The Internets Impact on Dentistry

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

Part II:

How will the online revolution affect CE?

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

Bill Kimball, DDS

The Internet is not about computers. It`s about people sharing information and communicating. It`s a way of overcoming physical boundaries, such as distance, and allowing minds to meet.

With the emergence of new dental technologies, materials, and procedures, the need has never been greater for minds to meet regarding all aspects of dentistry. There are approximately 150,000 dentists in the United States (according to a 1997 ADA survey) and another 350,000 worldwide (per the ADA`s Department of International Dental Health). It is next to impossible, of course, to reach this enormous community via the traditional forums of dental schools, convention halls, regional institute centers, or study clubs.

The World Wide Web (the user-friendly face of the Internet) has now changed the playing field forever. Increasing numbers of dental schools, institute centers, manufacturers, dental supply distributors, and Web site developers offer continuing education as part of their marketing packages. Web sites offer courses for education and/or recertification for dentists, hygienists, assistants, and laboratory technicians.

Dr. Dan Rapps, director of education for CEOnline.com, cautions that anyone who obtains a CE credentialing number can offer courses on the Internet. He recommends that dentists look for quality courses given by lecturers who are well-known and respected in their fields.

Most CE courses offered online today have textual material, slides, graphics, post-tests, etc., similar to what you would find at a formal lecture. The advantages of viewing these courses in the convenience of your home or office at any appropriate time of day, without lost production time, office closure, travel expenses, etc., become obvious. Thus, the Internet can keep you up-to-date on dental advancements in a cost-effective manner.

One example of online computer training, "CompUniversity," is being promoted by CompUSA, a national computer store. The response to this virtual classroom has exceeded the company`s expectations, according to their corporate office. This online learning center is created using a Web player (a plug-in or program that allows interactive training) that can be downloaded right from the Internet or from a CD-ROM purchased at one of CompUSA`s 200+ stores.

At $29.95 for a three-month unlimited learning pass (the option I purchased), anyone can learn from a list of dozens of software applications - from basic computing to advanced spreadsheets - on their own time. (By the way, I don`t get any kickback from CompUSA, and I don`t own any of its stock.) The training is text-only, so if you like a lot of flashy graphics or video, stick with a traditional training video (usually under $50) or interactive CD-ROM (usually under $100) that can be purchased at most computer stores.

The point is that a dental team can learn computer skills in a very cost-effective, convenient manner before the dental software trainer comes to the office to teach you about your new program. Teaching staff to use a mouse, navigate around Windows 98, or go online is not what your dental software trainer is supposed to be doing. (Okay ... this is a pet peeve of mine!)

Just as there continues to be movie theatres even after the popularization of the VCR, there also will be dental meetings in the future. With quality meetings (such as Excellence in Dentistry`s Spring Break Seminar in Destin, Fla.), dentists will always be interested in destination learning. Dental meetings serve as far more than a gathering place for like-minds to catch up on hot topics in practice. They are destinations where friends and family can spend time together.

I agree with Dr. Tom Orent of the well-known 1,000 Gems Seminars: "Meetings are a place for professionals to get away from the rigors and stresses of day-to-day practice. In our professional lifetimes, you will not see an end to the `dental meeting` as we know it. If anything, they`ll continue to expand and improve into the foreseeable future." Conversely, when Dr. Orent asks his audiences asked how many are online or have access to the Web, the response is overwhelmingly positive. "Over 90 percent of us are plugged-in now," he noted. "It`s just that it will be a while before we, as a profession, realize the incredible professional opportunity that awaits."

According to Dr. Cary Ganz, vice president of clinical affairs for Dexisxray.com, most dental (and medical) education in the future will be accomplished via live videoconferencing on the Internet. Doctors and staff will be able to choose courses much like selecting television programs from TV Guide. These courses will offer hands-on training using avatars (computer-simulated models of people, etc.) and mechanical hands or joystick devices to actually perform the mechanics. Students will be able to prepare teeth, take impressions, and learn about the latest technologies without ever leaving their offices.

Manufacturers will have Web sites where dentists will be able to visualize the products, use them in a controlled virtual environment, ask questions of experts, and then, of course, purchase the product online. These courses will be accredited for continuing education and, therefore, will assist dentists in fulfilling their state licensing requirements. State and federal dental societies will run many of these online courses. As a matter of fact, this is already happening today to a small degree.

The real winner in the CE online arena will be the patient. As Dr. Ganz mentioned, easier access to training will provide for better dentistry. Less expensive education, less costly trips to meetings, etc., will provide the patient with updated treatment options. Interactive Internet consultation will enable the treating doctor to solve problems more rapidly and provide a higher level of patient care.

According to Dr. Bob Rondeau, president of dentistryonline.com, "Online CE will be just one of many sources for CE. Costs to produce are relatively low already, and costs to place material online will continue to decline. Once a video is on a server and once bandwidth* is in place [if this article was online, you could click on the word bandwidth and the information in the box would appear], the incremental cost of serving it to a user on the Internet is very low. What does this mean? Look for costs for CE to go down. CE costs could plummet and often be offered as part of bundled services or on a subscription basis."

Dr. Lou Schuman, executive vice president of marketing and professional development at rdental.com, states, "The goal is to see who can get the best video at the lowest modem speed.O Over the Internet, video is called a OwebcastO as opposed to Obroadcast,O which is used for radio and television. As bandwidth increases and expanded graphics become available, more high-tech multimedia programming, such as video streaming and live online courses, will become commonplace.

Taking advantage of the educational courses now available is becoming imperative for today?s dentist, because the public has access to the latest dental information through this medium as well. CE on the Internet will have its place in quality dental education, but it will not replace the current mediums being used. The only limitations will be with the end-users (you) that may need to upgrade their knowledge base and computer systems to keep up with new technological advances. Don?t be intimidated by the Internet. Remember when you did your first crown prep on a real patient? In time, this will be as easy as using your microwave.

Next month, I?ll provide information to help you decide when, where, why, and how to create you own dental office Web site. I hope this series brings you one step closer to the exciting and rewarding future offered by the Internet. It?s just a click away!

For more information about this article, contact the author at (800) 800-6950 or drkimball@kimballconsulting.com.

*Bandwidth is the key to more interesting Internet experiences. A higher bandwidth connection means the capacity to carry more data at once - just as a thicker pipe means you can pump more water. But unlike water, where pressure can increase, data is limited by electron speed. When a connection is at full capacity, it can`t be pushed any faster, so a bottleneck forms. Most dental offices connect to the Internet at relatively (by today`s standards) slow 28.8 KBPS speeds. With new digital alternatives, like DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable modems, the future is starting to brighten. These new services are inexpensive and available in most areas of the country. A 20-second video downloaded from the Internet would take 37 minutes using a standard 28.8 connection, but only 43 seconds using DSL (at 1.5MBPS). Even faster bandwidths will give us the ability to show live intraoral camera shots from one office to another, or see practice management videos from your computer.

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