The Advantages of Open Digital Dental Imaging Software

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Advantages of Open Dental Imaging Software

Every day I get asked the same question, “Will your sensor work with my imaging software?” And every day I am forced to say the same thing: Whatever brand of sensor you purchased that came with its own imaging software is the only sensor that will work with that particular software program.

This is because most sensors are sold as a bundle with the manufacturer’s closed imaging application. Closed imaging software works natively with only the sensor it was designed for (i.e. the sensor you purchased that this software came with for “free.”) Closed imaging software applications are not designed to work with other manufacturers’ sensors the same way that the program does with its own sensor.

It is disappointing news to have to tell so many people. I hate being the bearer of bad news.

Of course when people hear this, they are not very happy. They feel like they have been trapped, which in a way is exactly what happened. Sensor manufacturers want you to be their customer for life. Every time you have a sensor break or if you need additional sensors, you have to go back to the same company you bought your first sensor from and buy more of them.

By design it becomes very hard to leave a closed system. You spend years working with it, have your staff trained on it, have your patient data and all of your patient images in it, so when a sensor breaks or if you want to add more sensors to your practice, it is much easier to just buy more from the same company. If there is a better or a more cost effective sensor on the market, or if the quote you are given for a new sensor it too high for your liking, you pretty much have to start over and get an entirely new system.

There is hope however. There are open platform imaging systems. An open imaging system is one that works with multiple sensors natively without the need of a TWAIN driver. This native integration of the sensors is probably the biggest advantage of an open imaging platform. Native integrations allow for the software to be used as it is supposed to be. Your automated series work as they should, the automatic tooth associations are placed as expected, and the sensor is seen as a sensor instead of as a scanner which also allows for automatic rotations of the captured images and much more.

TWAIN drivers are a way that the manufacturer of any image capture device—including those outside the dental industry—can get their images into any imaging program. Flatbed scanners and digital storage card readers are some of the devices for which these TWAIN drivers were initially created. In dentistry, digital panoramic units also utilize TWAIN drivers because the units are so expensive that the manufacturers cannot afford to limit themselves to a specific software application. Instead they create a TWAIN driver in order to be able to transfer images captured by their pan units into any imaging application. TWAIN drivers are great for these types of devices. They initiate the capture device, process the image, return that single image to the software, and then the process stops.

It is this “single capture design” that makes TWAIN drivers great for flatbed scanners and panoramic units, but not so great for digital sensors. If you are capturing a full mouth series, you do not want to have to click “acquire”, wait for the sensor to be ready each time, trigger the sensor each time and wait for each image to return 18 separate times.

This is why a TWAIN driver is not ideal when capturing intraoral images and an application providing native integration for your sensor will be more efficient. Native integrations allow the hardware to stay ready for the next capture when you are taking any kind of dental digital x-ray series, be it bitewings or a full set. Software providing native integration with your sensor will seamlessly support advanced functions such as automated tooth associations, automated rotations as well as your automated progressions of your mounts.

Purchasing your imaging software up front will turn out to be a small price when you consider that it includes the freedom to use whatever sensor you like now and in the future. You and your staff can master the application without concern of having to train on new imaging software down the road.  Once you have thousands or tens of thousands of images in the patient database, you don’t have to worry about having few options every time a sensor breaks or when you are ready to upgrade to new and improved sensor technology. In the long run, you save incalculable amount of time and money by choosing an open system right from the beginning rather than saving a few hundred dollars by getting “free” software with your sensors.

Another thing is that when you get the “free” imaging software from a company, you often are also asked to enter into a support/warranty contract which can actually cost several thousand dollars a year. In reality, you are not getting free software, you are renting it.

Add up the software rental fees (AKA the monthly support contract), the limited choice of sensors, the forced hardware upgrades when your sensors are broken or out of warranty and the cost of investing in an entirely new system, and making a change can be daunting. Few practices want to get all new software, learn that new software and of course convert all of those years of patient images you have accumulated. Most practices choose to just suck it up and pay the going cost to continue using the system that seemed to be such a great deal when the practice first made the move to digital imaging.

But there are open imaging systems out there such as the DentiMax digital Imaging system which works with every sensor on the market except one.

Open imaging software such as this provides a simple way to avoid this imaging mess right from the beginning. Choose your software first, and make an open imaging software application the one you choose. Then, and only then, choose the sensor you like the best. This way, once you and your staff master the software and have many years’ worth patients in the database, if you find yourself in the market for a new sensor you will never have to call someone and ask that question, “Will your sensor work with my system?” because you will already know the answer is yes.

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