Today's practicing dentist is facing a difficult challenge. Advances in digitization and convergence of technology are playing an increasingly important role in the marketplace. Yet many of us continue to conduct the business of dentistry as we have for the past 25-30 years. Back then marketing was an afterthought. The success of a General Practice was frequently based upon the Dentist's "personality" or "reputation", the patient relationship with staff and the geographic location. (I am frequently amazed at how some patients who move to a different home on the other side of the city will drive 25 minutes to the Hair Salon because of a particular stylist. At the same time they will have no hesitation in leaving a practice where they have had a relationship with their dentist for 20 years because the new dentist they are now seeing is "just around the corner" or is "open in the evenings".)
Those few dentists who understand this digital revolution know that an investment in modernizing their practice gives them better patient data, a better handle on their practice, better overall communication and higher levels of production to offset the costs. And when they are ready to retire, their practices are going to be worth more because of it, in spite of the initial capital investment. Yet with the exception of the areas of dental materials and EDI claims, most Dentists are still practicing in a business environment more resembling the 1960s than the 21st century. The most successful practices realize that this model is passé. Let's examine three inexpensive tools that you can incorporate into your practice tomorrow and that will enhance your move toward practice modernization in a digital world without draining your wallet.
1. Get Wired - Incorporate E-Mail into your Practice.
In my Specialty practice I have noted that approximately 80% of referred patients have web access and an E-Mail address either at work or at home. Yet only one or two of my referrals have incorporated routine E-mail into their businesses. The fact is that data has become increasingly graphically oriented and with it increased speed and bandwidth is necessary. There is no longer any excuse to suffer with "Dial up- EDI style- Modems". Cable TV providers bundle internet packages with their cable subscription at minimal cost. DSL data service is also available from MTS and it runs right on top of your phone line, without you knowing it. As to the excuses of "I'm worried about internet security, hackers and viruses" or "I don't want my staff Internet surfing on my time" - they are just that - EXCUSES. Both problems are easily solved with proper software and hardware controls that can easily be set up by your technician. I encourage my patients to use E-mail to update my staff as to their condition. This accomplishes several things: it allows patients to send us input regarding their status 24 hrs a day IN THEIR OWN WORDS. It supplements our answering service and gives us a hard copy that can be printed and placed in the patient's chart. Staff can also use E-Mail to confirm or reschedule appointments, if necessary. If I were a General Dentist I would make it a major part of my practice. Recalls, confirmations, birthdays, special events, referral "Thank You" notes (not to mention statements, late payment, and preauthorization notices) etc. can all be sent with one click of the mouse. And when the message comes from YOU, it is unlikely to be considered SPAM (junk mail). You can even send the message that generates an automatic confirmation reply that indicates your mail has been read. This virtually guarantees that your message gets through. No more: "Sorry, I never got your message."
2. Construct a Web site - Be accessible - ALWAYS.
The internet is full of information about Dentistry. The problem is: it's not about YOUR dentistry. A practice web site provides patients with all the information that they need to know prior to arriving in your office. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. Tell your patients about all the things that you can do. Why is your office different? Ask your patients if you can post that "Thank You" note that you received from them for exceptional treatment. Show pictures of your work. Show pictures of your office. List links to interesting techniques or referrals. Remember, a web site is working for you 24 hrs a day/ 7days a week. It never stops and it should be telling your patients good things about you and your practice. I also recognized that one of the problems I was having with referred patients was that before they arrived many were not adequately briefed about me, about my office or what was involved in their potential treatment. And no wonder! My referrals don't get paid to provide those explanations. Their chair time is expensive! After diagnosing the need for Endo, the easiest thing for them to do is to hand the patient my card or referral slip and say, "You need to see my Endodontist. He's got this great web site that explains everything. It tells you who he is, where to park and what you can expect when you get your Root Canal done." The actual referral takes all of 20 seconds.
Now when patients arrive in the office they are better prepared. They know where to park to avoid interruption during treatment. They have all insurance information with them and they understand the need for post op restoration, home care, recalls etc. My referral and I have just saved ourselves 10 or 15 minutes of chair-side explanations per case. Multiply that by 30 or 40 patients a month and see if that doesn't easily cover the cost of developing a web site
3.Two Reasons to Buy a Digital/Intraoral Camera
Reason One: We are constantly being told that Cosmetic Dentistry is "where its at". If you don't have a way of recording your exceptional results and showing them to prospective patients, how are you going to be successful with case presentation? Conventional film used to be the only way. Now we have the advantage of immediate pictures through the use of Digital cameras. Patients remember 50% of what they see and 10% of what they hear. A quick PowerPoint slide show of your previous work (available online at your web site or in the operatory or consult room) is the best way to convince patients of your expertise. The eventual savings in film developing costs easily pays for the camera. Patients can also immediately take photos with them when they leave. All you need is an inexpensive color printer and some quality paper.
Reason Two: Virtually all data (x rays, images, video, photos, documents, text etc.) can now be created or acquired digitally or scanned from analog sources. One added advantage of a good quality digital camera (with a lens that allows you to use Macro features) is that it can double as an "X-Ray" digitizer. Simply place the PA or BW on a view box, zoom in closely and snap. Save the file as a .jpeg. Instant duplicate film with NO cost for films or chemicals. The image can be sent to me or to an insurance company electronically for free! (No postage or lost films!) Eventually you can buy a cheap flatbed scanner ($100 CDN) that can also do documents but this is a "quick and dirty" way to get started. I have a referral that now routinely sends his cases to me this way: a quick few lines in E-mail with an x ray or intraoral photo image attached to it. Instant communication. It's fast and easy for him while at the same time it ensures that I know exactly how to prepare for his patient. It's a NO BRAINER and it costs him nothing.
The technology reluctant dentist has some decisions to make over the next five years. He can either choose to incrementally incorporate these technologies starting right now (as all profitable businesses are doing) or preserve the value of the practice. Or he can continue to fall further and further behind because he (ironically) "can't afford it". I am constantly surprised at Dentists who have been practicing long enough that they can see retirement in the distant future yet refuse to recognize the need to stay technologically current. They refuse to upgrade their practices in order to attract a younger patient base yet they still expect it to be attractive to potential purchasers. Eventually, the practice is either in serious decline or the changes that are required are so overwhelming in cost and so traumatic to staff that they will not be practical or possible. The result is that the prophecy is self-fulfilling. When the dentist does finally sell, the practice has deteriorated to the point where it is worth very little. The dentist then is left to blame his "aging" practice, whereas the fault truly lies in his previous lack of modernization and investment in the necessary technology. Digital technology is here to stay and it is time to take advantage of its benefits.