Cut the paper!


  Posted by: The Probe      2nd February 2020

Dental practices can generate a considerable collection of paperwork, from patient records to equipment, purchases, payroll and tax. While bureaucratic demands seem to continually increase, paper records are fast becoming a relic.


While paper records are sometimes referred to as hard copies, in reality, commonly used paper and inks don’t always hold up well over time – you may return to an old photocopy or print out and find the text faded to near invisibility. This is particularly common with thermally printed receipts, which are very vulnerable to heat, sunlight and even simply being handled. This can have ramifications for purchase records and warranties, so it may be advisable to scan or photograph such receipts.

A physical copy can psychologically feel more solid, but the reality is that any important data should be backed up. With physical records, ideally you want to keep off-site backups – otherwise, with a single point of failure, everything could be lost. Even with duplicates, if they are at the same site, fire, flood or other disaster could destroy them. Even top fireproof safes can only protect their contents for a certain amount of time. Dental practices generally contain many flammable substances and potential sources of ignition.[1] With cloud storage data is stored safely off-site, so even if the worst happens, that aspect of your practice will be safe. Cloud data centres themselves are usually designed with multiple redundancies themselves, keeping their data safe and active even should one part of the network suffer catastrophic failure.


It is critical that records are accurate and clear at the time they are created or updated. Where this isn’t the case, it can lead to serious consequences for patients and practitioners alike. Accurate and thorough record-keeping can prevent mistakes from occurring and play a powerful role in protecting practices should legal challenges ever arise.

Handwriting can make deciphering paper records difficult. An estimated 10% of the total population, and around 1.7% of UK medical students have dyslexia.[2] While many dyslexics by adulthood will have learned strategies to compensate for the condition, it can continue to interfere with reading and writing for life. For employees with dyslexia, or other conditions such as impaired vision, digital records can be extremely helpful. Fonts are consistent and can be much easier to read than a person’s handwriting, while autocorrect can help catch mistakes. Even for employees with no issues reading, digital text can be much clearer leading to quicker reading and greater efficiency.


In any practice space is finite. Boxes of records take up a large amount of space, and can present an organisational challenge. With digital records, physical space is not an issue and vast amounts of data can be stored. Where searching through physical records could take time, even with an efficient cataloguing system – with digital records a simple search can pull up whatever is needed in an instant.


GDC guidelines state that patient information must be kept secure. This applies at all times, including when sending information elsewhere (such as to a dental laboratory).[3] Patient data should therefore be properly encrypted, to prevent other parties from accessing it. Sending or accessing patient data over an unsafe medium, such as public unsecured wi-fi, or via unencrypted personal email, puts that data at risk of being intercepted. Computer systems should be carefully maintained with protocols in place to prevent and remove malware and viruses. For example, software should only be downloaded and installed from reputable providers, personal USB sticks should not be connected to work systems, etc.

Environmental footprint

The environmental impact of boxes of paper is considerable. Making paper results in carbon emissions almost equal to the weight of the product (1 tonne of paper resulting in 950kg of CO2).[4] A single sheet of A4 paper is estimated to require 13 litres of water (recycled requires roughly 40% less).[5]

While paper is now widely recycled, medical and financial documents are sensitive and need to be safely disposed of. A recent audit of hospital recycling found thousands of records containing personally identifiable health information ended up in recycling collections, against policy (the study did not look at rubbish disposal).[6] Digital records reduce the quantity of paper that needs to be produced from the outset.

Efficient and safe

Carestream Dental’s CS SoftDent Cloud practice management software gives you powerful tools for creating, organising and accessing information held by your practice. Files in SoftDent Cloud are accessible at any time, from any internet connected device with a browser. Data is encrypted and kept safely offsite, while user rights and access can be set granularly, so you can conveniently access what you need whenever you need it, without worry. You can also effortlessly share patient data and notes with colleagues where needed instantly. If you’re not totally satisfied you can cancel or change your subscription at any time.

Digital holds numerous advantages over paper copies, but implementation must be considered to get the most out of the latest technology. New technologies can present new risks as well as opportunities, so it is important to assess these. By opting for a well-designed, trustworthy solution, you do not need to be an I.T. expert to help keep your patients’ data safe.


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[1] Warren E., McAuliffe M. Fire safety in the dental practice: a literature review.  Journal of the Irish Dental Association. 2011; 57(6): 311-315. August 29, 2019.

[2] Shaw S., Malik M., Anderson J. The exam performance of medical students with dyslexia: a review of the literature. MedEdPublish. 2017; 6(3). August 29, 2019.

[3] Standards for the dental team. General Dental Council. September 5, 2019.

[4] Sun M., Wang Y., Shi L., Klemeš J. Uncovering energy use, carbon emissions and environmental burdens of pulp and paper industry: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 2018; 92: 823-833. September 5, 2019.

[5] Van Oel P., Hoekstra A. The green and blue water footprint of paper products: methodological considerations and quantification. UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. 2010. September 5, 2019.

[6] Ramjist J., Coburn N., Urbach D., Govindarajan A., Armstrong K., Scott A., Baxter N. Disposal of paper records containing personal information in hospitals. JAMA. 2018; 319(11): 1162-1163. September 5, 2019.

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