Interview With Michael Trieu: Student at UCLA School of Dentistry & axiUm User

We spoke with Michael Trieu, a third-year dental student at the UCLA School of Dentistry, to learn about his experience with axiUm, which is the most popular dental management software in dental universities. As of June 2016, UCLA switched from using GSD to axiUm, so Michael is able to offer a unique perspective, having seen the transition take place at his school, and having recently learned how to use the system himself.

Michael has a unique background as a dental student who studied computer engineering for his undergraduate degree. Even though he has a strong technical background, he has found axiUm to have a steep learning curve, and to have a dated user interface that is often counterintuitive. This is feedback we've heard from other students as well. However, despite these gripes, Michael and his classmates have found axiUm to be able to get the job done, and the software plays an important role in supporting their clinical work.

Hi Michael, nice to meet you. Can you introduce yourself and your background in dentistry?

My name is Michael Trieu, and I’m entering my third year of dental school at UCLA. I come from a computer engineering background and got my degree at UC Davis. I guess it's kind of unique seeing someone with that type of background in the health sciences field, but I've always held interest in both fields. It may not be obvious how engineering relates to the dental field, but I think dentistry has a lot of room available for technological innovation that just need to be explored. Along with being able to provide a health service to people, I want to find ways that can make dentistry easier and better for both the dentist and the patient.

Currently, I am doing research under Dr. Dean Ho at UCLA, and am applying my technical background to help personalize drug dosages for various diseases in order to achieve optimal efficacy. We are optimistic about the project, and we hope to see it used in the near future. In the future, I hope to go into an Orthodontic Residency Program after graduation. However, as of now, I’m focused on being the best dentist I can be, and working on the research projects that I am a part of.

What do you use axiUm for, and how often do you use it?

axiUm is used mostly for the clinical side of the dental school. All of our patient’s info is on axiUm: their charts, medical summaries, previous appointment listings, future appointments, contact info, and insurance -- pretty much the entire works is on axiUm, so it is pretty important that we become competent in navigating and using it to find what we need. A typical appointment booking would follow this workflow:

  • Look up the patient on axiUm.
  • Look to see if they require any checkups.
  • Obtain their contact info.
  • Look at the clinic schedule to see where and what times you and the clinic are available to see the patient.
  • Call the patient and have them confirm one of those appointment times.
  • Book the appointment on axiUm after the confirmation.
  • Look at the medical history and previous treatments to see what has been done, and identify if there are any foreseeable problems with the appointment.

Once we get to the actual time of the appointment, we go through a variety of checks on axiUm by the covering doctor. The appointment begins with checking the patient in and obtaining a start check from the professor. This usually entails presenting the case to the doctor and acquiring their approval of the treatment plan as we go over the case. If the doctor approves, they will swipe their card on the system, which indicates that the treatment has been approved, and that we can continue on with the appointment. We would then obtain the patient’s signature for the treatment by having them digitally sign a patient approval form. Then we are able to begin the treatment. After the treatment is completed, we need to obtain another swipe from the doctor, which signifies that we have completed the treatment, and that the doctor approves of the work that has been done, and of the SOAP note.

As you can see, most of the clinical work we do is filed on axiUm. There are some other things that are on axiUm including our block schedules for the year that are uploaded by our GPA (Group Practice Administrator).

Typically we access axiUm through the school network. During appointments, we have a computer associated with cubicle that we use to access axiUm. Otherwise, we typically remote connect via laptops or smart phones, but we have to be on the school’s network in order to connect, so some people set up VPN’s for ease of access. As you would expect, we use axiUm really often, especially starting towards the middle and end of our second year, since that's when we start seeing patients.

How easy do you think it is for dental students to learn how to use axiUm? What can be improved about it?

In my opinion, I would say that axiUm is difficult to learn. It’s something that you have to continually use in order to get a good feel for how it works. Therefore, the more patients you see, and the more often you see them, the better you probably are and more comfortable with navigating through axiUm.

I think in general the controls and the system are not very intuitive. It can be difficult to figure out how to navigate to obtain certain information or complete certain tasks. Also, they reuse icons for different things. This can be confusing for a first time user where they would think the same icon would do they same things even though they are in different areas of the interface.

Space management is a problem with the interface, as it's hard to have multiple things open and click on another window. In addition, it feels like the window has to be almost completely full screened in order to see all the tabs that are available. Dragging windows off the screen makes it difficult to recenter them and there are no hotkeys to resize and recenter windows. In addition, a lot of the texts don’t have word wrap so we have to scroll side to side. In the pending treatments window of the in progress tab, there are only 5 available treatments that can be shown at a time, and a scroll wheel has to be used to see the rest. Also, opening a window often prevents you from using other windows at the same time. The general clutter of the interface can make it overwhelming, though I understand that there is a lot of information that we have to be responsible for at the same time.

Typically, hovering over a button doesn’t give a description of what that button does, and in general, the interface requires too many clicks in order to get to the destination you desire or complete a task. In addition, there are some areas of duplicate information that I think can be some cause for confusion.

Also, even logging on to axiUm can cause some trouble since there are often error messages preventing you from logging in. When this happens, our only solution is to quit the program and open it again in hopes that it will work the next time.

This is less of a problem with axiUm itself, and more of a problem with the computers themselves, but the system can often be slow. I don’t know if the software’s overhead is supremely high, but I can imagine that the amount of data that passes through after the accumulation of many appointments and patients can add up.

Lastly, axiUm doesn’t provide a list of patients that are ordered by date that require treatment. This would greatly expedite things and make it easier for us if there was a way to see a list of all our patients and see which one is due.

What do your classmates think about axiUm?

I think in general my classmates will agree with me on quite a bit of these things. There’s a steep learning curve, and you have to keep using it to feel comfortable with it.

About axiUm

axiUm, by Exan (a Henry Schein company), is the most popular practice management system in dental universities, and is used by 80+% of dental universities in North America. Though axiUm is designed to be used in academic settings, it has all of the basic functionality that you'd expect from a dental practice management system, including scheduling, EHR, dental charting, insurance coverage, and treatment planning. However, there are some unique features such as clinical evaluations, as well as integration with coursework, that make axiUm a better choice for dental universities compared to other commercial practice management systems.

To learn more about axiUm, you can read our in-depth review here.

You can also visit axiUm's site here.

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