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Six steps to implementing technology

Aug. 1, 2007
Today’s technology has created amazing treatments and outcomes that dazzle patients and dentists alike.

by Amy Morgan

Today’s technology has createdamazing treatments and outcomes that dazzle patients and dentists alike. At Chicago Midwinter, Hinman, and other meetings, are you mesmerized by all that is new, wanting to purchase everything? (The grapevine has it that the latest “must-have” equipment runs $200,000 plus.) How can you implement costly, rapidly changing innovations that enhance patient care and also guarantee a return on investment?

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Let’s discuss six critical steps you can take to help you meet this challenge successfully.

1. Develop a vision and strategy for practice advancements. Halt! Before introducing change, you, as leader, must have a clear, compelling reason for the upgrade, otherwise your staff will feel it is just more work and chaos. It’s not a piece of equipment that inspires, but the outcomes the equipment can provide. For example, if you’re introducing CEREC®, you need to paint the picture of a compelling future - with fewer appointments to schedule, more convenience for patients, no hassles with temporaries, etc. - so that everyone gets excited. If your vision is to give patients state-of-the-art care and service, then discuss with your team how CEREC supports this goal.

The second part of this step is to develop a strategy that makes your vision possible. Regular staff meetings can serve as a forum to determine action steps, assign responsibilities, create a timeline for implementation, and solve problems arising along the way. Involve your team members in every step because you need their cooperation and commitment.

2. Create goals for efficiency and profitability that ensure an ROI.When a practice doesn’t have a statistical interpretation of success, it’s easy to spend time and money with no return - or worse, diminished returns. Often, dentists justify the cost of new technology with the following:

“The equipment costs $40,000, so all I need to do is get four cases for $10,000 each using it, and it’ll pay for itself.” To that $40,000 equipment cost you must add interest, the time and money for you and your staff to learn the new skill, the overhead for delivering the new treatment, plus (dare I say it) a profit margin. A true statistical interpretation of your success provides the black-and-white benchmarks you need to monitor progress.

Without a plan for profitability, you can flounder and even become so discouraged that you abandon your new technology. Such a failure makes you less credible to yourself, your team, and your patients, undercutting everyone’s confidence in your ability to implement improvements. Because your credibility is at risk along with your financial investment, you must always ensure an ROI.

3. Communicate your vision and goals for change so that your team and patients truly hear them. The following four assumptions lead to misfires in our communications. When we operate on these assumptions, it’s easy to delude ourselves.

  • Your team and patients understand what you say. Dentists are prone to communicating in logical terms devoid of emotion. You’ll lose your staff if you spew factoids about the megabytes of a new hard drive, and you’ll lose patients if you rhapsodize about the details of storage and electronic transfer of their digital images. Repackage your message to fit the recipient. How will the technology make your team’s job easier and enhance the patient’s life?
  • Your team and patients care about what you say. Your team and patients always tune in to radio station WIIFM, “What’s In It For Me.” They will never care about a change unless you communicate in terms of results that benefit them.
  • Your team and patients agree with what you say. Dentists are quick to assume that if no one objects, then everyone agrees. Silence is not agreement. It could mean you bored your audience or they tuned out. Teams and patients who voice their concerns are more apt to accept innovations. The most courageous thing you can do when you introduce change is to provide a forum in which your staff and patients feel free and safe to discuss their misgivings.
  • Your team and patients will take appropriate action. Even a supportive team or an enthusiastic patient needs resources, an action list, and timelines for implementation.

4. Be prepared to handle lots of resistance to change - yours, your staff’s, and your patients’. Before new technology reduces workloads, it can create extra activities, confusion, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Therefore, new methods can be perceived as threatening and stressful. We’ve all experienced staff meetings in which the team is in “fight or flight” mode over a proposed change:

“We already tried that and it didn’t work.”

“Why do we need this when we’re so successful already?”

“If we do this, I’ll quit.”

Patients, too, resist the unfamiliar and unknown:

“Why should I spend that money on some fancy new treatment?”

“I never heard of anybody using this. I think I’ll wait until it catches on more.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

Doctors unable to confront conflict often give up in the face of resistance. My view is: No guts, no glory. Expect resistance and learn to handle it.

Because humans feel uncomfortable when old habits are abandoned and new ones created, they revert to the familiar, especially under pressure. The primary reason failures occur in implementation is that the doctor woefully underestimates the amount of support needed. So fasten your seat belt and stay the course until the new technology is integrated.

5. Upgrade existing systems to support your technological advancements. No matter how sophisticated or organized a practice may be, the scheduling, financial arrangements, continuing care, and other systems must change to support new technology or integration will fail. For example, digital radiography causes significant changes in the new patient exam, continuing care visits, and scheduling in general. Systems working great in the past must be amended to support the new technology.

6. Create benchmarks for success and celebrate the small steps. When implementing technology that can take months to master, guard against practicing “yeah, but” management, such as in this scenario: “Yeah, we got one new patient to accept Invisalign, but what about the other six who said no?” Perfectionist dentists tend to focus on obstacles while missing incremental accomplishments. If you want to stop change momentum, fail to acknowledge the baby steps. The No. 1 objection we hear from teams is: “Why bother, when whatever we do is never good enough?”

I know of no profession more exciting than dentistry. I challenge you to do your homework in planning for new technology so that it doesn’t wind up gathering dust or on the block at the next equipment auction. Realize that any improvement is possible if you know how to implement it.

Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the firm that helps dentists master the business side of their practices. To contact Pride, call (800) 925-2600 or visit

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