HOW TO PROFIT FROM…equipment: Choices, choices, choices!

Sept. 1, 2002
Writing an article about dental equipment in today's environment is like trying to write a short acceptance speech for the Academy Awards. Where do you start? Whom do you wish to thank? What should you be sure to mention? And what if you forget to mention something really important?

Debra Engelhardt-Nash

Writing an article about dental equipment in today's environment is like trying to write a short acceptance speech for the Academy Awards. Where do you start? Whom do you wish to thank? What should you be sure to mention? And what if you forget to mention something really important?

A list of dental equipment and technology worthy of note would have to include (in no particular order):

•Intraoral cameras. This technology has become standard in some offices. When they were new to the marketplace, intraoral cameras appealed chiefly to cosmetic practices. Now, most offices consider this equipment essential.

•Digital photography. This technology has been incorporated into many offices and has reduced the time, expense, and anxiety over taking patient photos. The cost of these cameras varies, from approximately $800 to as much as $5,000.

•Computer Assisted Design/Computer Assisted Manufactured Machine (CAD/CAM). This technology requires commitment, and is not for the faint of heart. It is innovative and highly advanced. Inlays, onlays, full crowns, and veneers can be manufactured with CAD/CAM systems, which eliminates lab fees and additional appointments. This is a great way to expand the functions of some team members and maximize productivity in a multiple operatory setting. The practice that possesses this level of technology also would generate a great deal of media interest.

•Lasers. Many doctors firmly believe that lasers improve efficiency and ease the procedure. They can be used on hard-and- soft tissue.

•Surgical microscopes. Doctors claim these microscopes dramatically improve results. What may have been considered technology limited to endodontics and oral surgery is finding its way into general practices to help in restorative techniques.

•Automated endodontic instruments. Tools such as obturators and rotary files are becoming essential for the specialized practitioner. This equipment makes these highly involved procedures more efficient and less traumatic.

•Digital radiography. This technology allows the user to take multiple images faster without film, developing solutions, or a darkroom. They produce instant images on the computer screen, which the operator can further enhance. Digital radiography requires less radiation than standard units. Digital images can be stored on a hard drive; doctors can print and email them to patients and/or specialists.

•Computerized anesthetic needle. For many patients, fear of the needle keeps them away from the dental office. Any means to ease the administration of the anesthetic is a welcome addition to the dentist's arsenal.

•Shade-matching systems. Discerning the nuances in tooth coloration minimizes lab case returns and increases patient satisfaction. It also is a high-profile piece of equipment that visibly distinguishes the practice's meticulous attention to the patient.

•Hot towel dispensers. A luxury that patients truly appreciate. The dispenser makes this added touch more convenient. Adding aromatherapy scents further augments the patient experience.

•Endoscoptic periodontal probing. This technology assists with more in-depth scrutiny of problem pockets and can assist in a nonsurgical approach to pocket elimination. Surgical-tissue management and multiple hygiene offices are on the rise; this equipment may be the next leap for hygiene productivity.

•Whitening systems. This new technology continues to improve. Teeth whitening has become the number one requested procedure ifor patinets age 30 to 50. It is the second-most requested procedure in women age 50 years and older.* In-office teeth whitening has been widely reported throughout the media. Along with Botox treatments, it may be one of the trendiest and most accepted procedures today. In other words, everybody's doing it.

•Electric handpieces. Finding their way to the United States from the European market, electric handpieces are becoming more commonplace in new dental offices. For most practitioners, they are the handpiece of choice when replacing equipment. The lower pitch seems to be more comfortable to the ear, and the torque provides the doctors with more control.

•Operatory computers and clinical software. Clinical workstations were once considered progressive, but are now necessary equipment. Flat computer screens mounted on operatory light poles help the dental team and the patient with treatment and education.

•Hands-free lighting. Infection control and asepsis protocol - along with innovative technology - have driven equipment designers to streamline operator functions at the chair. These systems are as simple as sweeping the hand in front of the light to turn it on - marvellous for busy practitioners and staff.

•In-office communication. Technologically savvy dental teams now resemble Secret Service agents. Equipped with earpieces and small microphones, dental staff now can communicate room-to-room without ever leaving the chair. This represents an amazing improvement in efficiency and service!

•Automated appointment verification, notices, and on-hold messages. Automated telephone service minimizes the time required for patient confirmation calls, and reduces the possibility of human errors or omissions. These devices expand basic telephone systems to facilitate patient services and help educate them about the practice. Standard telephone systems that offer no diversion while the caller is onhold are obsolete.

