Making the most from technical exhibits

Feb. 1, 1999
What is your approach when you visit the technical exhibits at dental meetings? How do you make the most of your interaction with the manufacturers and distributors at these shows?

Gary R. Hult

What is your approach when you visit the technical exhibits at dental meetings? How do you make the most of your interaction with the manufacturers and distributors at these shows?

Do you begin at one end, going up and down the aisles, and wonder what you`ve accomplished when you finish? Do you sometimes question why you purchased a particular product? Have you ever felt "pressured" to buy products you really didn`t want or need? Or, do you feel your time was well spent and come away pleased with the knowledge you gained - as well as any products you may have purchased - from the exhibitors? The latter is how you should expect to feel.

Each of us in the dental profession - dentists and technical exhibitors (manufacturers and distributors) - must keep in mind that a dental meeting represents a one "slice-in-time" event. Technical exhibits involve dynamic interactions where exhibitors sell products or services and dentists purchase products or services. At no time, however, should it be an event where the manufacturers and distributors behave like carnival barkers out to sell the dentist something he/she doesn`t need or won`t ever use. Nor should the dentist be out to strike the "deal of the century" when purchasing materials or services.

A technical exhibition isn`t intended to be adversarial. No one wins in that kind of situation. Collaboration among dentists, manufacturers, and distributors of products or services is essential to ensure a prosperous future for all of us. So, let`s discuss how to achieve a greater level of collaboration at the exhibits.

Creating your own success

A successful technical-exhibit experience occurs when the dentist and the dental team come away from the show with knowledge to help optimize patient-treatment results. This definition applies to materials, techniques, patient interaction, and practice management. Success begins to occur when manufacturers, distributors, and service providers listen to the needs of the dentist and the dental team. They discuss materials, techniques, and practice-management information that offer true value, based on the identified needs of each. This can initiate - or strengthen - a relationship so that interactive conversation and education creates a win-win result for everyone.

Interactive dialogue clarifies materials, techniques, etc., to the dentist. In the process, manufacturers begin to better understand the dentist`s potential product and service needs. This greater understanding and information can result in future product development, with products offering true benefits for the dental practice and its patients.

You can control your success at the technical exhibits through some simple planning and then executing your plans. If you want to increase the value of your technical-exhibit experience, read on to gain insight into how this is possible.

Preparation

Before attending a dental meeting, sit back and think about your practice. Consider questions similar to those listed below:

How do you see your practice today?

* What dental treatments do you and your team most like performing?

* What dental treatments do you and your team dislike performing?

* What is it that you and your team like or dislike about current materials that you use in your practice?

* What dental materials, high-tech equipment, etc., have you heard about or read about that holds particular interest for you?

* What is it about your technique with various dental treatments that you like and dislike?

How do you see your practice in three years? five years? 10 years?

* What dental treatment that you currently don`t offer to patients are of interest to you and your team to emphasize in the future?

* What materials and/or techniques are involved in performing these dental treatments?

If your practice already has a strategic plan, you`re probably well ahead of the game. You also probably recognize that the above questions represent a small subset of the strategic-planning process. It`s not essential that you have a strategic plan completed in order to plan your visit to the technical exhibits; but, a strategic plan is something to seriously consider to control your practice better in the future. These questions can be addressed during your regular dental-team meetings.

Involving your dental team can be very beneficial. Each team member has a little different perspective. When these individual perspectives are combined, the total team`s input is invaluable in ensuring that nothing is overlooked and that all questions are addressed. Often, team members` commitment is greater simply as a result of being involved in planning the practice`s future.

Consider using a flip chart during this team-planning meeting, and list your answers or other questions that you want to discuss.

Your goal is to ensure that the materials, techniques, and services you use or provide patients creates the best results. You constantly must look for techniques or new materials to allow your team to optimize the quality treatment that you provide your patients. Searching for improvements in materials, techniques, and patient interaction is a direct reflection of your practice to others.

Write down the answers to your questions. Your answers will help establish your team`s objectives when visiting the technical exhibits.

Prioritize all treatment procedures listed in order of importance, and focus your investigation on the top-ranked procedures. This will ensure greater understanding and a greater possibility of successfully implementing the procedures into your practice.

For example, after discussing the questions and answers with your team, you may recognize a need to increase success and patient satisfaction with inlays and onlays. You may not be unhappy with your patients` esthetic results, but a few may have complained about sensitivity after restorations have been placed. The level of sensitivity varies from patient to patient. As the dentist, you are aware of the potential for problems with sensitivity.

