The UK General Dental Council believes that good communication between dentists and dental technicians is the key to delivering top-notch treatments and long-lasting, beautiful restorations. However, a survey among 323 laboratories revealed a concerning statistic: only 9% of technicians reported that their communication with clients was actually well done, leaving room for improvement. Meanwhile, another study highlights that laboratory prescription forms, which are so commonly in use, may be the culprits. Dental technicians reported that about half of all lab prescription forms they receive contain only the bare minimum of information, and only 26% include enough detail for technicians to perform their best service.
Dental lab prescription forms – a missed opportunity
A well-filled prescription form can serve as a strong foundation for the dentist-technician collaboration, but as studies reveal, they often end up as missed opportunities that ultimately threaten to diminish the quality of the patients’ treatment and strain the relationship. That’s why many dental technicians are often left to play detective, i.e. in search for margins, and are forced to pick up the phone making uncomfortable clarifying calls. Not only does this slow down the process on both sides, as most calls land at the receptionist instead of the dentist, but they can also create unnecessary tension between the practice and the laboratory, as some dentists adopt a “just get it done” mentality, leaving technicians to figure it out for themselves, which often reluctantly accept their fate.
But in defence of dentists, it is important to acknowledge, that they do have a lot on their plates. Day in day out they operate on busy timetables which are often interrupted by i.e. trauma patients or unforeseen treatments like a root-canals messing up their schedule. They lead large dental care teams, run a business, need to stay up-to-date with latest research and ultimately are responsible for the wellbeing of their patients, all while bearing the entire reputational risk. So it is understandable, that some routine cases occasionally do not receive enough attention.
How to improve dentist – dental technician communication
However, the relationship between dentists and technicians does not have to be strained and information exchange can be improved. A first step in the right direction is to set clear communication rules, such as clarifying reoccurring time windows or scheduling regular meetings during the week to discuss case details without the usual missed calls. For example, a complex design can be shared easily with free tools like Zoom and screensharing without the need of going to the practice or laboratory in person, saving both parties time. Furthermore, inviting dentists to the laboratory on an open house day is a great way to create an understanding of the complex processes required to produce dental prosthetics. Studies reveal that newly graduated dentists, who may require more guidance, often have only a limited understanding of a dental laboratory’s procedures and requirements. Inviting them into the laboratory is a great way to improve their understanding of processes and information required for the creation of successful restorations.
But what about the unloved laboratory prescription form?
The proper usage of the form can often be improved through customer education, as dental practices are often open to taking advice from their laboratory partners. This is evident in the adoption of new technologies, such as the shift from PFM to hybrid ceramics or zirconia, or the implementation of digital impression systems, where dentists often seek guidance and opinion from their technician colleagues. While it may seem daunting to educate dental practices on the proper usage of forms after they have worked on minimal information for many years, it is a valuable effort worth pursuing.
Limitations of dental laboratory prescription forms
Lastly, consider technological limitations. Lab prescription forms lay the foundation for communication, but it is important to understand (and educate) that the exchange doesn’t end with scribbling out a lab slip and waiting for the bridge to arrive. Instead, a prescription form is only the beginning of a continuous exchange that starts with planning the case, continues through impression taking, production, adjustments, and finally seating.
With today’s restorative possibilities, a top-notch restoration requires a wealth of information, from photos and STL files to DICOM images. Unfortunately, these crucial pieces of information cannot be communicated solely on paper, and while some intraoral scanner systems allow to transport other files as well, most are designed for a one-way communication rather than a constructive dialogue. As a result, dentists and technicians often resort to using unreliable methods such as WhatsApp, WeTransfer, or Dropbox to exchange information, putting their patients’ sensitive data at risk and scattering information across many different communication channels, increasing the likelihood of overlooking a message with patient pictures among those from the last skiing trip, a friends secret birthday party WhatsApp group or losing it in a cluttered cloud storage. This can also lead to mistakes, such as mistyping an email address and sending sensitive information to the wrong recipient without the option to withdraw transmitted files once they have been opened.
Improve collaboration with dental laboratory software
Thankfully, there are ways to bridge the communication gap. One of the solutions to address the issues resulting from poor prescription forms is either to replace them entirely or enhance them with specialized tools like Crownbeam, a web-based dental laboratory software designed to improve communication and to facilitate collaboration among dental professionals. Crownbeam provides an all-in-one platform for dentists and technicians to collaborate on cases, whether analogue or digital, in a seamless and efficient manner. The platform creates a unique case-based communication channel that holds all important details about the case, starting with a restoration configurator and including the ability to share files like DICOM and view digital impressions. An integrated chat enables both parties to collaborate, never mixing-up patient cases again and live notifications on mobile phones and email ensure that no feedback is ever missed.
Another unique feature of Crownbeam is its ability to allow dentists to upload pictures right from their phone using a QR tag, without the need to install any additional application. Take out the phone, point it at the QR tag within the patient record in Crownbeam and either shoot pictures of your patients or selected them from the phone. These will appear seconds later in the correct case with no effort. This greatly improves the speed and ease of sharing important information, as there is no need to move files from one device to another and eliminates the risk of losing or mismanaging data through unreliable methods like WhatsApp, WeTransfer, or Dropbox.
And what about users with intraoral scanner systems you might ask? These are hard to convince to enter details in a parallel system. Well, Crownbeam does also integrate 3rd party intraoral scanner systems like CEREC from Dentsply Sirona. But more on this another time.
In conclusion, the quality of treatment for patients can be compromised by poorly-filled prescription forms and a lack of clear communication between dentists and dental technicians. This can result in tension between practices and laboratories and an efficiency loss. To enhance communication, clear guidelines such as regular meetings or designated time slots for case discussions can be established. Hosting open houses is a straightforward and effective way to increase understanding of complex procedures, particularly for new clients or inexperienced dentists. Additionally, educating customers on the importance of proper form usage and utilizing specialized tools like Crownbeam can significantly improve collaboration and information exchange. In the end, only effective teamwork can guarantee the best possible outcome for patients.
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