Comparing two-way radios for use in your dental office

Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, founder and president of Design Ergonomics

By Dr. Dan Tracy, DDS, Senior Associate at Perfect Smiles Dentistry

Front desk using two-way radio

Quick two-way radio communication from the front desk at Perfect Smiles Dentistry: “Angela’s here for Dr. Tracy”

Two-way radios are an easy way for dental offices to increase efficiency and productivity by streamlining communication. We all know that staying on schedule throughout a day of treatment can be a challenge. By increasing the communication between the administrative and clinical staff, patients are less likely to experience wait times. The staff at the front desk can immediately inform the clinicians in the back when their next patient walks through the door. Conversely, the clinical staff can give the front desk a heads up as to what the next treatment will be without leaving the room, which allows the treatment coordinators to work up an estimated out of pocket cost prior to the patient arriving at the desk.

There are also significant benefits from clinical-to-clinical or admin-to-admin communication. Radios are a great way to coordinate room order and exams for providers. They also facilitate supplies or equipment to be deployed rapidly to a treatment room without disrupting the flow of an appointment by having someone leave to go get it.

Dental team radio communication should be short and clear

Kenwood Two-Way Radio

The Kenwood PKT-23 clip is easy to attach to a pocket or belt

There are a few potential concerns you may have over implementing a system of two-way radios for your office which can be easily overcome. One common concern cited is the fact that the radios are not HIPAA compliant. However, the user controls what sort of data goes out over the radio, so by only using patients’ first names and avoiding other HIPAA protected information you can be sure that you are not breaking any laws in that regard. It is also recommended to keep all statements over the radio to be seven words or less to avoid unnecessary distracting chatter. Many of the radios are designed to be wiped with alcohol disinfectants so contamination is not a concern. Many also have the option of multi-unit charging banks to help organize and avoid clutter around the office. And finally, while certain radios are expensive, there are also high-quality options which are very affordable.

Before we get into the best radios for use in a dental office setting, I want to get into a little background info on the technology. There are a variety of frequencies on which the radios operate. Certain ones (General Mobile Radio Service, Business Radio Service) require an FCC license, which is easy to obtain. These generally have longer range and their signals can be amplified. Others (Family Radio Service, Amateur Radio Service) do not require a license. There are also both analog and digital options available. Analog radios are simpler in design and function, and generally cheaper. However, they typically can’t be updated and the technology has essentially reached its limit. Digital radios, on the other hand, have generally better audio quality, more features like having multiple conversations on one channel, are better for large distances, but come with a greater cost.

My Top Five Two-Way Radios For Dental Teams

  1. Favorite overall: Motorola CLP Series
  2. A close 2nd, at a great price: Kenwood PKT-23
  3. Budget: BTECH FRS-B1 Business Radio
  4. Motorola DLR Series
  5. Motorola CLS Series

Motorola CLP Series (CLP1010e/CLP1080e)

My favorite radios overall are the Motorola CLP Series. The CLP1010e costs $229 and comes with one analog talk channel. The CLP1080e costs $269 and has eight analog channels. Both come with 89 business exclusive frequencies and 129 privacy codes which can be set to ensure there is no unwanted interference or communication on the line. Purchase of a Motorola CLP Series radio comes with:

  • Handset
  • Battery
  • Motorola PMLN8077 earpiece with push to talk mic (twist and lock connection, single pin) with replacement ear tip
  • Single unit charger
  • Detachable belt clip
  • Two year warranty

This is the smallest and lightest of all radios on the list weighing only 3.35 oz and measuring 3.55” x 2” x 1” with an internal antenna and 1W of transmitting power. It comes with a 1800 mAh battery which lasts up to 18 hours off a full charge. These radios operate on the GMRS frequency so they do require an FCC license. One feature I particularly like among the Motorola radios on this list is the antimicrobial coating. They are also IP54 rated for dust and water resistance. The indoor range is up to 200,000 square feet and can be set up with a repeater for larger sites or multiple sites close by. Another unique feature to this radio is that it is bluetooth capable so a wireless earpiece can be used. Finally, these are compatible with any other Motorola CLP radios.

Kenwood PKT-23

The Kenwood PKT-23 comes as a close second to the Motorola CLP1010e/1080e for my overall favorite and is one of the best values on this list. It costs $165 and comes with:

  • Handset
  • Battery
  • Charger
  • Belt clip (screwed directly onto the unit rather than clip on)
  • Two year warranty
Two-way radios at Perfect Smiles Dentistry

The Ergonomic Products inwall charging cabinet in the staff lounge at Perfect Smiles Dentistry

Similar to the Motorola CLP, the handset is very small and lightweight at only 3.9 oz and 3.3” x 1.8” x 0.8” with an external antenna transmitting up to 1.5W. The indoor range is up to 225,000 square feet in steel and/or concrete reinforced buildings, or up to 17 floors in a high-rise. It comes with four analog talk channels, with up to 99 unique combinations based on privacy settings. It operates on the BRS frequency, so it does require an FCC license. The battery is 1430 mAh which lasts up to 15 hours and takes just three hours for a full charge. It can be charged via the base or by micro-USB. Earpieces are sold separately with this model, which use a 3.5mm audio jack, single-pin. The PKT-23 is IP54 rated for dust and water resistance, and built to MIL-STD 810 C/D/E/F/G military standards.

