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Book Concept

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Summary

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This document describes the concept for a new book/Web site combination on the topic of computer applications in dentistry. The authors are Titus Schleyer, Heiko Spallek and Gisela Spallek. This document briefly describes the need and rationale for this book, its content, the function of the Website and its relationship to the book, and its expected availability. The purpose of this document is to (1) describe this project in general for colleagues and prospective readers, (2) solicit comments and questions and (3) stimulate interest in students and faculty who might possibly want to collaborate on one or more aspects of this project.

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Overview

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"Computing in Dentistry," currently in development, is a combination of a book and a Website about computer and information technology applications in dentistry. It will fill a critical need in the dental community as a comprehensive resource on computer technology in dental practice. "Computing in Dentistry" combines the hardcopy and Web format into an organic whole. It thus breaks new ground not only in terms of content, but also in the design using digital media.

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Why a book on computing in dentistry?

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At this time, no authoritative and current book about computers in dentistry exists. Yet, computer technology in dentistry is expanding at a rapid pace. Ninety percent of all dentists in the United States use computers in their practice, and we have witnessed extremely rapid growth in the types of dental computer applications during the last two decades. While billing and practice management still are the major purpose for using computers in many dental practices, a multitude of other applications have developed. Many dental software packages now offer almost completely paperless patient records, integrated digital radiography, intraoral cameras, three-dimensional charting, automated acquisition of clinical parameters and sophisticated patient education. Dentists and their staff can take continuing education courses over the Internet or from a CD-ROM. Advanced practice management applications offer intelligent scheduling, automatic ordering over the Internet and automated data exchange with laboratories and other partners.

Even well into the computer revolution, dental schools in the U.S. in general are doing an inadequate job of preparing students for the type of high-tech practice they will enter. Graduating seniors in the U.S. consistently rate practice management as one of the areas in which they do not receive enough instruction. The overwhelming majority of dental students do not study in an environment equipped with the type of technology available in practice, such as paperless charts, digital radiography and intraoral cameras. The lack of faculty qualified in dental informatics most often means that such educational needs are neither recognized nor addressed. But even faculty members qualified in dental informatics lack an important tool for developing educational offerings: a textbook.

"Computing in Dentistry" is therefore targeted at three groups. The first are dentists and their staff members who would like to rely on a comprehensive and current resource on all aspects of computer technology in dental practice. Currently, even interested and motivated dental practitioners have difficulties in making informed choices about technology selection. Information on a topic is often not found at a single source, and is many times incomplete and biased. The second group of prospective readers is dental students, including predoctoral and postdoctoral students. Many students are highly interested and motivated to learn about computer technology, yet do not have the opportunity. The third target group is faculty who either teach courses involving information technology in dentistry, or who are interested in the subject for other reasons.

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Content

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The content of the book will be broad and comprehensive. It will cover all areas of information technology use in dental practice, yet begin with basic concepts in order to be helpful to readers at all levels of computer literacy and sophistication.

It will begin with an explanation of basic computing concepts, such as hardware, software, networking, information storage, peripheral devices and operating systems. A thorough understanding of the basics makes choosing configurations or troubleshooting simple problems easier for beginners and experts alike. A chapter on practice management will cover this well-developed area of computing in dentistry. It will include topics such as patient data management, billing and insurance processing (including electronic claims), basic accounting and scheduling. A chapter on clinical applications will discuss the wide array of possibilities for the clinical use of computers. It will discuss computer-based patient records (or paperless charts), digital radiography, intraoral cameras and other clinical devices. The book will contain a separate chapter for clinical decision-making, because computers play an increasingly important role in this area. The discussion will range from locating, accessing and evaluating information on the Web (or other means) to active clinical decision support systems that help practitioners interpret clinical data.

Professional development and continuing education will be the subject of a separate chapter. Recent years have seen an explosion of electronic offerings in this area, especially on the Internet. Choosing useful, efficient and effective courses is difficult, however. This chapter provides advice on how to locate courses and how to evaluate their quality and appropriateness for the intended purpose. Patients increasingly rely on computers for many of their activities, including their healthcare. A chapter on how patients use computers for their dental care, and which possibilities are open to practitioners in that area concludes the sequence of chapters on clinical computing.

Knowing about possible uses and functions of computers for practice management and clinical practice is beneficial, but useless without the knowledge of how to implement the technology. We therefore dedicate an entire chapter to implementation issues. The discussion begins with recognizing and determining needs and ends with product evaluation, vendor selection, implementation and maintenance.

The last chapter will provide an outlook for the future of computing in dentistry. Many ideas that are currently undergoing testing in research laboratories will be available for clinical practice in coming years. This chapter will provide readers with some appreciation of current trends, and will identify the most likely future developments.

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Book and Web site -- a symbiotic combination

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Many observers have stated that we are currently transcending the age of printed media in order to rely exclusively on computers in just a little while longer. That claim may be premature, as the expansion of hardcopy output after the introduction of computers has shown. Print media will be around for some time, and not everyone is as comfortable with computers as our children. The majority of dentists in the U.S. is between 40 and 60 years of age, and this group in general has not been exposed very heavily to computer technology during their formative years. Second, in order to introduce this group to the more advanced uses of computers, it is best to use a medium that they know and are comfortable with: a book.

We therefore decided to publish a hardcopy book and a complementary Web site. Not only does it fit the mentality of our expected readership, but the book also has indisputable advantages. Despite recent innovations in font technology and computer screen design, almost no one reads books on a computer screen. New e-books that can be read on computers of a clipboard-like format have recently been introduced to the market, but their speedy adoption is far from assured. Books never crash, don't depend on electricity and can be taken to the beach.

However, writing a book about computer technology without encouraging the reader to use the computer itself is somewhat akin to teaching skydiving only in the classroom. "Computing in Dentistry" will therefore also be a Website. The advantages of adopting a combination approach are numerous. For one, the interested reader will be able to access online resources simply by entering a keyword from the book. Readers can try out courses or software packages directly online, if they are accessible over the Internet. If a reader wants to find a specific phrase or keyword in the book, he only needs to search the full text of the book on the Website.

The Website also allows us to update content that is out of date, or add new content. Readers can choose to be notified about such updates, and even narrow the notification to single chapters or areas of interest. The Website will also avoid a thorny problem common in writing about the Internet. A relatively large proportion of Web addresses tends to "go bad" for a number of reasons (such as move to a different server, bankruptcy of the business hosting the site and loss of interest of the author of the site). When such addresses are published in print, readers are often frustrated when they don't work later. "Computing in Dentistry" will not contain absolute Web addresses, but only relative ones. The real Web addresses will be maintained on the book Website. This protocol assures that all Web addresses are valid. For those which are not, the Website will explain why.

The Website will also have other advanced functions, such as online tests, slides for lectures and customization to the reader's learning style.
We welcome you to check out the preview chapter Digital Imaging: Intraoral Cameras.