However, your office administrator may be even more aware of sensitivity problems because of the numerous telephone calls she`s received from patients. She may tell patients that sensitivity can occur with this procedure, but it is only temporary and will go away in a few days to a week. Perhaps it will; but, if it doesn`t - or if it takes longer than expected - this is an area of dissatisfaction for these patients. It also is an inconvenience for your administrator (scheduling), and it could impact your practice (production interruptions due to emergencies) if the problem is not corrected.

How do you resolve this? You might establish zero postoperative sensitivity as the goal of your practice. Your mission is to determine potential causes and identify the solution(s). Patients fear pain or discomfort, and you don`t want them to refrain from or delay any future treatments as a result.

While inlay/onlay adhesive-bonding procedures may seem straightforward, any dentist who routinely performs them has experienced the problem of postoperative sensitivity. Like you, they have had to discover the causes and identify the solutions.

Changes in materials and techniques can complicate this situation further. You and your team will want to talk with the manufacturer(s) of the products you use about this potential problem. You also should talk with other manufacturers who have quality materials and whose service you have come to trust. Again, your goal is to identify the potential causes and determine if this recurring problem is best eliminated by a change in technique, a change in materials, or both.

In preparation for visiting technical exhibitors to investigate postoperative sensitivity with inlays/onlays, you should list the category as "inlays/onlays" and the specific objective as "resolving postoperative sensitivity." Clearly write out your technique, the materials you use, and everything you like and dislike about your current technique and materials. Compile this from the entire team`s perspective to make sure nothing is overlooked. This information will become invaluable to you when talking with the various manufacturers about ensuring your consistency with any procedure. With this information in hand, you can more effectively consider any suggested material or technique changes.

Coordinating your visit

Assuming you can obtain the program prior to the dental meeting, review it to identify which manufacturers and distributors may be your best resources to solve the inlay/onlay sensitivity issue. The sensitivity issue involves materials such as adhesives, bonding, composite-luting cements, light-curing techniques, etc. Focus on those exhibitors you feel offer quality products and support to help your team best address the problem. Make a list of the exhibitors - including their booth numbers - and take the background information and questions you want to discuss with them to the show.

When visiting the exhibits, topics such as inlay/onlay sensitivity are best addressed by the entire dental team or at least those directly involved with the situation. This allows everyone to hear the information at the same time, ask questions, and make appropriate decisions on purchasing materials. Your "team" has insight about how a technique will best meet the needs of your practice. A uniform team decision about the material and/or technique will help ensure the greatest initial and future success.

Set up a schedule of when your team will visit the identified manufacturers and distributors to obtain the information necessary to address your needs. Allow enough time so it won`t interfere with any continuing-education courses you`re scheduled to attend. If doing this as a team is impossible, decide how to assign responsibility to accomplish your objective(s).

At the exhibition hall

Visiting the exhibitors you previously identified is your team`s opportunity to:

(1) Address your established objectives

(2) Clarify the technique/instructions for a material you are now using

(3) Review new materials

(4) Register any complaints about your dissatisfaction with a manufacturer`s products

(5) Find out what the manufacturer is made of. Do the manufacturers and their representatives give you the impression that they are attempting to quickly recoup their financial investment by selling you as much as possible? Or, do you sense that they care about you as a client and are willing to help you address your concerns and offer solid support to your practice today and in the future? You usually can determine which camp an exhibitor falls into with a face-to-face meeting.

Resolving issues

Let the exhibitor know why you stopped by the booth. Clearly state what it is about the treatment you want to improve or enhance. (In our example, it would be to reduce postoperative sensitivity of inlays/ onlays.) Discuss the current materials and techniques you use. Even if you don`t provide this information, any conscientious manufacturer`s representative will ask you a few questions about your treatment procedures, materials used, techniques, and concerns to make sure he/she understands your needs.

With this understanding established, the representative can explain how the manufacturer`s materials (which you may or may not currently be using) and the recommended technique(s) will best address your sensitivity issue. You and your team should visit each of the exhibitors you identified so that you can select the best material and procedure technique to resolve your problem.

The decision to purchase a material is dependent upon your team`s personality. You all may come to the same agreement and feel comfortable enough with it to make a purchase on the spot. If not, sit down as a team during a break, lunch, or at the end of the day to discuss the matter further and arrive at your decision. You may decide to:

- purchase a new material that will involve learning a new technique

- stay with your current material, but modify the technique you are using or

- stay with your current material and technique

Whatever you decide, you will have obtained the knowledge you and your team need to best accomplish your objectives and optimize patient treatments.

