Investing Smartly in Technology
Proficient utilization is essential to achieving sufficient ROI
The past year was a challenge for many within the dental industry. The good news is that the initial belief that dental offices were among the worst places to be during the COVID-19 pandemic has been proven wrong. That is simply not the case. Regardless, the circumstances that have resulted from COVID-19 have made the business aspect of operating a dental practice perhaps as important as ever.
An important element of operating a profitable practice-whether you're the owner of a private practice or supported by a dental support organization (DSO)-is making sound investments in technology. For example, almost all of Heartland Dental's supported practices now have intraoral scanners. In order to achieve a sufficient return on investment (ROI), however, a dentist needs to attain not only mastery of a device's capabilities, but also proficiency in his or her utilization of it. There is a difference. You can be really good at something but slow as molasses. That efficiency factor is critical. The more proficient you can be, the more impactful a product or process can be to your practice.
Becoming proficient takes work. We have teams of professional trainers who travel around the country to help our supported dentists master their newly acquired technology. The dentists need to be willing to put in the necessary effort as well because, similar to the development of other advanced skills, the learning curve associated with implementing dental technology can be challenging. You need to commit to making it work, even if it takes some time. But then, once you become proficient, you're likely to never go back.
In life, there are very few instances of processes reverting from digital to analog, and in dentistry, digital technology is here to stay. There was a time when some dentists resisted the transition from film to digital radiography. That seems outlandish now, just as the notion of resisting other dental technologies will one day seem implausible.
One of the keys is change management. What are the benefits? What's in it for you? How will a new technology make you a better dentist? These are great questions, but I believe that there are certain types of technology that have not yet reached a point where they are able to make every dentist more efficient. For example, if one of our supported dentists wants to invest in a cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) machine, our team offers support by providing data to help him or her better understand how proficiently it could be utilized within the practice. Some dentists can demonstrate adequate proficiency to justify such a purchase, whereas others cannot. Sure, it's fun to add a new piece of technology, but a dentist should be able to prove how it will be beneficial to the practice.
Conversely, there are also types of technology that have been shown to have the potential to be used proficiently in virtually every practice. As I mentioned, nearly all of Heartland Dental's supported practices employ intraoral scanners because our supported doctors have determined that, when utilized correctly, they are always impactful in elevating the quality of care. Digital scans are not only high quality, but also provide many efficiencies, such as time and cost savings. Many of Heartland Dental's supported doctors believed it would have taken longer than it did to achieve a significant ROI for intraoral scanners in their offices; however, in addition to the efficiencies that we anticipated they would gain, they have also experienced an increase in their rates of case acceptance, especially for clear aligner therapy.
I believe that digital dentistry will continue to progress and that automation, artificial intelligence, and similar technologies will prove beneficial throughout dental practices. In addition, adoption rates will likely continue to depend primarily on how much a technology can improve a dentist's ability to treat his or her patients effectively and efficiently. Ultimately, making smart investments in technology that you can use proficiently can help you-and your practice-to thrive.
About the Author
Patrick Bauer is the president and CEO of Heartland Dental. Responsible for the oversight and management of all of Heartland Dental's operations and day-to-day functions, he has been an integral part of the company since its infancy.