Futureproofing your digital investment

August 14, 2019

How to ensure the technology you invest in grows with your practice.

Even when dentists decide they want to switch to a digital workflow, many are hesitant to purchase the technology necessary to make it happen. They’re worried the equipment they invest in today won’t be relevant tomorrow, so they continue to wait for just the right time and just the right piece of technology before making the move.

While dental technology is constantly evolving, nothing you purchase for your practice is going to become obsolete any time soon, says Lee Culp, CDT, of Sculpture Studios. Sure, the scanner model that comes out a year or two from now might have a few more features than the one you bought last week, but your scanner will still be able to do the job you bought it to do. 

“There will always be new technology with more bells and whistles, but that doesn’t stop your ROI,” Culp says. “The model three years from now may be 30 seconds faster, but that doesn’t make yours obsolete. It just means it’s older. It’s not obsolete until the manufacturer stops making and supporting it.”

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Of course, you still want to make sure the technology you purchase can grow with your practice and help you to create the digital workflow you’ve envisioned. Futureproofing your digital investment will help to ensure that happens. Here’s how.

Purchase the technology from a reputable company

Whether you’re investing in a scanner, a mill, a 3D printer or other supporting equipment, it’s important to work with a company that has a proven track record, says Dr. John Flucke, chief development officer for Cellerant Consulting and chief dental editor and technology editor for Dental Products Report. You don’t want to end up with equipment that isn’t upgradeable because the company you bought it from no longer exists. Find a manufacturer you’re confident will be around five years down the road and will be able to provide you with the support you need to successfully integrate the equipment into your practice.

You also should consider the company’s data plan, says Dr. Chad Duplantis of Fossil Creek Dental Partners. Find out how much the plan costs and if it includes support and hardware upgrades. Ask about warranties and how much down time you can expect if you ever have issues with the system.

“Once you start using the technology, you won’t want to live without it,” Dr. Duplantis says. “Having to pay for service that can take weeks is really frustrating and a huge impediment in the efficiency of your office.”

Start with the end in mind

Make sure the technology you invest in is upgradeable and will work with any equipment you plan to add to the mix in the future, Dr. Duplantis says. You should be able to build upon the technologies. So, if you start with a scanner, get software that makes it possible to communicate with the other technologies that might become part of your practice in the future, such as cone beam CTs, mills and 3D printers.

“If you’re not going to do in-house milling today but think you might want to in the next three to five years if all goes well, you have to plan for that when setting everything up,” Dr. Flucke says. “Look at what will interface with a mill and what software powers everything.”

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Make sure the software is intuitive

The right software is intrinsic to the process, Dr. Flucke says, so you should think about investing in software that not only works with all the different types of digital technology you plan to have in your practice someday but that’s also easy to use.

“If the software is buggy or hard to figure out, it can be a point of failure in the whole process,” Dr. Flucke says. “If you get a system and the software is really complicated and one of your team members jumps in, gets the training and gets really good at it and then has to leave the practice, you have nobody else who knows how to do it. That’s a huge investment in resources you can’t use now. Having software that’s easy to use and easy to teach people how to use is really important.”

Dr. Flucke suggests playing with different software solutions in your office before making a decision. That way, you’ll truly get a feel for how it will work in your practice.

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Don’t be afraid to upgrade

Purchasing technology isn’t a one-time deal; you’ll have to make upgrades at some point, Dr. Flucke says. That doesn’t necessarily mean buying an entire new piece of equipment. If you want your equipment to last, you need to make the appropriate upgrades as it ages. 

“You have to keep the technology current and working properly,” Dr. Flucke says. “That might mean upgrading to the latest software release or the latest camera. If you upgrade a little at a time, it might add up to the same amount of money, but it doesn’t equal the same amount of pain. You spend a little here and a little there so you don’t have to do it all at once when things start breaking down.”

Make a commitment to using the technology

Any equipment you invest in won’t do you much good now or in the future if you don’t actually use it. There will be a learning curve, Culp says, but you can’t give up when things get difficult. You must be patient and understand this won’t be a perfect transition. When you run into problems (which you will), figure out what’s causing the issues and how you can work around them. That’s where customer support comes in; a good manufacturer will help you to problem solve so that you start reaping the benefits the technology offers as soon as possible.

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“It’s a big commitment to change from analogue to digital,” Culp says. “There’s really no bad equipment or software. It’s just commitment and a cultural change.”

Get team buy-in

If you want technology to change your practice for the better, you really need to have your team on board, Dr. Duplantis says.

“Staff can make or break you,” he says. “If you choose technology that’s not properly presented to your staff and your staff never gets on board with it entirely, it could end up being a huge failure in your practice. It’s important your staff understands why you’re bringing the technology into the office. That comes from proper training.”

Dr. Flucke agrees and says it’s important to get the team involved from the beginning. If your staff members think the investment is a good idea, they’ll be excited about the changes the technology brings rather than resistant to them. Even though it may be difficult at first, they’ll be more likely to stick with it. They’ll take ownership and actually want to use the technology, helping to drive its success.

Do your research

Before purchasing new technologies, take some time to research what’s available and decide what you want to offer in your practice. Talk to colleagues already using the equipment you’re interested in and find out what they like and don’t like about it. Ask them about their successes and failures and why they chose that specific product over another. Get as much information as you can and learn from their experience.

Social media, tradeshows and dental journals are other places you can turn to learn about the different products available, Dr. Duplantis says. He also suggests trying out technologies in your practice before making a large purchase. You want the technology to last, so it’s important to get this purchase right. 

“Don’t just settle on one,” he says. “Bring in a few different types of technologies and see how they work in your hands. What works for someone else might not work for you. You need to research the equipment’s capabilities and the type of results it’s producing.”

Technology that grows with your practice

Many dentists wait to invest in technologies that make a digital workflow possible because they’re afraid a newer, better version will come out as soon as they do. While there always will be newer models on the horizon whether you’re talking about scanners, mills, 3D printers or other various technologies, that shouldn’t keep you from reaping the many benefits a digital workflow provides. Think about the type of services you want to offer in the future, and then take the steps necessary to help get you there.

“My best advice would be to have a vision and to plan for the long-term,” Dr. Flucke says. “Try to think about what would interest you down the road.”