New materials

Reviewing new materials involves a very similar approach. During your previous team meetings, you identified and wrote down your likes and dislikes about the materials you currently are using. As a result of this process, your evaluation of any new, alternative material now becomes much more effective. You easily can refer to both the strong and weak points of your current material in comparison to the alternative(s) and make a better decision.

A part of your decision process should include a demonstration using tooth forms, typodonts, etc. This would allow you or the appropriate team member to handle the material and make a general comparison to your current material /technique. While this isn`t a clinical setting, it still allows you to get an idea of what to expect.

The comparisons you make and the new material`s value (or lack of value) allows you easily to decide, with the input of your team, whether to purchase the product or pass on it. Without doing a simple analysis of your materials beforehand, the task becomes more difficult, and you run a greater risk of making a poor decision. Too often, poor purchase decisions result in "new" products that sit on shelves, never to be used.

Complaints or input

A dental meeting also is an excellent opportunity to register complaints about materials and techniques or to provide suggestions to a manufacturer. You may have a justifiable complaint. Voicing it can serve as a valuable interaction between you and the manufacturer. A lot can be learned from observing how a manufacturer handles a complaint.

At the major dental meetings, most of the larger manufacturers also have a technical or development person on hand. This individual usually has the best "ears" to listen and to address your complaint. Sometimes, input of this type can result in improved future products.

On the other hand, your complaint may not be justified. The problem may be the result of a miscommunication or misunderstanding regarding the indication or use of a product. Having an opportunity to resolve this misunderstanding can be a win-win situation for the dentist, the manufacturer, the distributor, and the patient. So, don`t be silent; expect the manufacturer to listen to your concerns and to care about providing you with a satisfactory answer. If the manufacturer doesn`t respond, you may need to consider utilizing another product.

Note how the manufacturer stands behind its products. Does the manufacturer provide support after the product is purchased? Is there a quality technical-hotline resource available or does a qualified representative visit your practice? There always is a learning curve for a new product or technique. A quality representative can help speed you to successful use of a product. Will the manufacturer allow you to return the material if you still are dissatisfied after the follow-up support? A quality manufacturer should do this. This is the type of manufacturer or distributor you want to have in your relationship network.

Post-technical exhibits actions

Depending on the results of your visit to the technical exhibits, it`s best to have a dental-team meeting the first day back in the office. You want to do this while everything still is reasonably clear and fresh in everyone`s mind. In this meeting, you can discuss how well you addressed your objectives, as well as other decisions made by your team at the meeting. Decisions made about materials, techniques, or internal processes generally involve change within the practice. It`s important that everyone is clear about the changes to ensure a quick and successful implementation.

Do you and your team members have any afterthoughts? How well did your fact-finding process work, and how can you improve on it for the next dental meeting? In everything we attempt, hindsight helps us identify better or more effective approaches. Don`t lose this opportunity - be sure to write down any suggestions for improving the process at the next dental meeting.

Are there objectives that still need to be resolved and soon? What is the next step or resource to approach?

Having a follow-up meeting is critical. Not having one creates the greatest possibility that none of the decisions or changes will be implemented, and, therefore, there will be no positive impact on the practice from attending the meeting. It would be a shame to initiate deliberate efforts to enhance your practice and then waste your efforts by not taking action. If you don?t quickly implement what you have learned, you will find yourself going back to doing things the way you did them before. Wasn?t ObeforeO what we were attempting to improve?

Conclusion

Keep in mind that there are many manufacturers and distributors who want to demonstrate their value to the dental profession. They realize it is not short-term sales at a dental meeting that bring success. They recognize that only through a collaborative effort with dentists, dental organizations, manufacturers, distributors, and other service providers can the greatest health of the dental industry be ensured. The service-oriented manufacturers and distributors want to be involved in the long-term success of your practice and the dental industry.

Getting the most from the technical exhibits does require effort on your part, just like it does with everything good in life. Your preparation is a significant piece of the puzzle to making the most of technical exhibits. Establish a plan; then, work it with selected manufacturers and distributors that are willing to collaborate with you. Go home and quickly implement the changes and monitor the results.

If you use this formula when visiting the technical exhibits, it will become much easier to do in the future. For your efforts, you will receive greater value from your technical-exhibit experiences. You also should receive greater satisfaction from treating your patients. A well-thought-out visit to the technical exhibits at a dental meeting may even add more enjoyment to the practice of dentistry!

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