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The Dental Enterprise: Collaborating to Build an Innovation Center for the Delivery of Oral Healthcare
Edward F. Rossomando, DDS, PhD, MS
When patients visit a dental office, they expect a diagnosis and the resolution of their dental problem. They expect to leave the office with their problem solved completely, with minimum physical and psychological discomfort, and at a reasonable cost. For a dentist to provide oral healthcare quickly, completely, painlessly, and reasonable financially requires the collaborative effort of what I refer to as the dental enterprise. In the United States, the dental enterprise includes the dental industry, dental schools, dentists (and auxiliary personnel) and their associations and organizations, and a number of dentally focused federal governmental agencies. It is through the cooperation of all of the members of this enterprise that dentists are able to provide outstanding oral healthcare to the American people.
The necessity for cooperation among the components of the enterprise cannot be overemphasized, as good oral health is vital to the quality of life of each citizen and is important to the US economy. During the 20th century, the dental enterprise cooperated on developing methods, techniques, and materials for the repair, restoration, and replacement of lost and damaged teeth. In the last decade of the 20th century and into the early years of the 21st century, a number of advances required the cooperation of the members of the dental enterprise to be introduced into dental practice.
Since about 2000, the pace of acquisition of new diagnostic and therapeutic products and equipment into dental practice has quickened and, in the foreseeable future, is expected to accelerate. In contrast, the pace of acquisition in most of our dental schools has increased only slightly. And possibly, this pace has decelerated, a result caused by, in part, the aging of already dated equipment and products. Compared with such problems as access to care and a shortage of dental faculty, this slowdown might appear, on the surface, like a minor problem, but the implications of the slowdown affect these other areas as well. For example, the technology in private dental practice is usually more advanced than in dental schools, with the result that when dental graduates enter dental practice they often are not capable of working the latest technologies or performing the latest procedures. This is not just an inconvenience; it also impacts on access to care because the practice will not be as productive as it might be. The inability of a recent graduate to “hit the ground running” also puts a financial drain on a practice because when faced with such a situation, the practice must allocate time and resources for additional training.
It is no wonder, then, that there is a strong push for collaboration between dental schools, dental practitioners, and the dental industry to remedy the situation. One interesting collaboration among enterprise members is the Innovation Center for Delivery of Oral Health Care, which is under development at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. Located almost equidistant between New York City and Boston, the Innovation Center will provide a unique opportunity in Southern New England for the dental enterprise to work together. Envisioned as a pilot project and demonstration site, the Innovation Center will provide a showcase for industry services, technologies, equipment, and products and will be available for training of University of Connecticut dental students and faculty, as well as for use by area dentists for continuing education and study clubs. The Innovation Center, conceptualized as a fully functional dental office, will have a conference room available for sales meetings and five treatment rooms for patient care, dental student education, and a showroom for prospective industry customers.
In addition to its floor plan and geographic location (see the rendering, left), there are several features of the Center that make it unique. For example, the suite will be equipped for Web-casting of procedures, using a company’s equipment and products, in real time to lecture rooms within the dental school and to off-site facilities worldwide, including to the corporate offices of the company.
The governance of the Center is also unique. All decisions related to the Innovation Center’s operation will be made by an 11-member Planning Board. The Planning Board will be comprised of three members of the dental faculty at the University of Connecticut, three practicing dentists, two dental students, and three representatives of the dental industry. The inclusion of representatives from the dental industry and dental practices to the Center’s governance represents the first-ever involvement of industry and practitioners in dental school curriculum planning and decision making.
The Innovation Center is in the fund- raising stage and seeking founding sponsors to help with the project. The generosity of founding sponsors will be acknowledged in a number of ways, including having the contributions of founding members acknowledged within the Innovation Center. In addition, founding sponsors will have use of the conference room for activities at a special founding-sponsor rate. Finally, founding sponsors will have the opportunity for selection to the Innovation Center governing board, thereby participating in administration of the Center.
About the Author
Edward F. Rossomando, DDS, PhD, MS
Professor and Director
Innovation Center for Delivery of Oral Health Care
School of Dental Medicine
University of Connecticut