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Dr. Edward Zuckerberg, the dentist dad of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, talks social media and the latest in dental technology

Dental Products ReportDental Products Report-2012-03-01
Issue 3

Unlike the majority of his peers in dental school at the New York University College of Dentistry, Dr. Zuckerberg wasn’t pursuing dentistry as part of a family legacy. On his first day of dental school, talk of bridges had him thinking about the Brooklyn versus Verrazano.

Unlike the majority of his peers in dental school at the New York University College of Dentistry, Dr. Zuckerberg wasn’t pursuing dentistry as part of a family legacy. On his first day of dental school, talk of bridges had him thinking about the Brooklyn versus Verrazano.

“Yes, I was learning from the bottom up,” Dr. Zuckerberg remembers with a laugh. “But I found dentistry for the right reasons. I’ve always enjoyed it, always had a passion for it. You have to love it.”

The Zuckerberg practice is connected to the Zuckerberg home-an arrangement that requires an added measure of love for your profession. This set-up facilitated a symbiotic relationship between personal and professional technology that continues to this day.

“I’ve always been an early technology adopter. I had my first computer in 1981-maybe earlier-after a friend addicted to video games convinced me to get an Atari 800 home computer. When I bought our home, one of the first things I did was introduce online banking,” he says. “The modem speed was extremely slow and the amber screen would load one line at a time-paying three or four bills took an hour-but I remember telling my wife, ‘This is amazing. This is going to change the world.’”

When the first practice management software became available in 1985, it just made sense to Dr. Zuckerberg to say yes -computers in the practice made sense.

“The computer I had then was expensive and would probably only hold two pictures from my digital camera today. When I think back to it, it was horrendous,” he admits. “But a year later, I upgraded to a computer twice as good for half as much. Soon, I had another complete system for significantly less that was 10 times superior.”

Do you have a question for Dr. Zuckerberg? Submit your questions on our Facebook page!

So, while most kids in Westchester County were sharing dial-up Internet with other family members, the Zuckerberg family was exposed to full-time highspeed broadband, personal computers, networked use of printers, scanners and anything in the office network. At age 11, Mark was able to write an interoffice communication software program-ZuckNet-that took advantage of the networked computers, allowing staff to essentially instant message one another, now a standard function on most practice management software. Dr. Zuckerberg credits that kind of technology exposure with giving his kids an edge in helping them become successful in the technology field.

The enthusiasm for integrated technology and creative problem solving is at the core of Dr. Zuckerberg’s technology strategy.

For Dr. Zuckerberg, like many dentists, getting new equipment for the office is like a kid getting a new toy. This is why general excitement about technology isn’t enough to make it a good decision. You have to have a vision-something Dr. Zuckerberg prides himself on.

“The first thing I ask is, ‘Is this going to elevate the standard of care for the patient?’ Second, ‘Is this going to be affordable for the practice?’ That piece has numerous subquestions about patients accepting treatment, paying for treatment, and if the reimbursement is going to offset the cost of care. Sometimes, the decision is very obvious to me,” he says.

One example: Intraoral cameras.

“These provided a new ability to communicate, which worked hand-in-hand with my practice philosophy of helping patients overcome the fear of the unknown. When you blow up a cavity on the screen, they want that taken care of,” Dr. Zuckerberg explains.

In other cases, the decision isn’t obvious at the outset, but doing the research reveals a major opportunity for the practice. The best example of this is CAD/CAM.

“CAD/CAM is something dentists have shown interest in but are often floored by the price tag,” he says. “They envision pulling out a check and writing it out for that full amount-no one has that money just lying around. But that is a backward way of thinking about a significant purchase.”

Dr. Zuckerberg started his research by making time to check out the available CAD/CAM technology up close. Originally, that meant making a trip out to the local dealer to see a demo of the only system available. At the time, the level of investment required didn’t seem to make sense, but conversations with other users present got him thinking about the potential cost savings. That nugget of interest stayed with him. When his Henry Schein field sales consultant offered a trip to Dallas to check out D4D Technologies and the E4D Dentist System, Dr. Zuckerberg was ready to look again.

