The Internets Impact on Dentistry

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

The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry

Part VIII:

What can you gain from `cyber camaraderie?`

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

Bill Kimball, DDS

While most dentists love the fact that they own their own businesses, solo dentists often tell me it would be nice to have another dentist around so they could bounce ideas off him/her. With about 70 percent of us practicing in solo offices, many dentists probably fall into this category, but have avoided partnerships and group practices.

The fact is, we learn when we interact and we don`t interact as much as we would like. I`ve found that the real benefit of going to a meeting or convention is what I learn in the hallways between the lectures. When we have an opportunity to question and discuss, synergy is the result.

That is the beauty of a mastermind group - a cadre of like-minded individuals who share information synergistically. Membership in a mastermind group can be very powerful for your practice and is highly recommended. I believe that truly successful people have mentors, peers with whom they share ideas, and students, who are often mentors, too!

A fortunate few belong to groups that meet regularly to discuss clinical and management questions. The vast majority of us still solve our problems alone. Wouldn`t it be great to have other dentists as friends and mentors every day in our practices? The Internet has opened the door for mastermind groups to take place with anyone online, anywhere in the world (Wide Web, that is).

Countless discussion groups are now available online in the dental community. It seems like every week another dental portal - a Web site designed to be your starting point or main hub of activity - with message boards appears. This month I`d like to introduce you to a few and encourage you to try this new and wonderful opportunity to share information (be a mentor), gain new information (have a mentor), and possibly find a few more dental friends along the way. Next month we will focus specifically on how to use these Internet benefits: how the technologically challenged can get started, advanced features like automatic sorting of your e-mail, and some common "Netiquette."

Discussion groups are like golf courses ... some are open to the public and some are private. Generally speaking, the fairways are greener and the greens smoother on the private side, but the public groups offer a higher volume of information. Information is what the Internet is all about. Here`s how it works.

Electronic mail (e-mail) has been incredibly popular for a long time. One of the advantages to e-mail is that it can be sent to one or 100 without much effort. This allows groups of people to "post" a message sent to an entire group. Anyone in the group can reply, to the group, or just to the individual. This is the basis of a discussion group or message board. Most responses to the questions we post come back within hours or days, depending on the group and the urgency of the message.

Online "chat rooms" are where multiple users can meet at the same time to talk in groups or privately. Conversations occur on channels that are similar to rooms or specific meeting places. Typically there is one particular topic of conversation in each chat room. You communicate with other people by typing what you want to say. Other people`s comments appear on your computer screen, prefaced by the speaker`s name or nickname. Discussion groups are a more realistic choice for most dentists who want to weed through the pile of mail quickly and choose what to read and reply to when they have the time.

So, who is doing the discussing in these groups right now? I posted a question on the genR8TNext Dental E-mail Network (info at www.genR8TNext.com) about the pros and cons of Internet discussion groups and received a number of replies. Here is a typical response from Dr. Paul Levine: "The use of forums such as these and even some dental-related Web sites have made a tremendous difference in my practice. You have some of the top names on these forums and sites, and they go out of their way to help anyone and everyone. I have formed some good relationships, have called on people for help and advice, and have always been answered. I spend an average of an hour a day going over e-mail and checking out my regular things, though with some of the tips I get I could probably go for days."

Dr. Bill Domb, of Upland, CA, is a very active "Nexter" (what those who use this forum call themselves). He responded, "Our practice would be a thin shadow of itself without the benefits of the Internet. Every night we slog through at least 500 e-mail messages from a variety of diverse groups. Most of the time this keeps us on the very cutting edge of technology and has helped us address numerous problems immediately and effectively.

"We`re managing to do online consultations when sending films and pictures to each other. Certainly, this may not always substitute for getting one`s hands on the patient, but in many cases it has provided instant direction that has contributed very positively to the care of our patients.

"The Internet has improved communication and learning for all of our staffers. All have Internet connections, so it`s easy to e-mail them new information and discuss little questions every night. Along with improving the function of the office, it`s also brought us closer together - especially the jokes." When I asked Dr. Domb how he reviews 500 e-mails every night, his response was, "Sleep? What`s that???"

Dr. Barry H. Baum of Santa Rosa, CA, replied, "Beyond doubt, the richest value lies in the sharing of information and experience that improves our ability to provide better care. Almost invariably, the most active members of the forum are those most passionate about excellence in dentistry, with only a few self-aggrandizing windbags thrown in.

"The ordinary, wet-fingered dentist, like me, has access to some of the finest minds and practitioners in the field, and I`ve found that they are sincerely eager to share their wisdom and experience with any truly interested person. Most delightful is the total lack of elitism in the most prominent authorities. They seem to thrive on the dialogue pertaining to their favorite subjects, treating all comers as equals."

Dr. Michael Barr of Boynton, FL, who moderates the cosmetic forum at www.dentaltown.com said, "I`ve been doing the online dental forums since 1993. I am now active in three of them. I would not want to practice without them at this point. I have access to some of the greatest minds in dentistry - some famous, some not. The Internet has allowed like-minded dentists to create a virtual community that exchanges the latest information in dentistry at the speed of light, quite literally. These forums enable dentists to obtain opinions, some (obviously) biased but mostly unbiased, on any of the latest instruments, philosophies, and materials.

"When I was considering purchasing an intraoral video camera several years ago, I posted a message asking for opinions on the various manufacturers` offerings. Within hours, I had several replies from dentists who already had cameras. Their comments covered information on the function of the cameras themselves, as well as the level of service from the manufacturers.

"Practice management topics are also very popular. Continuing education is a common bond and frequent topic among this group of cyber-dentists. The possibilities are endless. I feel that Internet dental forums are indispensable today. The evolutionary pace of dentistry is now at warp speed. Year-old information is already obsolete. More has happened in the last five years of dentistry than in the previous 150 years. Dentists who wish to be at the forefront of the profession need to have the latest information immediately. If you?re a dentist and you?re not on the Net, you are being left in the dust! I truly believe that.O

Greg Anderson directs one of the more popular OclosedO discussion groups at www.crowncouncil.com. You must be a Crown Council Member to participate in their E-Mail Network. This is a group of about 1,000 dentists who have attended Walter Hailey?s and Steve Anderson?s Dental Boot Kamp and who pay a monthly fee to belong to the Crown Council. The purpose of the Crown Council E-Mail Network is to serve as a one-stop mailing list for general communication on all topics suitable and of interest to Crown Council members. Greg uses the Council?s OPersonal Inventory of ExperienceO as a networking tool. (For membership information, contact Greg Anderson at director@crowncouncil.com or (800)-276-9658.)

Because of the new cyber-camaraderie of the Net, dentistry has become even more rewarding. Try out a few of the discussion groups and get to know some of your colleagues across the nation and throughout the world. As I?ve stated before, some people didn?t like the telephone when it first came out! The value of the interchange increases with your involvement.

Feel free to send me your experiences with these groups and forums at drkimball@kimballconsulting.com, so I can share them with the rest of the Dental Economics community not yet involved. The answers to clinical, management, product, and leadership questions you will be asking next week and next year are available now on the Internet.

Next month, we?ll focus on the Ohow-toO side of discussion groups, including some new and exciting sites to learn from and contribute to. Until then ... I hope to see you online with all the other Nexters, Towners, and Crowns!

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