Dec. 1, 2000
In every dental journal and at every dental meeting, technology continues to be a hot topic. Why? The main reason is because the use of technology affects the future of every industry. Virtually every generation has caught the high-tech bug, and businesses large and small are faced with the challenge of giving the public what it wants.


Developing a high-tech dental team

Dixie Gillespie

In every dental journal and at every dental meeting, technology continues to be a hot topic. Why? The main reason is because the use of technology affects the future of every industry. Virtually every generation has caught the high-tech bug, and businesses large and small are faced with the challenge of giving the public what it wants.

So why aren`t more dental practices riding the technology wave? Patient response to dental technology - such as intraoral cameras, accelerated bleaching, and digital radiography - has been tremendous. Even the use of nondental technology - such as virtual-reality glasses, Web sites, e-mail as a means of keeping in touch, and DVD players in the operatories for both education and entertainment - has generated rave reviews. We talk with our clients and other dentists regularly about technology. We have found that dentists` reluctance to invest in technology is usually due to one or more of three factors:

Fright Factor No. 1:

Will my patients really appreciate it? Will they know, and will they care? Will it improve their acceptance of my recommendations, and will it increase referrals to my practice?

Fright Factor No. 2:

In order to get my patients to know and care, will I have to do a lot of horn-tooting? Will I have to do this horn-tooting all by myself?

Fright Factor No. 3:

Will I really use it? How long will the learning curve be, and how much time will I have to invest? Will I have to train and retrain my staff ,and how much will that cost me?

All of these factors come to bear on the most important question: Will this thing pay for itself?

I remember the introduction of the Fuji Cam. The cost was over $30,000; it was on a large, awkward cart; and the learning curve was between a week and forever, depending on who you asked. The doctors who said it was the best investment they ever made raved because of their patients` acceptance, even excitement, when they presented restorative and cosmetic procedures. The doctors who said it was the biggest waste of money complained that it was too much trouble to move from operatory to operatory, their staff wouldn`t learn how to use it, and their patients didn`t want to spend extra time in the chair just to see pictures of the insides of their mouths.

What was the difference between the best investment ever made and the biggest waste of money ever spent? It wasn`t the technology. The doctors who successfully incorporated that technology into their practices had learned the secret to overcoming all three of those "Fright Factors" and making their investment pay for itself in an amazingly short amount of time. They all developed a high-tech dental team.

What is a high-tech dental team? Well, if a team can be defined as a group of motivated individuals working together to accomplish a common goal - and if we agree that the common goal of a dental team should be to benefit the patient, the practice, and themselves - then a high-tech dental team can be defined as a group of motivated individuals working together to use technology to benefit the patient, the practice, and themselves. So how are high-tech dental teams developed?

First, you must be committed to developing a true team. All of the individuals on your team must be highly motivated and willing to work together. As Harvey McKay said: "All of the technology in the world will never replace a positive attitude." And your attitude must set the example!

Even the most motivated team members may share one or more of your "Fright Factors," but you can overcome them all if you use a team approach. Get your team involved in the decision-making process early. Remember the synergy of group enthusiasm; you may not need your team`s approval to purchase technology, but you certainly will benefit from each employee`s support. Also keep in mind that your team members will be more likely to support a decision if they were allowed to contribute to the process. You`ve heard it before: "Ask yourself if this decision will bring you closer to your vision of the ideal practice." Include all team members in your vision and answer these questions together ...

- How will it benefit our patients? Will it increase patients` understanding of the benefits of dentistry? Will it allow earlier or more accurate diagnosis? Will it improve their dental health through better compliance, better acceptance, and/or higher quality materials? Will it improve their appearance, offering the possibility of increased confidence, higher earning power, and/or improved personal relationships? Is it more convenient or cost-effective for the patient, requiring fewer visits or providing longer-lasting restorations? Will it provide a higher level of patient comfort, decreasing stress for the patient and the team?

