phosphor plate scanners to CBCT machines, OPG machines, cameras and all, that we have not come across and understand from an IT point of view. Many of our staff are manufacturer trained to support various company's devices and software, including Carestream, Sirona/Sidexis, Gendex an Planmeca/Romexis.
You don't need me to tell you that digital imaging equipment not only enhances diagnostic and analysis capabilities, but dramatically increases trust and the ability to recommend and sell services successfully. And your choice of clinical equipment will be based on your research and knowledge of the capabilities of the software, recommendations from other professionals, discussions at exhibitions etc. However, over the years I have noticed problems that arise, which from our entirely IT perspective, are aspects that are often not considered by the dental practice owners at the start, when choosing the best system for them.
Support. It has always amazed me that very often, dental practices will not ask the right questions or understand exactly how the support works after the sale. Very often, a formal "support contract" does not even exist. The unit or system may be purchased simply on the assumption that the supplier will carry out the install, handle any integration problems around that time, and give a year's warranty. But really, you need more than this. Too many times I have found that the ongoing support is flaky to say the least - there is no dedicated team, no ticketing system to log, track, and communicate about error reports, no SLAs on response or break/fix times. In some cases the ongoing support is little more than the engineer who does the installs, who may or may not be on his mobile driving down the M1 when you call him. And the support should not just cover the hardware but the software too. Who is responsible for reinstalling and configuring the software on a particular machine if that machine fails? Really this should be the responsibility of the imaging supplier, but often this lands on us to figure out (which can take more time), as the installer either isn't available or isn't interested. This does not add up to good support.
Software integration. Do you REALLY fully understand how the supplied software will integrate to the DPMS (management system) and any existing DI (digital imaging) software you already have? How will the link to the DPMS really work? Some of these links are clumsy whilst others are elegant and well integrated. Have you actually had a demo of or trial of how this really works.
The IT environment. Whilst many digital imaging suppliers will give us a system requirements document to ensure that the hardware and software will integrate with and run well on your current IT system, many do not, and problems can arise without this.
How long the manufacturer will provide the OEM support for the machine and its ongoing integration with hardware connections, versions of Windows etc. This is probably the single biggest thing that is rarely ever asked, but actually the most likely to cause you a headache in the future. I have seen OPG and even CBCT machines scrapped or essentially unsupportable and non complaint because after some years, they no longer work with the latest Operating Systems or interfaces and connections (USB or network etc). In some cases this is especially tragic, as there is nothing wrong with the machine itself, but the manufacturers will no longer spend the time required to make the machine work with, say, Windows 10 - so you are left with staying on Windows 7 - very far from ideal - or scrapping and replacing the whole machine. And if the manufcaturer has, say, only a 7 year support window on a particular machine, and you buy it after it has been on the market a few years, this sort of thing can happen in 5 years or so - and I have seen this far too often.
Where is the data actually located? Disappointingly, many DI (digital imaging) installers still do not do this correctly from an IT point of view, although things have improved over the years. Whilst it is generally not an issue to lose the application install to a single workstation, you MUST consider where the data is located - is it safe, is it fast to access, is it included in the backup schedule of the site? The database should almost never be installed to a workstation such as a reception or surgery machine, but almost always should be located on the server, and included in local and remote backup schedules.
In summary, when considering a new imaging purchase, I strongly suggest you ask questions about:
The ongoing support. Is there any, and what is the quality of it?
How exactly does this system integrate. Get a demo if at all possible.
Is the IT environment suitable. Ask your IT provider to get involved to assess and discuss.
How long are the manufacturers guaranteeing to support this machine
Where is the data and is it properly located on your network.
© Liam McNaughton, Dental IT ltd July 2021
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