Today’s technology tips the balance in favour of bringing OPGs in-house

Despite the promise of richer imagery, a streamlined workflow and potentially more practice revenue, a large number of practitioners still appear reluctant to include digital imaging technology as part of their practice offering.

Dr Phillip Palmer, Founder of dental practice management specialists Prime Practice explains “OPG machines can be one of the most productive pieces of technology in private practice today. The ROI (return on investment) for most dentists if they install an OPG machine makes it very remunerative.”

In addition to the potential ROI, having high-res imagery available in under 10 seconds can streamline diagnostic procedures while assisting with patient education and co-diagnosis.

So why aren’t more practitioners investing in OPG technology when the potential benefits include an optimised practice workflow, expanded or more detailed diagnostics, and more informed patients?

This feature will explore some of the proposed benefits of bringing OPG imaging in-house to assist practitioners in assessing the opportunity to invest.

Better Patient Experience

Dentistry today is becoming increasingly competitive, with over 7,200 dental practices operating in Australia and over 1,200 graduates entering the industry each year. Having the proper technology can be a crucial point of difference when attracting new patients and retaining established ones.

As patients become increasingly technologically savvy, they look to their local practitioners with the notion that the technology-conscious practice is the more conscientious practice. Digital imaging technology is one highly visible part of the dental experience that impacts both patient perception and treatment potential.

rayscan patient

Offering in-house digital imaging technologies adds a competitive ‘convenience’ advantage to patients, Dr Phillip Palmer explains “From the perspective of your practice, referring patients out for an OPG can delay treatment as the patient often must reappoint after they have had the OPG.”

Beyond the potential improvement to a practice’s ‘brand’, digital imagery can help educate patients on the need for treatment with better visualisation of the disease process. The ability to forward images as PDFs to the patient’s mobile device may also help increase case acceptance and provide information to help justify treatment.

One primary concern with any radiography system continues to be radiation exposure to patients and staff. Although still a risk, a multitude of advancements in imaging technology are working together to reduce radiation dosage: light guided technology means it is easier to get the right image the first time, scanning times are now less than five seconds and many machines now make it possible to scan smaller, specific areas while still achieving high-res imagery.

Return on Investment

Although cost remains perhaps the biggest barrier to adoption of digital imaging systems, the high volume of cases that will require this technology means a relatively transparent ROI—something that is not always as true with large technology-related investments.

Dr Phillip Palmer explains that arriving at a purchasing decision becomes an exercise in critically evaluating your practice. ‘If you adhere to a regime of taking an OPG for every new patient and updating OPGs for patients of record every three years, then a practice with 2,000 patients per practitioner may take as many as 1,000 OPGs a year. At an ADA average charge of $110 per OPG, you would generate some $110,000 in gross revenue. If you have only 1000 patients, it would result in $55,000 in extra income.

Having said this, there are ancillary costs that must be factored into digital imaging equipment ROI. It is critical to do space planning before investing in digital imaging technology. Beyond the necessary physical space, government regulations require all OPG rooms have radiation shielding installed. Electricity bills and staff time should also be considered as impacted variables when assessing costs associated with digital imaging technology.

Thorough and honest assessment of actual technology “needs” versus “wants” can clarify whether digital imaging will be a practical investment for the practice. Further, determining the procedures for which a digital system would prove most useful, such as placing implants or designing cosmetic restorations, can help practitioners select the best system for the practice.

Staff learning curve 

Thankfully, the learning curve for adopting digital radiography today is not as long as the learning curve dentists experienced when mastering traditional film. When asked by about the learning curve involved during their recent purchase of RAYSCAN, a multi-function digital imaging system, Dr. Brien Hsu explained “there really wasn’t much of a learning curve at all. Several LED Dental trainers came into our office to help us initially, and my team and I caught on very quickly.”

So is the transition to in-house digital radiography inevitable for every practice?

Probably not. As more options become available, however, the benefits for practice efficiency and patient care should continue and even increase. Dr Phillip Palmer observes [Dentists] “really do care about providing quality treatment and I think the fact that they are going to provide their patients with superior treatment, makes a strong case for having one in your premises.”

Clinicians who wish to take advantage of going digital will want to use careful consideration planning, along with staff and vendor consultation.

If you would like to discuss further, contact Optima on 1800 515 266

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Embracing Digital Imaging was written with thanks to Dr Phillip Palmer.
Dr Phillip Palmer

Dr Phillip Palmer has been Founder and Director of Prime Practice for over 20 years. Prime Practice is the leading practice management company that helps dentists grow their dream practices.

Dr Phillip Palmer ran a successful dental practice in the Sydney CBD for 34 years, as such, he has a deep understanding of all the different management, financial and professional issues that face dentists and is regarded as Australasia’s leading expert on the business of dentistry. Find out more at