Charting mouths more efficiently and effectively

Voice-activated software

Quicker, cleaner, easier, and more thorough periodontal exams, resulting in more business and increased revenues

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There aren't many nice things to say about gum surgery. Last I checked, there were no euphemisms for scraping, slicing, patching, and stitching -- so I'll spare you the details of my latest periodontal encounter. Before going under the knife, however, I experienced something that is worth sharing. Usually, periodontal patients have their mouth charted: a periodontist or dental hygienist measures and records how much their gums are receding and how wobbly their teeth are, among other things. Historically, this has been a tedious process for both patient and periodontist. The latter pokes and probes the former with a sharp implement, pauses to record the information on a clipboard (or to allow a lab assistant to record the information), and advances painstakingly, tooth by tooth. With as many as 800 separate measurements, the ordeal can last an hour. Blood, sweat, and tears (the patient's) are not uncommon.

Technology has begun to change the process, felicitously, for both parties. During my last visit, when I wasn't wincing in pain, I was completely intrigued by the voice-activated software that helped chart my mouth. "Hi there. My name is VICTOR. I'm the voice-operated charting assistant," announced a computer sitting in a corner of the room. The dental hygienist would take a measurement in my mouth and call it out to VICTOR, who would verbally repeat the measurement and record it in the proper place in a computerized representation of my teeth. I could both hear and watch the process unfold because VICTOR's screen was clearly visible, even from my prone position. I could also take comfort that the hygienist never compromised hygiene: her gloved hands never left my mouth for a clipboard.

VICTOR, an acronym for voice-initiated computerized technology for oral reports, recognizes not only common commands like "voice on," "enter," "up," and "back," but also periodontal lingo like "gingivitis," "upper lingual," "delayed blood," and some other terms I've already repressed. I'm told VICTOR also has no trouble differentiating among regional dialects. VICTOR comes from Professional Dental Technologies, in Batesville, Ark. (800-228-5595). Turnkey systems (in DOS and Windows) cost $12,500. The company's chief operating officer, Frank Newton, reports that most periodontists lease VICTOR for approximately $250 a month and "generally have no difficulty making a multiple of their lease payments in incremental revenues."

Where do the incremental revenues come from? Well, to begin with, VICTOR frees up the person who sometimes records the hygienist's findings -- and typically halves the time it takes to perform an examination. That makes possible more chartings in a day, certainly. But VICTOR does something else to line the periodontist's pocket. At the end of an examination, VICTOR spits out a computer-generated picture of the patient's mouth that graphically and unmistakably depicts trouble spots. When faced with color-coded proof of plaque buildup or gum recession, patients rarely refuse to comply with the recommended treatment.

I should know. I'm scheduled for my next gum graft in two weeks.

-- Alessandra Bianchi