- How will it benefit our practice? If the benefits to the patient are significant, how can those benefits be marketed to improve patient relations and increase the influx of new patients? Will it make us more efficient, and how can we use the increased efficiency to deliver more quality dentistry? Again, that all-important question - "How will it affect our profitability?" - crops up. Will this new technology decrease our costs or increase our income? What kind of growth momentum can we generate from increased practice exposure and income?

- How will it benefit our team? Sure, everyone wants to know, "What`s in it for me?" Will it make my job easier or more enjoyable? Will it improve team performance or competence? Will it make the workplace safer? Will it put more money in my pocket?

When you have made the decision to incorporate technology into your practice, this team approach will be essential to making it profitable. Make sure everyone on your team sees the value of technology and can explain the value and the process to the patient.

Despite its relatively high cost to patients, bleaching has been one of the most successful techniques ever introduced to dentistry. Why? Because most team members could easily see the value of it. Just like the rest of the American public, the number one dental complaint of your staff members was the color of their teeth. It was an easy process for the team to understand the benefits of bleaching and to present those benefits to the patient. Even a scheduling coordinator - with no clinical background - could explain how the trays and gel were used.

The news media also helped by running everything from informative articles, full-page ads, and television programming about this fast and easy way to a whiter, brighter smile. Put all of these advantages together to work on every type of technology you use.

Don`t underestimate the power of knowledge

Inadequate training has slowed the progress of more practices than any other one factor. Be sure you invest in enough quality training and enough training time to make your team members secure in their knowledge and abilities.

Most people have some fear of not performing well or appearing inadequate. How many times have you heard people extol the virtues of an outdated technique just because they knew it well? Your team members will be reluctant to promote any technology or technique if they feel they are not competent or knowledgeable. Include everyone on the team in the training, even if you do not expect they will need to perfect these skills to perform their daily duties.

Team learning will shorten the learning curve. Remember how much easier it was when you teamed up with a buddy to do schoolwork? What you missed, your buddy got; what your buddy missed, you could explain. Team learning increases team enthusiasm and improves morale. From custom temporaries to dental lasers, make sure everyone on the team gets to go "hands-on" at least once.

Consistently encouraging your team members to discuss the advantages of technology among themselves and at staff meetings will make them more comfortable sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with patients and with the community. Talking with your team about their experiences and conversations allows everyone to duplicate positive patient experiences. Coaching them about how each negative experience could have been managed better will help them avoid repeating the negatives.

If you do not feel up to the task of coaching your team - or if you feel that you would benefit from some coaching yourself - don`t hesitate to find a coach who shares your enthusiasm about the benefits of technology. Expose your team to knowledge and positive energy; they`re catching!

Make it personal

Another reason bleaching was so easy to promote was the number of team members willing to participate in the process. All of those brilliant smiles in the office created the best advertisement a doctor could hope for. It also allowed the team to present the procedure from a patient`s perspective, which added an immeasurable amount of credibility. So, turn your team members into patients whenever the opportunity presents itself. Their own positive experiences will speak loudly and clearly.

Being first really does count! Remember the lesson of the Fuji Cam: The practices that made the early commitment to technology may have suffered through the imperfections that are inherent in the early stages of any technological development, but they still are seeing the patients who were attracted to their practices by the buzz created from offering something no one else had.

The practices that chose to offer a Web site or e-mail as a means of keeping in touch with patients probably suffered through some frustration in the early days of the Internet. But, the "geeks" who responded to that style of communication then referred their family and friends to those practices, and now we have reached an age where more patients expect this type of communication to be available. The less common the technology, the more it will be perceived as being high-tech and the greater the "WOW" factor.

One huge advantage that technology provides is the opportunity to redistribute the daily duties of the practice and avoid the old front-office/back-office segregation. In this modality, everyone on your team should be a dental expert.

There is no room on your team for someone who doesn`t know and care about dentistry. If team members aren`t adequately informed, teach them. If they don`t care, fire them. They will never be part of your high-tech dental team.

Cross-train everyone on your team to at least a "get-by" level in every duty each can legally perform. This will maximize your training investment by increasing the number of individuals who can participate in training any new team members. It also improves team morale by avoiding the "most valuable employee" syndrome.

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