HOW TO PROFIT FROM...technology — An interview with Pam Hemmen, Dr. Roy Nakai, and Ed McGrew

Dec. 1, 2001
This month, Dr. Jameson interviews three outstanding specialists in dental practice-management technology: Pam Hemmen, of Eaglesoft; Dr. Roy Nakai, Certified Technology Instructor for Patterson Dental; and Ed McGrew, technology representative for Patterson Dental.

by John Jameson, DDS

This month, Dr. Jameson interviews three outstanding specialists in dental practice-management technology: Pam Hemmen, of Eaglesoft; Dr. Roy Nakai, Certified Technology Instructor for Patterson Dental; and Ed McGrew, technology representative for Patterson Dental.

Dr. Jameson: In previous interviews — particularly with Dr. Claudio Levato in the August issue of Dental Economics — we've emphasized the importance of using practice-management software as the "hub" of the technology base for dentists. Pam, where and what kinds of technology bases will exist for dentists in the future?

Ms. Hemmen: There's no question that practice-management software is the "hub" of operations for practices. In order to be competitive, dentists will have to be as up-to-date as possible. I've seen first-hand, as a facilitator, the kinds of results dentists can achieve.

Dentists have many goals; they want to do good patient care, co-diagnose with patients, and grow their practices. In order to achieve these efficiencies, they have to have a solid technology foundation and keep the technology as up-to-date as possible.

Dr. Jameson: Is information control the key?

Ms. Hemmen: Right! Information control is actually having access, whether on a Palm Pilot or on the Web, etc. Those types of technology are only going to increase. The person who has this information and uses it advantageously is the person who will come out ahead.

Dr. Jameson: So the practitioner who professionally uses technology in presenting cases to patients and in the management of their teams will come out ahead in their practice?

Ms. Hemmen: Exactly! As a patient, I want to be part of the diagnosis. If I'm part of the codiagnosis, then I will accept the treament. I will return to that dentist, and I'm going to refer other patients as well. Dentists, on the other hand, can practice as they always intended. They have control because they have the information.

Dr. Jameson: Dr. Nakai, we know that when we have the management software in place as the "hub" that we can do tremendous things with other technologies. In your experience, what technologies can a doctor first starting out integrate into a practice to realize the greatest profit?

Dr. Nakai: Most doctors are at a "survival" level. If you use technology merely for practice management, you're just surviving.

I think the main thing most doctors need to do is use practice management as an asset and expand into the clinical software aspects that this technology offers.

Doctors need to utilize digital formatting, intraral imaging, and digital X-rays; they need to educate themselves on how to best utilize the information they capture. If they insist on doing only the minimum, it actually becomes a liability.

Only when doctors fully utilize their software, such as taking digital X-rays, intraoral imaging, uploading those images to an Internet site, and using them in emails and in consults with other doctors, does it become an asset.

Dr. Jameson: Many dentists ask me, "What is the first thing they need to integrate into this digital format in order to get increased case acceptance?" What's your opinion, Dr. Nikai?

Dr. Nakai: I think they have to allow patients to participate in the "codiagnosis." Intraoral imaging and digital X-rays allow patients to visualize what's happening in their mouths. It's important that patients see what needs to be repaired; it makes a bigger impact than merely telling them they have a broken filling. Most people are very visual; when patients can see that they have open margins on an intraoral image, they can participate in the diagnosis.

Dentists can take it a step further and use intraoral imaging to demonstrate what solutions are available — whitening their teeth or lengthening the margin — and showing them what the results can be. Doctors may present the same number of cases, but giving patients the ability to visualize the problem, participate in the diagnosis, and gain a clear picture of what treatment can accomplish greatly increases their case acceptance level.

Dr. Jameson: Ed, as a technology representative for Patterson Dental, you deal with all areas of technology on a daily basis. I'd like to ask you how dentists and their teams could incorporate this technology so that it becomes an ongoing part of their day-to-day systems.

Ed McGrew: One of the keys to the success of the dental office is the team. I'm fortunate to have a great team behind me; together, we can truly support our clients in the field.

Dr. Jameson: Dentists should consider the support from their software companies as part of their team. How then do you motivate a particular "team" to make that next step toward integrating technology more efficiently?

Ed McGrew: I think the motivation comes naturally; I've found that most people embrace new technology. Use of digital X-rays is on the rise now. A good product with good support is always appealing to dentists.

Dr. Jameson: Quality of product and the ability to track success for the practice help reduce stress both for practitioners and their teams. Pam, when we begin to look at technology in the practice, how do we link it all together so that practices can begin to see success?

Pam: There's no doubt that today dentists can practice dentistry the way they intended when they got out of dental school. The technology is available, and it continues to get better.

Computers are a great example. Seven years ago, they used to run on 4mg of RAM; now they run on 64 mg. This just shows the advancements and how quickly they change.

Several companies have the technology dentists need; but it really goes back to the company that stands behind everything for the dentist.

Dentists need to evaluate the companies and determine if they are going to offer the service and support they need; they should also evaluate that company's longevity — is it going to be around years from now, as long as your practice is in operation?— when they make some of these technology decisions.

Dr. Jameson: Dentists need assurance that whatever company they choose will offer full service and act as member of a practice's team so they don't have to worry about how their needs will be taken care of.

Pam: Exactly! The relationship between a practice- management company and a dental office should be no different than the relationship the dental office has with its patients.

As we begin to look at technology in our practices, we want to make sure that we know what we have and that we know who is supporting us.We need to know that every technology available today can have a tremendous benefit to our practices; it differs only in the philosophy of each practice and which technology the doctor chooses to integrate into the practice. That determines the ultimate benefit.

Dr. John Jameson is chairman of the board of Jameson Management, Inc., an international consulting firm. Dr. Jameson lectures internationally on high-tech dentistry and its integration into the dental practice. He provides research for manufacturers and marketing companies. Dr. Jameson may be reached at (580) 369-5555 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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