Dr. Jameson: Through the years, continuing dental education has changed. There are now new opportunities that come via a “distance learning” mode. What types of exposure can dental professionals use to achieve the information needed to be a distance modality?
Mays: My experience in distance learning dates back to the early 1990s when I was at one of the first publicly traded companies. At the time, a distance learning market offered 20 different learning segments with 60,000 businesses and eight million users. While there, one of the important things I learned was that distance learning is a complement to the traditional hands-on, live instruction in classrooms. It’s not a total answer to CE in itself. In 2000, you had many people who were so excited and enthralled by the Internet that they believed a single new source of technology was the only answer. Distance learning is certainly viable, offering so much promise and so many benefits. But it’s not all there is.
Dr. Jameson: So, what are a practitioner’s access points? It’s not all about VHS tapes any more?
Mays: Yes, advancements in technology have created opportunities and, just like in dentistry, new technologies bring new challenges. While VHS is still around, DVDs are certainly more prominent now. They are great for offering full motion and sound just like you would experience in a movie theater. The Internet is an incredible tool for research and online learning. Because of memory and speed issues, Web courses are more relegated to flash or stream video and rolling text for the private practitioner. Digital photography also is available online, and works well for practice-management issues. There are teleroundtables or webinars that provide a virtual study club opportunity connection on an audio bridge on the Web or TV. They allow you to listen, ask questions, as well as share challenges and solutions with a content presenter and a live audience for as many as 150 participants. People can participate in polls and surveys, see graphics, ask questions privately or to the group, and more. It’s a very dynamic effect! Live satellite broadcasts are another exciting format that’s been used very effectively to offer a stable training environment.
Dr. Jameson: So, reaching out for CDE is as easy as turning on a computer. In the case of DVDs, dentists can save and use them on a repeat or as-needed basis. This gives the distance learning type of educational process validity in that dentists literally have the power in their fingertips if they’ll just seek it out. It’s available!
Mays: Right! It’s “on demand.” Defined. It’s available anytime, anywhere! It’s just a matter of finding the type of media for the method of training you’re seeking, and then finding the right content provider. These are really the two keys today.
Dr. Jameson: Through the years, this is a clinical change of vision that we have experienced. But it’s also a change in how a practice has to administer these cases, and then receive payment for these services.
Mays: Yes, it’s a total change from the past. When you’re looking at these complex cases, you’re looking at multidisciplinary dentistry. A practice has to look at such items as treatment planning, risk reduction, patient communication, scheduling, case acceptance, financial payment options, referrals, and how to control treatment with referred patients to ensure case completion.
Dr. Jameson: Yes. In addition, there is the explosion of materials coupled with the fact that dentists are bombarded with so many options. It is difficult to determine what method is best. This seems to be another key area in which distance learning can help a practitioner.
Mays: Yes, it is. We survey our 7,000 members monthly, and the area that we find them to be most interested in is product usage. There are many new materials released annually, and many more companies competing in the dental market. Since materials are the foundation for what dentists today do clinically, there isn’t much of a chance for dentists to understand the properties of materials. Dentists need to know about materials so they can feel comfortable making decisions that lead to a high standard of care. Dentists don’t have to work on a patient with a new material and hope they have made the right selection. They can rest assured that their work will hold up and produce a beautiful result.
Dr. Jameson: One would like to have the entire team involved in an educational process. But time away from the practice, and the cost of travel can eliminate traditional CE from the list of opportunities. So, when we begin to look at the benefits of distance learning, time and cost come to the forefront.
Mays: There’s never been a better time to be a dentist. New consumers want you to help them. But sometimes they want to come to the office early, late, or stop by on the weekend. Cutting production is tough, not to mention the cost of flights and other expenses. Faced with being gone for a longer period of time as well as taking production away from your practice, many dentists decide to take just one course per year. But one course per year, clinically, is not going to give dentists the exposure to multidisciplinary dentistry, products, and materials they need. They end up limiting their options. Distance learning has a major impact since it allows practices to grow and improve immeasurably without the time and cost of extensive travel. Dentists can take advantage of distance learning at a time best for them and share this information with their team members. As an added bonus, distance learning can aid the training of new hires. You hire a new person on the team and then spend two months following and attending to that person. It’s not like “corporate America,” where you send new hires to a training facility and they return ready to go. With distance learning, you can offer new hires DVDs. This action plan gets new staff members in line with the practice’s goals and team, and outlines individual roles.
Dr. Jameson: I think our readers understand where distance learning stands today. Give us an idea of what a dental team’s exposure to distance learning will be like in the future. What conductivity, transmission capability, and reception capability do you see dental practices having?
Mays: It’s exciting to think where we will be in the future. The technology is very exciting. Today, there are some approaches that are working well for medical doctors. These can be transferred for use by dentists. Technology should continue to have an impact on distance learning. In the next five years, you should see bandwidth issues being resolved so that dentists can participate in clinical online courses. They will be able to view extremely good true-surface detail. Today, the Web is not the best option for clinical training. The Web is primarily small screen and rolling text. A DVD might be better for clinical training. Dentists can link up worldwide with leaders in the field for self-education, and to motivate their teams. Via distance learning, dentists will be able to gain assistance from a service provider or expert.
National Dental Network Chief Executive Officer William Mays founded the company in 1995. The National Dental Network offers a timely, exciting, and cost-effective way to obtain information about new clinical and management techniques, products, and materials. In 2004, NDN delivered more than 761,000 hours of accredited content.
You can learn more from Dr. John H. Jameson at www.nationaldentalnetwork.com/jfiles. Don’t miss his National Dental Network teleroundtable in September!
Dr. John Jameson is chairman of the board of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental consulting firm. Representing JMI, he writes for numerous dental publications and provides research for manufacturers and marketing companies, as well as lectures worldwide on the leadership and integration of technology into the dental practice. He also manages the technology phase of the consulting program carried out by JMI consultants in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He may be reached at (877) 369-5558 or by visiting www.jamesonmanagement.com.