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The technology dilemma

30 January 2020

Technology surrounds us and enriches our daily lives. Where does this sit in the practice of dentistry, and is it becoming increasingly more harmful to us or our patients? Dr Annalene Weston, dentolegal adviser at Dental Protection, explores the impact on dentolegal risk

Are you an early adopter? Generationally, you may be very comfortable with technology and quick to incorporate new modalities into your practice. Or perhaps you are fearful of technology – slow to embrace and then falling behind the accepted standard. Maybe you suffer with FOMO (fear of missing out) and are terrified of NOT jumping on each technological bandwagon for fear of either falling behind the standards or falling behind your competitors.

It is exhausting isn’t it?

How then do we best assess which technology is suited for us, and how do we safely incorporate it into our practice?

This drive to automate is not just within our profession, but also from the outside. Society is immersed in technology and we are becoming increasingly reliant upon it. My watch tells me how I slept and whether I have been active enough today. It even buzzes me a reminder to tell me to move from my dental chair. My phone keeps me in constant contact with my family and friends, tells me where I am supposed to be and remembers where I parked my car.

How do these convenient technologies integrate into daily dental practice, and does an increase in the use of technology increase or decrease dentolegal risk?

Informal technology

Commonly, this type of technology creeps into our practice as a stopgap, to solve a problem that has arisen. A great example of this would be using apps such as Whatsapp or Snapchat for communication between staff members in a group practice or with patients.

The dentolegal risk with informal technologies such as these is that they don’t have the same security and privacy wraparounds as a formal group messaging service like Medtasker. And they are not necessarily designed to be uploaded into patient records.

Naturally, all the communication with a patient, particularly around their treatment or health, forms part of the patient’s records – if this disappears after 30 seconds how would you achieve this? A further issue can flow from the inherent informality of text communications, as boundaries may inadvertently be breached, which is not viewed in a good light by the regulator.

Increasing the safety of this type of informal technology can only be achieved by replacing it with apps that are more specific to health records, which have appropriate safety and security and are in accordance with the requirements of the Health Information Privacy Commissioner. It may be less convenient and more clunky to do this, but it will lead to safer practice as you will be able to easily produce the conversations that were had, as many of these apps can upload to your dental record.

Formal technology

As fundamental proceduralists, dental practitioners have adopted and incorporated a great deal of technology into our dental practices, usually aimed at achieving a more predictable outcome for the patient or the procedure, rather than tracking or monitoring the patient’s health, as might be the focus for our medical colleagues.

However, the greatest dentolegal risk of both tracking and procedural technology often comes down to operator error. Or worse – too many shortcuts leading to an incomplete procedure or misinterpretation of the dataset available. It is one matter to take a CBCT, but quite another to have the skillset to interpret the data.

Staying ahead

Technological advances will continue and become more accepted as best practice across the disciplines of dentistry. To incorporate it safely, a practitioner could consider:

  • researching what it is, what it is replacing, and why you need it – preferably from multiple sources: CPD can be key in expanding our approach to dentistry 
  • learning to use and understand the technology in your practice, to ensure no misinterpretation of data that could lead to mis/missed diagnosis or failed treatment
  • ensuring that digital applications meet the required standards of privacy and security.