You Can Take Your Friend's Advice…Or You Can Get Great Images.

I find it ironic that the more technology has made it easier for us to capture images, the worse (as a whole) the average clinical image has become. Let’s me explain…
For those of you too young to remember the days of slide film, there was a time where we actually had to wait a week between the time we took images and our ability to show them to patients. Oh, and when we did get to show them, we needed to display them using slide projectors. If you were tech savvy, maybe you spent a lot on the Caramate, which was a television that showed your slides (see picture below). This wasn’t 50 years ago… We’re talking the late 1990’s!!!

The Caramate was the most technologically advanced way to show images to patients in the mid 90’s. Hard to believe, right?

The point I’m making is that back in those days, one really needed to take great images. Imagine having a patient come in, getting started with treatment, only to find (a week later) that the pre-operative images never turned out properly. One needed to be sure of their f-stops, composition and camera settings or there would be no images to view. You couldn’t take an image, see it instantly and adjust. Fastidious attention to every detail of clinical images mattered.
With the advent of digital clinical photography something else happened. We could start using our images to increase our case acceptance. Before instant images, one needed to draw on a tray cover, a chart (yes, they were paper, lol) or grab a set of casts and try to explain to patients what they needed. I started to learn how to use technology to connect with patients so that they could make choices that were in their best interests. I came up with the idea of “digital co-diagnosis” (a form of motivational interviewing with clinical images as a focal point) to help patients make choices that were in their best interests and my case acceptance skyrocketed. I started helping friends with their case acceptance, and they told friends and their study clubs became interested and, well, it just kind of grew organically from there and I became known as that guy who helped with case acceptance and photography.
Fast foward to 2017. Capturing images has never been easier. Everyone just kind of takes for granted that you can pick up any device and get a decent clinical image. From DSLR to iPad to cell phone, great images are the center of our personal and practice lives.  But it’s absolutely destroyed our clinical images. Images are so easy to capture that many clinicians just assume the camera will take the image for them, forgetting that one needs to master mirrors and retractors.
You learned how to prep a filling, and you learned how to straighten teeth, but did you ever really learn how to get great clinical images? It’s kind of funny how most of our programs taught us the technical aspects of our profession and then just let us loose, expecting that we’d know how to capture images, and none taught us how to use them for increased case acceptance.
Making it even more difficult is the fact that there is a ton of misinformation out there, from that professional photographer friend of yours who got you into an almost unusable clinical setup because they didn’t really understand what you needed to “expert” Youtube videos showing poor technique.  If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that their friend helped them or they took a course, but still have no idea how to get a great image…you get what I’m saying.
It’s OK to be bewildered by the settings and how to capture exceptional images. It’s not your fault. Most people have seen a few courses and been perplexed, and it’s not a “cool” topic that gets people excited, but learn to master your clinical images and the digital co-diagnosis process and you’ll see your case acceptance skyrocket and your clinical outcomes get better. Best of all, when anyone gives advice for camera systems or ways to shoot, just ask them if they can send you a bunch of occlusal or lateral shots so that you can see their system in action.  (Would you trust someone’s clinical advice if they weren’t willing to show clinical outcomes?)
In the coming months I’ll tackle a lot of topics related to case acceptance and clinical photography because a lot of you reading this have suggested that you could use the help.  In the meantime, remember that while you CAN get images using your phone or point and shoot, nothing in your career will give you a better return on investment than a great digital SLR camera. Yes, they’re bulkier. Yes, there are more buttons. Yes, they cost more. Yes, that whiny staff member will complain. But, they really are simple to use and when mastered, offer images so clear you’ll wonder why you ever considered anything else.
The funniest (and hardest) thing to understand about clinical images is that while a great DSLR can enhance image outcomes, one can still get  better images with a phone camera using proper mirror and retractor techniques than most doctors using their expensive systems. So, is the camera system more important than than the technique or does great mirror and retractor usage trump everything? The answer is: “Yes”.
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With great mirror and retractor use, one can get a pretty good image using a phone camera.

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Nothing can touch the quality of a DSLR with proper mirror and retractor use.

You committed yourself to great clinical outcomes. Why should you fall short with your images? They are the best way to learn from your cases AND the best way to grow your practice.
Like I said, you just need to learn what to buy and how to use it and I’m here to help.
Wishing you an amazing day,
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