To PC or not to PC…

Word of mouth with Dr Paul O’Dwyer

Among the myriad of choices we make as clinicians, is the choice of software provider. Many practices still use paper–based records and find themselves in a world that is now software centred.

Making that transition from paper to PC can be tough.

A colleague once remarked how all notes on a screen look the same. He said that you can’t get the same “feel” for a clinical history from a sanitised generic note on screen. Apocryphally, before computers, many dentists will nod when I mention that a “double underline” present in a written record, tells more about the level of difficulty in providing treatment than any typed description. Indeed, a retired colleague of mine would often say that the “depth of the imprint left by those two lines is directly proportional to the stress of the procedure”.

Aside from this pseudo–tangible loss of recognition or recall in an individual case, we are also in an era where record keeping is now, more than ever, an onerous task – with potentially significant implications if not undertaken properly.

During the early 2000s, there was a slew of software packages available and, much like the VHS/Betamax wars of the 1980s and indeed the Mac/PC wars of the 1990s, a dominant provider seems to be emerging.

The biggest question for a clinician after making the choice of provider, is: am I doing this right? Continuous review of note–taking in the early part of adoption in software is essential. It is often very helpful to get a colleague (who has used it before) to sit down and review with you. It is very difficult to realise you are not recording something or indeed recording it incorrectly, if you are stuck alone in your surgery by yourself. Peer–to–peer support, along with the IT provider will help to ease this – and ensure that all is being saved properly.

There are many resources online to help, with tutorials and also self–auditing tools to ease this process. The important thing to remember is that, when a new member of staff joins the team, that they too understand the system.

Consistency among staff is key and it’s worth thinking about a practice–wide tutorial. The power of the PC software can be staggering. A simple query on recalls and returns is easily managed. In helping to analyse and identify areas of practice that can be developed, a simple search query can yield how many of a particular type of procedure was undertaken in a specific time frame – for example, how many RPDs were constructed and fitted during 2014. This can help assist in training and self–development.

The regulation of information, storage and use is covered by the Data Protection Acts. Again, the Irish Dental Association has done sterling work here in helping its members to navigate what can be a confusing issue. Taking the time to familiarise yourself with the regulations will ultimately lead to a hassle–free usage.

Data capture in moving from one provider to another is also an area of difficulty. Top tips here include trying to co–ordinate with a long weekend (Bank Holiday) to allow time to check and double check that all the data has migrated across. Again a random sample of “old” data and “new” data should help here.

Much like mobile telephones, once you have adopted a computer system, you will wonder how you got along without it.