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Key Considerations When Investing in New Technology

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A new piece of equipment, complete with all the bells and whistles, may seem like a great addition to your dental practice. But patients are not as discerning. Unless you like the challenge of working with new equipment and are equally comfortable presenting these new, and likely more expensive, procedures to patients, you might want to think twice before making the investment.

Technology, digital intraoral scanner, 3-D cone beam imaging, investing, equipment, revenue, differentiate

There is something to be said for the excitement or “newness” that comes with an equipment purchase.

Did you treat yourself to the items on your holiday wish list? Perhaps a new digital intraoral scanner? Or maybe a 3-D cone beam imaging system?

Not unlike children on Christmas morning, unwrapping a new piece of technology for your practice is exciting, heightened by all the ways you might use this new tool. But investing in technology without a plan, just for the sake of having something shiny and new, can be counterproductive. And in the end, all you have to show is a large dust collector.

Dawn Renner, CPA, MBA, a member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants and owner of the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Management Accounting Group, Ltd., cautions against investments in new technology thinking they’re an instant revenue generator.

“If [dentists] think buying a cone beam is going to automatically increase their productivity and bottom line, patients don’t differentiate,” says Renner. “Patients don’t say, ‘I’m only going to an office that has a cone beam.’ They’re not that astute.”

DENTIST AS SALESPERSON

Renner believes it’s incumbent on the dentist to help his or her patient understand the benefits of a procedure using a particular piece of equipment, as well as the need for the service that equipment provides. And every dentist has a different set of sales skills and a different ability level when it comes to posing cases.

Plus, it’s likely procedures done with new technology will cost more. Are you comfortable presenting a service to a patient that carries a larger fee? And are you willing to spend the time and effort to get your staff on board with the new technology?

“If dentists are hesitant in charging their patients increased fees, then adding something that’s going to allow them to present more services but with increased fees is counterproductive,” Renner says. “It’s not a magic bullet.”

But there is something to be said for the excitement or “newness” that comes with an equipment purchase. Renner likens it to buying a new pair of jeans, albeit on a much larger scale. Clothing can be serviceable for a long time, but isn’t it nice to treat yourself to something new every now and then, and add enjoyment to your life?

“That may seem trite with an office,” she admits. “But when you spend all of your time there, doing business every day, a new procedure or some new ability to perform the same old procedure in a more enjoyable way is worth the investment for the mindset.”

CONVEYING THE MESSAGE

Do dentists need to become adept marketers where new technology is concerned? Renner says a lot depends on the dentist and his or her patient base. For example, patients of any healthcare provider tend to put a lot of trust in that provider to provide the most beneficial service.

“When we get a colonoscopy, we as patients don’t really care if the equipment is two-years or 10-years old,” Renner says. “You just need it done. And the patient puts his or her trust in the provider.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that new technology shouldn’t find its way into the dentist-patient conversation. In discussing a procedure, a dentist might want to remind the patient that a specific piece of equipment sets them apart — differentiates them — from other dentists.

“Particularly if they’re in a very competitive market,” Renner says. “But like anything diagnostic that you present to your patients, you have to tailor it to your comfort level and the patient base you’re delivering it to.”

What technology should you invest in? Renner says there isn’t one particular item that’s a “must have” for every dental practice — especially if you’re perhaps five years from retiring or bringing in an associate to eventually buy out the practice. That new associate might be used to a specific brand or system from training in dental school.

Additionally, Renner says, the technology isn’t likely to be a deal breaker where the purchase of a practice is concerned.

“Associates are buying a stream of income,” Renner says. “If this new technology is going to bring in more income, fine. But they’re really not buying hard assets.”

LEASE OR PURCHASE?

Renner doesn’t see leasing new equipment as a viable option. She explains that much of the new technology today has a software component. And once you bring home the software and open the package, it’s yours. That same type of return or exchange policy doesn’t exist.

Also, Renner advises her clients not to pay for equipment up front.

“Many times you may not get as good service from the supplier,” she says. “If they’re still waiting for the money, you might get their attention a little easier.”

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