While there are a variety of electronic dental system applications on the market, most are not targeted to community health center dental programs. There are some fundamental and important differences between the community health center dental program (and other safety net dental programs) and the private practice environment for which most of these applications have been created. For example, many dental-systems-technology vendors have little interest in adopting HL7 interface standards or focusing on system integration, which are vitally important issues for community health center dental programs. Also, community health center dental programs and other safety net dental programs have special reporting requirements that private practices typically don’t have, and they need systems technology applications that are specifically designed to collect relevant data and easily generate appropriate reports.
Dental technology can be an enormous benefit to the community health center dental practice. But the wrong dental technology, or the right dental technology incorrectly or incompletely implemented, will only create more headaches for your clinic. The perils and pitfalls of dental technology can be avoided if you know how to thoroughly assess your own internal environment, understand and clearly define what you want the dental systems technology to accomplish, and ask the questions that will cut through sales hype and enable you to evaluate a potential product on its true merits. Following are important considerations for determining if you should use electronic dental records, and, if you should, what to consider when selecting an application.
Designing a facility to safely support information system technology is necessary to ensure safe and continuous operation of a program's information system.
Controlling access to the physical hardware systems and data. The facility design should include a secure location, preferably lockable, for any centralized information system server and network access. This might be as elaborate as a separate room with specific design features for electrical wiring, network cabling, heating, air conditioning, and fire protection for protection from power surges and unexpected loss of power, water, inappropriately high or low temperatures, and unauthorized physical access to the system. Or it might be as simple as a locked equipment cabinet in a non-public area of the facility. Installation of information system cabling in a facility should consider future needs.
Electrical power. A dedicated circuit within the building is recommended for the main application server system and networking equipment. An uninterruptible power supply (battery back-up) is recommended for all systems with critical patient and management data. Electrical surge suppressor protective devices are recommended for all systems and peripheral equipment, including telephone lines connected to modems.
Network cabling. Design the network cabling to be flexible and expandable. The cable quality and type selected determines the data transfer rates of the network. Select the highest grade of cable available.
Information system equipment environmental needs. Environmental factors are important for any electronic hardware, but particular attention should be given to locating systems that will store critical information. These include temperature regulation and protection from fire, water, and other elements that could cause damage.