6 challenges in adopting dental technology

October 6, 2016

In this article from Dental Products Report, a team of dental experts describes the challenges of incorporating technology into the dental practice, and provide solutions to help overcome these obstacles.

Many dental experts, even those who are most adamant about making dentistry digital, admit there are challenges with incorporating dental technology into a practice.

We recently spoke to several dental experts about how technology is impacting every part of the dental process, and they raised some challenges that every professional needs to consider. Happily, these experts also share the opinion that these difficulties are neither insurmountable nor should they be a reason to avoid technology.

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Here are six common challenges our experts identified regarding incorporating new technology into a dental practice-and how to tackle them.

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Challenge #1: Fearing the unknown.

Many offices have concerns about adoption of new technology because they are afraid of what could go wrong. For example, Tija Hunter, Dental Assistant and Vice President of the American Dental Assistants Association explains some offices suffer intense apprehension if they let go of how it’s always been done. For example, she sees offices every day that still use paper charts, which she finds surprising from both a technological and infection control standpoint. However, the doctors in these practices worry what will happen if the computers go offline.

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“That happens very rarely. We back up every night. You know, it’s not that computers have been out for two weeks; they’ve been out for years, so we’ve learned how to back up!” she says. “But there’s that fear.”

How to overcome it? Training.

Hunter advises her dental assistants to train on the technology, research it and become the champion of it in the practice to help doctors make the transition. Not only does it make her assistants more valuable to the practice, but also it increases the fun factor in the job.

“Gone are the days when we just stood next to the doctor and assisted them. Doctors now need us for so many more things. And technology has made dentistry fun and exciting again for dental assistants,” Hunter notes.

 

Challenge #2: Lacking compatibility with integral partners.

If you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new technology for your practice, how thrilled will you be to discover that the lab you have worked with for years can’t work with it? However, according to Mark Ferguson, General Manager at Vulcan Custom Dental, it happens more often than you think.

“As a clinician, the last thing I want to do is spend $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 or more dollars to find out, ‘oh, I can’t work with the lab that I’ve been working with for 15 or 20 years that I’m comfortable with,’” Ferguson explains.

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Dr. Kris Mendoza, a resident at UCLA and past president of the American Student Dental Association also believes compatibility is a challenge within the office as well when it comes to integrating the various systems.

“You have all these different companies making all these different types of technology, and even some with the same function, but using different coding. They don’t always integrate well,” Dr. Mendoza says.

How to overcome it? Discuss or research before you buy.

Consider the workflows when you invest in technology. Ferguson suggests you discuss your plans with important partners before the purchase to ensure you won’t disrupt the system you have established. Dr. Mendoza said to research the technology specifications to make sure it is compatible with what you already have.

“If you have an electronic charting system, you need to make sure it integrates well with your system to take radiographs and your scheduling system. You have to make sure that they’re all on the same platform,” Dr. Mendoza says.

 

Challenge #3: Navigating the pain of change.

Most people fear change because sometimes the learning curve is long. It can be longer still if you lack a general comfort with computers. Our tech-savvy experts describe a learning curve that can be tough, but only for a couple of days or a week. However, for some people it’s important to recognize the transition could take longer to realize.

How to overcome it? Face it all at once with a plan and the buy-in of the team.

Either way, the experts agree that the best way to get through the pain of change is to go all in for your technology product transition. Kara Vavrosky, RDH in Beaverton, Oregon, and Editorial Director of Modern Hygienist explains.

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“It’s a fast learning curve if you dive in,” she says. “In my experience, the learning curve is quick. With digital charts software, going paperless only takes a couple of days to get used to, and once you do, you wonder how you ever worked without it because you save so much time.”

Dr. Mendoza agrees that the all-in approach to a new process is best: “It’s about having all that hassle up front. If you do that, you’re going to save so much time down the road. Otherwise, you’re not going to be as efficient as you would like.”

 

Challenge #4: Not knowing where to start with technology.

New advances in dental technology never cease. On the one hand, it’s excellent, because technology advances the science and the ability to practice efficiently. However, it’s also daunting because you don’t know where to start. Dr. Jason Watts, DMD and general dentist in Coral Gables, Florida, acknowledges it could be overwhelming, but he also emphasizes that those in the dental profession need to learn to adapt and continue to grow and educate themselves to best serve their patients.

“It’s just like anything else: If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Dr. Watts says. “If you’re not utilizing technology and advances, then you’re not adequately and properly treating your patients. You limit the ability of your treatment to provide the best care.”

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Dr. Leah Capozzi, DDS, a new dentist in Buffalo, New York agrees. “Technology is no longer just a luxury; it can provide us with a more efficient and effective way to practice,” she says.

How to overcome it? Consider your practice goals, ask your colleagues, and start a little at a time.

Dr. Capozzi’s strategy is to carefully evaluate how she would integrate any new technology into her practice and how that coincides with her practice goals.  First, she ensures that it enhances her ability to provide excellent patient care and then, earns a return on investment.  She recommends doing your homework and checking out technology you are interested in at a hands-on course. Also, she advises doctors to talk to their colleagues that are using it to see what their experience has been.

“Mentorship is a great thing.  Connect with a mentor that shares your vision in dentistry. Then you have someone with more experience whose opinion you can ask for,” Dr. Capozzi says.

When it comes to technology, Dr. John Flucke, DDS, in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Missouri says you don’t do it all at once, but piece by piece. He compared it to eating an elephant.

“You don’t eat the elephant in one bite. You eat the elephant one bite at a time,” Dr. Flucke says, recalling one his favorite expressions. “Dentists are great clinical planners and they need to do the same thing with technology. Make yourself a plan and pick out a piece that you want to accomplish this quarter or this year. Then sit down and talk to your team and figure out their opinions on it and where they think there might be problems and get everybody on board before you start.”

 

Challenge #5: Paying increasing overhead costs while reimbursement decreases.

Most new technology comes with a hefty price tag.  With cost in dentistry on the rise and insurance payments on the decline, margins for dentists are squeezed from both sides. Add to it that many new dentists enter the practice with substantial debt, and it’s clear why the price of technology can be daunting for many clinicians.

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How to overcome it? Research, research, research.

Dr. Erinne Kennedy says that it’s easy for a doctor to become tech-happy, meaning a clinician who wants to purchase every item that comes to market. She believes that an honest evaluation of the pros and cons before making a purchase will help avoid making an unnecessary purchase that doesn’t pay you back.

“Cost is a big factor, but not a deterrent,” Dr. Kennedy says. “Take it to heart, look at the new development and research. Then you’ll be able to purchase items when the cost is appropriate and when you know that it will give you a good return on investment.”

 

Challenge #6: Technology doesn’t always work.

Few things are more stressful than when you need your technology to work, and it doesn’t. Even the most tech-savvy practices lament this situation. Dr. Flucke incorporates multiple technologies in his practice and doesn’t find technology too much of a challenge in most instances.

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“When something has a problem, when something doesn’t work right or whatever the case may be, that’s when it’s more challenging for us,” Dr. Flucke notes.

How to overcome it? Have a support team in place.

Dr. Capozzi also voiced her concerns about when things go wrong. However, no matter what business you are in, technology having a glitch is an inherent risk. Her strategy is to choose those organizations that have tech support in place to help troubleshoot those frustrating moments.

“Even the most innovative businesses have to make sure their technology is up and running, so choosing an excellent support team is crucial for success,” Dr. Capozzi observes. “Make a plan to get comfortable and engage your team to do the same.  Know who you will call if you get stuck or need advice.”