The Internets Impact on Dentistry

Jan. 1, 2000
The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

Part I:

Will the Online Revolution Affect Your Practice?

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

Bill Kimball, DDS

In August 1995, Steve Seltzer (of Seltzer Institute) and I wrote an article that discussed high technology. The Internet was still in its infancy at that time, especially in regard to the dental profession. We did not include it in the article since we were writing about current and usable technologies, not future possibilities. The Internet now is a reality. Every other commercial on TV and radio is an advertisement for a "dot-com" business, and new Internet companies are appearing daily.

You may even be sick of all the hype, but have you really paid attention to how the Internet might impact your practice in the months and years ahead? Some of you may already have a Web site, but others may have trouble believing that the public will actually access the Internet for health-care information and advice. As you will see, the Internet is rapidly becoming a major influence on the entire health-care industry. The goal of this series is to make the Internet user-friendly and beneficial to you and your practice.

New dental Web sites are popping up all the time, offering Web site creation, product ordering, patient marketing, continuing education, and patient information. What do dentists need to know about this incredible technological revolution? Four years ago, many were quite skeptical about whether the Internet would have any impact at all on dentistry.

Does the following sound like techno-jargon from a Microsoft boardroom? "Electrical undulations, induced by the vibration of a body capable of inductive action, can be represented graphically, without error, by the same sinusoidal curve ..."

It`s actually a patent by Alexander Graham Bell! Many people in 1876 believed Bell`s invention wouldn`t amount to much. As recently as just a few years ago, many felt the same way about the Internet. Some business owners, including many dentists, still feel that they can ignore the Internet and continue to conduct business as usual. Dentists think they don`t need to get involved because it won`t affect their practices.

However, by avoiding the Internet altogether, or accessing it only for personal use (travel, stock quotes, shopping, etc.), some dentists are choosing to let others determine the future of their livelihood. Business author James Belasco states, "We need to change. Business as usual is out. The very success that got us where we are today might be the shackles that keep us from achieving in the future. It takes guts to change, but if you don`t, the economic end is no less certain, only more painfully time-consuming."

The Internet has already changed, and will continue to change, the way consumers and businesses connect and interact. Consumers are willing to spend $30,000 or more online for an automobile! Imagine what this will mean for dentistry in general and your practice in particular. The growth of the health-care industry on the Internet is already quite evident - just look at the following statistics:

* Of the 100 million Americans now logging on to the Internet, an estimated 74 percent are using it to find health-care information, according to a Harris Poll in August 1999.

* Health and medical advertising online accounted for $12.3 million in 1997. It will grow to more than $265 million by 2002, according to a report by Jupiter Communications.

* 50 percent of all online users would like to access information from their own doctor`s Web site, according to a Cyber Dialog Survey in October 1999.

Dentists with marketing savvy are now beginning to spend time and money developing an Internet presence, subscribing to news group discussions, and ordering supplies online. Many dentists, however, are asking questions such as, "Do I really need to get online? Where do I start? How do I find out what will really help me and my practice?"

Traffic on the Internet has been doubling every 100 days. This is not a fad or a trend! We are in the midst of the next major revolution that will affect all of us for the rest of our lives. Already people have ventured so deep into cyberspace that they find themselves having to tilt their heads to smile :-) and all of their friends have @ in their names - they even find themselves typing `com` after every period.

The next few years will prove to be very interesting indeed.

A dental practice not linked to the Internet will soon be antiquated. I believe that four years from now it will be as difficult to practice without online capability as it would be to practice without a telephone! How can we make the Internet more valuable to us today? Where can we find reliable product information, solid research, and worthwhile continuing education online? How can we use this amazing resource to educate our patients (and the public) about the benefits of dentistry and build dentistry`s market share?

Whether you have already stepped into cyberspace or haven`t yet gone online for the first time - even if you are simply interested in finally using e-mail, this information is for you. This series of articles will answer your questions in straightforward, specific, action-oriented terms to enable you to enjoy and profit from the Internet ... you have my word on it! See you next month!

For more information about this article, contact the author at (800) 800-6950. A biography of the author appears on page 12.

Still think the `Net isn`t for real?

I believe the Internet will change the way we do business as much as the telephone has. Just look at these examples from the U.S. Department of Commerce showing the growth of the Internet and electronic commerce:

* Fewer than 40 million people around the world were connected to the Internet during 1996. By the end of 1997, more than 100 million people were logging on.

* As of December 1996, about 627,000 Internet domain names (Web site addresses) had been registered. By the end of 1997, the number of domain names more than doubled to reach 1.5 million.

* In 1996, Amazon.com, the first Internet bookstore, recorded sales of less than $16 million. In 1997, it sold $148 million worth of books to Internet customers. One of the nation`s largest book retailers, Barnes and Noble, launched its own online bookstore in 1997 to compete with Amazon for this rapidly growing online market.

* Auto-by-Tel, a Web-based automotive marketplace, processed a total of 345,000 purchase requests for autos through its Web site in 1996, for $1.8 billion in auto sales. As of the end of November 1997, the Web site was generating $500 million a month in auto sales ($6 billion annualized) and processed over 100,000 purchase requests each month.

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