“I was tremendously impressed by the employees I met on the trip. They believe in the product, and it shows,” he recalls. “I had great feelings about the company (D4D Technologies) and the product in general (E4D Dentist System), but it also was clear that there had been remarkable improvements in CAD/CAM technology since the last time I’d looked: the ability to do negatives from an impression, no powder and more intuitive software. Once I decided that, clinically, it made sense, I had to be sure that the numbers made sense.”

Between the end-of-year tax credit and financing that allowed lower payments while Dr. Zuckerberg and his team got up to full speed on the E4D Dentist, as well as the savings on his monthly lab bills, the doctor would tell you that it’s “almost like having it in my practice for free.”

More importantly, “The E4D System makes working exciting and fun. I look forward to the cases using it,” he says. “We do a case on it almost every day, and some days, multiple cases. There are even instances where my associate and I fight over it. It is cutting edge-patients who see your expertise and utilization of technology-they love it! It just fits our practice and reinforces our philosophy toward patients.”

The patient response to CAD/CAM and other technology can be one of the great benefits to making the investment. But, if a patient has good oral health, there is a chance he or she may never see our full technology capabilities (outside of digital radiography or intraoral cameras). He may be a bit biased, but Dr. Zuckerberg believes this is where social media can make a big difference.

“Social media is the perfect way to get all the great things you do out there. You can be doing amazing work, but for patients who aren’t getting a crown or inlay, the only way they might get this message is through a fan page on Facebook and the related blurbs, status updates, and photos,” he explains. “It may take that ordinary patient who came to you for convenience and thinks you’re a regular dentist and help reinforce their decision to choose you, even if he or she doesn’t use all your services. At this point, there is tremendous future potential for social media to help dentists with external marketing.”

Dr. Zuckerberg makes the good point that patients may go to your website when looking up specific information, but they have to be actively seeking out that information. But what are the chances that they keep going back to look for an article you authored, a story about your work with a local charity or the new technology you purchased? This is why a fan page can be so effective; status updates are pushed out through the newsfeed and you bring the information to them.

By taking control of the message delivery, you can stay one step ahead of patients, letting them know you can meet their needs before they are aware those needs exist.

One patient need that has dominated Dr. Zuckerberg’s framework for practice priorities is the need to feel safe and comfortable.  There are a vast number of patients who are phobic about dental care and helping overcome that fear-from grand gestures to small details-worked to set the Zuckerberg practice apart from others.

“My wife was a psychiatrist and I convinced her to take over running the non-clinical aspects of the office for about 10 years. She worked with me on developing strategies to become confident treating phobic and apprehensive patients,” he shares. “We developed an aquarium motif for the office that features everything from fish-related artwork to a 200-gallon saltwater aquarium where a wall used to be, separating two operatories. It is a great distraction.”

In an era where dentists are highly competitive and feeling the effects of the economy, the concern is that a patient might leave your practice at the drop of a hat. Dr. Zuckerberg believes that, when dealing with phobic patients, if you’ve helped them rebuild their confidence, they’re not going to switch-you have a patient for life.

“That is probably the thing that distinguishes me—dealing with apprehensive patients and the emphasis on technology,” he says. “Having the patient feel like there is no one else in the world they would consider going to.”

Branching out to new technology or techniques can be daunting, but Dr. Zuckerberg counsels other dentists to start with the important realization that patients are more than just mouths.

“There are people attached to those mouths. People with real fears,” he says. “Before we do anything else, we have to think about the patient experience and what we can do to deliver the best possible experience.”

Technology will, inevitably, be part of delivering the best possible care-although not always in the way you’d expect. “Don’t be afraid of technology,” he warns. “Learn how to evaluate it. Look at the real cost. Something that, at face value, seems too expensive, may actually be too expensive not to have when you see how it can both save and make the practice money.”

The Difference Makers series is brought to you in partnership with D4D Technologies, makers of the E4D Dentist System.

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