•Internet. Welcome to the new age of communicating, shopping, and learning. The high-tech office must have a presence on the Internet. An appealing, interactive Web site not only will attract new patients, but also can serve as an information clearinghouse for existing patients.

So, how do you determine which technology is on your "must have" list? Prioritizing the importance of one piece of equipment over another is highly subjective. For most doctors, such a decision depends on their area of clinical focus and how much time and financial resources they are willing to invest. It's also a decision of personal preference: What kind of equipment excites and intrigues the doctor and team?

I conducted a survey - a random, unscientific poll - where I asked a focus group of doctors what piece of equipment was essential in their offices. I also asked them to consider what equipment a new dentist who is just starting a practice should purchase (after equipping their offices with standard operating tools).

Everyone agreed that they would not want to practice without digital radiography, with most also recommending that new dentists should purchase this technology immediately.

The intraoral camera continues to be one of the most popular pieces of hi-tech equipment. Dentists use it for diagnosis, education, and practice development. The technology continues to improve and the equipment remains cost effective.

In-office whitening systems are too prolific to ignore. They are popular with patients, as well as cost effective. Whitening appeals to a large segment of the population and attracts patients to the office. There are a number of systems from which the doctor may choose, with varying advantages.

Installing state-of-the-art technology is an investment that brings both tangible and intangible benefits, such as:

Elevating the practice profile - State-of-the art technology is impressive to patients. Their immediate perception of a high-tech practice is that such a practice is focused on delivering optimal care. Team members must do everything they can to cultivate this reputation. For example, simply mentioning the types of technology used during patient phone interactions is an essential first step. Later, the new patient letter or practice brochure should have information about the equipment and how it keeps the practice on the leading edge.

Enhancing practice image - Community media outlets are always looking for a local interest story. When tooth-whitening strips were new to consumers, the local television studio contacted dental offices requesting information about this new product. Believing in and having the latest in dental equipment brings a golden potential for free publicity. Hint: If you have new and innovative equipment, don't be afraid to contact news agencies and local publications yourself. They may be unaware of the technology and its potential to significant improve the dental experience.

Improving patient comfort - New techniques and technologies can be designed to ease patient care during treatment. Improved comfort is a proven component to patient retention and referrals. For example, warm, scented face towels are a nice finish to a dental procedure. Patients remember the little things, and, most importantly, tell their friends.

Attracting superior team members - A creative, enthusiastic, and talented staff is essential for a successful practice. High-caliber personnel search for the right office to contribute their talents. They want to be in an office that allows them to excel. State-of-the art equipment and a high-tech environment attracts super staff members to the practice. Adding technology in the office adds growth potential for team members. It's what a good candidate looks for when deciding to join a practice.

Keeping patients interested - Staying on the cutting edge of dentistry and dental technology keeps the practice moving forward. It keeps patients and team members interested in the evolution of the practice. An Internet newsletter of new and exciting changes in the practice can keep patients informed.

Assisting in patient education - Multimedia patient-education systems and creative patient-software programs facilitate patient education. Educated patients can better appreciate treatment recommendations. "Before and after" simulations also help patients envision treatment results and greatly increase case acceptance. Offices can capture images and send them electronically to patients or to referring doctors.

Renewing office enthusiasm - Enthusiasm is infectious. Patients notice when the doctor and team are excited about treatment options and what their practice has to offer. Updating equipment keeps staffs excited about learning and about offering quality care to patients.

Expanding productivity - High-tech equipment will require auxiliary staff to learn new skills that will improve overall efficiency and expedite appointment time. For example, CAD/CAM technology eliminates the second appointment for restoration placement in a traditional lab-related treatment. Some of its functions can be delegated to an auxiliary, which frees up the doctor for clinical procedures.

Increasing results - The return on the investment for hi-tech equipment is in efficiency, proficiency, and marketability. Technology improves the delivery and quality of care. The results are a win/win scenario for all: professional gratification for the doctor and team, and patient satisfaction with the treatment and your practice.

Create an innovative environment. Determine what technology would suit your practice and make the investment. The rewards will be substantial.

Implementing innovative technological resources to deliver care, educate, and motivate patients demonstrates the practice's advanced approach to quality customer care. Investing in new technologies also can:

  • Elevate the practice profile
  • Enhance practice image
  • Improve patient comfort
  • Attract superior team members
  • Assist in patient education
  • Renew office enthusiasm
  • Expand productivity
  • Increase results.

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