While my favorite two-way radio is the Motorola CLP Series, I do like the Kenwood radios and use them every day at Perfect Smiles Dentistry where I am an associate. We have an inwall cabinet that we use as a radio charging station in the staff lounge. It’s a great setup and the dental staff is happy with the Kenwoods. For an office with a large number of users, such as Perfect Smiles Dentistry, the price difference between the Motorola CLP ($269 for the CLP1080e) and the Kenwood PKT-23 ($165) is significant.

BTECH FRS-B1 Business Radio

If you are considering adding radios to your office but the cost is your primary objection, the FRS-B1 Business Radio by BaoFang Tech is an extremely affordable option. A two-pack costs just $49.89 (discounts are available on four- and eight-packs), which comes with:

  • 2 handsets
  • 2 batteries
  • 2 earpieces (Kenwood K1 accessory jack, double-pin)
  • 2 detachable belt clip holsters
  • Charging dock (which fits both handsets while in the holster)
  • USB to dual USB-C cable for alternative charging
  • One year warranty (with U.S. based customer support)

This radio is the largest on the list, weighing 5 oz and measuring 2” x 5.5” x 0.75” with an external antenna transmitting up to 2W, the maximum amount allowed for a FRS radio. Because it operates on the FRS frequency, no license is required. There are 22 talk channels with 260 privacy tones, giving a total of 5720 possible combinations. They are ready to use out of the box but the privacy tones and other settings can be programmed via computer (programming cable sold separately). The battery is 1500 mAh which can give up to 18 hours battery life. It takes 3-4 hours for a full charge, and can be charged via the charging dock or USB-C. It is IP54 rated for weather resistance and its range can cover a large indoor building with multiple walls. The FRS-B1 is compatible with any other FRS radio on the same channel and privacy settings.

Motorola DLR Series (DLR1020/DLR1060)

The Motorola DLR1020 (two digital talk channels) costs $229, while the DLR1060 (six digital talk channels) costs $249, and comes with:

  • Handset
  • Battery
  • Charging tray
  • Detachable belt clip
  • Two year warranty

The size is slightly larger than the CLP Series and the PKT-23, weighing 4.2 oz and measuring 4.2” x 1.7” x 0.9” with an external antenna that transmits up to 1W with an indoor range up to 300,000 square feet. The battery is 1800 mAh, which lasts up to 14 hours on a single charge and takes about three hours for a full charge. This operates on the ARS frequency, which does not require a license from the FCC, and is not compatible with any other radio on this list. The DLR Series is IP52 rated for weather and impact resistance. Like the CLP series, it has an antimicrobial coating. Earpieces are sold separately and compatible with Motorola two-pin headset models. One unique feature I really like about the DLR Series is that it is capable of one-to-one communication, where if a person asks a question over the frequency, you can either respond so everyone can hear or so only the last person who spoke can hear to avoid unnecessary chatter.

Motorola CLS Series (CLS1110/CLS1410)

The Motorola CLS Series are the most popular two-way radios in the United States. The CLS1110 (one digital talk channel) costs $179 and the CLS1410 (four digital talk channels) costs $199. Purchase of the CLS Series comes with:

  • Handset
  • Battery
  • Charging tray
  • Swivel belt clip
  • Two year warranty

The size is similar to the DLR Series weighing 4.6 oz and measuring 4.1” x 2” x 1.1” with an external antenna which transmits up to 1W and has up to 200,000 square foot range indoors (15 stories). The DLR operates on the BRS frequency which requires an FCC license. It comes with 56 business-exclusive frequencies and 121 interference eliminator codes (83 digital, 38 analog), and is compatible with other radios on the same frequency and privacy codes. It has a smaller battery than the rest of the radios on this list with only 1100 mAh, lasting up to 12 hours on a full charge and takes approximately three hours to charge. However, it can use AAA batteries as a backup. Like the other Motorola models, the DLR Series contains an antimicrobial coating. It is IP55 rated for drop and weather resistance. Lastly, it is compatible with all Motorola two-pin earpieces, which are sold separately.

Dr. David Ahearn, DDS, founder and president of Design Ergonomics
Dr. Dan Tracy is a Senior Associate dentist of Dr. David Ahearn at Perfect Smiles Dentistry. He is a graduate of the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine who prides himself on improving the quality of dental care with evidence-based research.