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Are you ready for a digital future in dentistry?

Blog Author Nicky Hawkey

Blog Date 25/09/2017

So what does ‘digitally enabling dentistry’ mean? That’s what I hoped to find out at an event recently organised by Health Education England. 

The presentations covered things like the parallels from the medical work about technical interoperability, some talked about cyber threats, like Wannacry, and the protection and security of patient data, some highlighted to us the jaw-droppingly amazing stuff about new technologies being developed to help with the day-to-day working lives of healthcare professionals. 

How far behind is the dental profession in the digital world? Can we catch up with the digital transformation taking place in the NHS and beyond in the business or commercial world?

It’s so easy these days to look at your bank balance, pay a friend, get on a train or bus without using cash, book a flight, speak to friends and family across the globe face to face or tweet a selfie. 

We take all this for granted, we especially complain if we can’t get online quick enough, or our broadband slows down. At the various meetings I attend or organise, I tend to find the first thing everyone does is check for the wifi and get online. It’s just what you do these days, and it is expected.


Do patients think dentistry is a digital place to be?

If you said to your patients, dentistry is a really digital place to be right now, would they believe you? Can you check into your dental appointment by pushing buttons on a computer screen, just as easily as you board a plane or arrive for a hospital appointment? 

From a dental patient’s point of view, paper, is often what they are still expecting and sometimes experiencing. However, many general dental practices are now digitising, using complex software systems to store patient records, undertake oral health assessments on patients and transmit FP17 forms for payment to the pay masters. 

It seems like dentistry is so nearly there, and we are on the verge of technology transforming the way we work and the way patients can interact with our businesses.  

There is a new initiative to attract clinicians in the NHS Digital Academy. This will be a nationally funded programme of world-class health informatics training. Aimed primarily to create Chief Information Officers and Chief Clinical Information Officers, primary care clinicians will be able to become part of this first wave, creating the health care professionals that are needed to drive the NHS’s technical innovations.


New system for automatically generating dental notes

Dentist Hannah Burrows spoke about automatically generating dental notes by using Natural Language Processing to ‘record’ the conversation with the clinician.


No more writing up the patient decision-making and consent process whilst you are with your patients - and it might even prompt you, if you have omitted to tell a patient something. It’s all done for you. If you want to be a beta tester of her system – check out her website


Being able to access a full patient history

All dentists have them: those patients with multiple medications for various medical ailments, or those with dementia unable to communicate exactly which medication they are taking. How long does it take to access that information from the GP before commencing treatment? Or will you have to take a decision to supply some treatment and dental medication that is slightly less than ideal but which will be less likely to conflict with the medicine they might be taking, because treatment is needed urgently?

Having access to the patient’s Summary Care Record would be the ideal. The BDA is keeping an eye on the proof of concept work in Manchester, which is attempted to give dentists’ access to the Summary Care Record, so that in the near future, at a click, you could confidently treat that patient to the best of your ability, knowing their full medical history.


What are the cons of technology?

Does technology hold us back sometimes? Well sometimes the answer is yes. The funniest moment of the event was when one of the speakers spoke about his favourite, yet indestructible phone, the Nokia 3310. He had loved it. If it had only had the ability of a smart phone and the indestructability of old – he would still have had it today, no question about it.  

When he asked us all if we had ever had a NOKIA 3310 one of the delegates amazingly pulled one out of his pocket. Of course we all laughed, but when asked if this was a work phone, the answer was yes. This seems like a classic case of technology holding people back. If we had gone on to ask that delegate, do you check your emails when you are away from the office, I swear he would have said yes, who doesn’t? So presumably he would have to have a personal phone too, to be able to check his emails and keep up. 

Technology often requires investment, and this investment isn’t always forthcoming. Commissioners and health boards really need to be weighing up the costs of providing dentists with the appropriate technology or we might risk being left behind. 


Are you ready for a digital future in dentistry?

Consensus from the day is that dentistry isn’t quite there yet, in terms of pioneering digital development however the team at HEE who led this day are keen to drive forward this agenda, so too is the Office of the Chief Dental Officer.

And there are also dentists on the ground, like Ben Underwood, who has developed the Brush DJ app, to help encourage patients to brush correctly and improve oral health outcomes. 

I think all dentists could benefit from looking at how technology can enhance their clinical practice and/or their businesses. My take home message from the event was that the right technology is an enabler. The wrong technology is a barrier, and we all need to be ready to understand the difference, and take advice from those who can help us make the best use of it. 

We will be keeping an eye on new technologies and how these might impact on you and your practice. 

We’d also love to hear if you are doing any innovative work in dentistry using digital technology, please get in touch and tell us about it.

Nicky Hawkey
BDA Senior Policy Advisor


Digitally enabling dentistry: HEE/KCL event

The Digitally enabling dentistry event was a free organised to discuss the ‘art of the possible’ to digitally connect dentistry with the rest of healthcare in the UK. The event was organised with the input of Health Education England Clinical Fellows, Yasmin Allen, Tashfeen Kholsasi, Nikki Patel and Sami Stagnell, and Sam Shah, Clinical Lead NHS England.