From afar

April 1, 1998
No one can deny that this is an interesting and challenging time in dentistry. Not only are we seeing rapid changes in technology, materials and applications, but we also are becoming overwhelmed with the many management challenges we must conquer. Just staying informed can be a huge task!

`Distance learning` closes the information gap by delivering it right into the practice.

Joseph A. Blaes, DDS

No one can deny that this is an interesting and challenging time in dentistry. Not only are we seeing rapid changes in technology, materials and applications, but we also are becoming overwhelmed with the many management challenges we must conquer. Just staying informed can be a huge task!

A number of consultants, service companies, product distributors and manufacturers have created new alliances to better position themselves to support the dentist in our evolving industry. On March 13, an exciting new alliance was announced at the Hinman Dental Meeting. This alliance will address current and future information, education and the financial needs of dentists across the country.

The Matsco Companies, a leading dental-practice finance firm, announced it has acquired a majority interest in the National Dental Network, a dental educational-services company that specializes in the emerging trend of "distance learning." I have done some exploring of this term, "distance learning." While it is a relatively new term in dentistry, it has been part of the language and practice of most other health-care professions for years.

Now, distance learning is coming to dentistry. And, with it, comes an exciting and cost-effective way for dentists and the dental team to receive information about practice management, clinical updates, training and product information.

Matsco`s acquisition of the National Dental Network will create a new service company that is devoted to both financing and cutting-edge professional development for dentists and their practices. The acquisition will help dentists improve how they learn and, ultimately, how they practice.

"This acquisition will benefit dentists greatly, as well as their teams and their patients," said Matsco President and CEO Matthew D. Shieman. "A thorough knowledge of dental business management is key to running a successful practice. Through leading dental experts, consultants and presenters that contribute to the programs of the National Dental Network, we will help our clients strengthen their skills in leadership, business management, staff training and marketing."

"It will have the resources to enhance the quality of its products, to add new products and services and to bring distance learning into more dental practices, dental schools and other teaching facilities," according to William H. Fueller, PhD, founder and CEO. "The tool of distance learning can and will become available and widely used in dentistry."

The company specializes in the design, production and delivery of video-based instruction, distance education and the use of the Internet for communications, surveys and information-sharing. Its core product, a video on staff meetings, brings these dental experts into individual dental practices each month.

Challenges in dentistry

"The biggest challenges facing dentists today are in areas not addressed by traditional dental education," Shieman said. "Distance learning brings the information and education needed right into the dental practice. It delivers educational information from the experts to the dental community in a cost-effective and timely manner.

Distance learning makes information-sharing, training and collaboration with experts possible without physical proximity. "This acquisition will have a profound impact on the dental industry," Dr. Fueller predicts. "It represents an extraordinary opportunity for any dentist to have access to the teachings of industry experts. As a result, dental practices across the country will emerge as vital learning centers.

"Under pressure from insurance companies to control costs, today`s practice environment creates hardships for many dentists who are unprepared to deal with the new challenges," Dr. Fueller continued. "This is compounded by the sense of isolation felt by many dentists. Information-sharing is diminished in fragmented markets like dentistry."

Extending resources

"This is an opportunity for us to extend our resources into the profession of dentistry," Dr. Fueller explained. "To do that, the first areas we need to focus on are the educational institutions that create our dental professionals. With that in mind, we are in the process of announcing an educational grant that will provide educational programs and services - including video-based training, Internet support and satellite-delivered programs - to every dental school, as well as hygiene and dental-assisting schools, in the country. This will be provided at no cost to these educational institutions."

"We believe that these programs offered through this grant will be of high value to the recipients," Shieman added. "Our initial offering, which will begin in September, will be to provide Video Staff Meetings to every school interested in incorporating these programs into their curricula. These programs feature some of the best practice-management experts in dentistry today."

Most dental-education programs do not have the resources to focus on practice management. These programs will be a welcome addition. New programs like these will not be put immediately into use in all schools. That kind of change takes time, but Shieman and Fueller make it clear that their commitment is not short-term.

Two short video programs will be mailed to subscribers each month. They are designed to fit into the regular staff meetings that dentists conduct monthly (or at least know they should be conducting).

The real beauty of the programs is that they are an opportunity for the doctor and his or her team to view a practice-management technique and then discuss it. We all know how important good team communication is in a dental practice. Each of these programs is designed to serve as a catalyst for a positive, meaningful discussion about important management issues.

Options save time and money

Dentists have an ever-growing need for information and education. We invest thousands of dollars every year to receive as much as we can. Adding to the pressure we face to keep up clinically is our need to learn more about managing our practice. The good news is that distance learning now can offer much-needed options that will save us a lot of time and money.

America`s corporate managers, physicians, nurses, allied health professionals and hospital managers are all learning from a distance through the use of satellite broadcasts, video-based programs, the Internet, computer-managed courses, audio conferences and the electronic classroom environment. We dentists and our teams can participate in these cost- and time-efficient methods of keeping up to date.

Another exciting product is the Video Post Card. This is an interview with a dentist about his or her practice, approach to dentistry, passion for work and commitment to patients. The program, about six or seven minutes in length, is produced in broadcast-quality style and is sent by the doctor to his patients, to the patients of a practice he or she may have just purchased or to prospective patients. It is a unique up-close and personal way for a dentist to introduce himself or herself to the community.

The electronic classroom

Another exciting offering will be the electronic classroom. This is a network of classrooms throughout the United States that is set up to receive live satellite programs (full broadcast quality). Each participant will have an electronic touch pad that looks like a calculator with a built-in microphone. This system reaches everyone with the same message at the same time in many different locations. Each recipient can respond instantly to a multitude of questions through the touch pad.

We all have our preferred ways to learn. Maybe you have the type of practice that allows you to take yourself and your entire team to courses across the state and the country to learn how to learn new management and clinical techniques. But, for most of us, the time and money needed to learn, stay informed and keep up to date are precious and little. Distance learning helps by providing options and new ways to bring the information and education needed right into the practice.

Travel and time away from the practice always will be needed for learning. There are a multitude of fantastic courses, seminars, institutes, clinics and programs available today from leading dental experts and consultants.

For more information about these programs, contact Dr. Fueller at (800) 803-6786.