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The three most underused technologies in your practice

Dental Products ReportDental Products Report-2015-04-01
Issue 4

Technology is a great investment for your practice as long as you use it. Using it, however, sometimes proves to be a tougher prospect than one would think. Too many times today’s excellent investment becomes tomorrow’s dusty clutter in the corner.

Technology is a great investment for your practice as long as you use it. Using it, however, sometimes proves to be a tougher prospect than one would think. Too many times today’s excellent investment becomes tomorrow’s dusty clutter in the corner.

Technology experts in the dental industry see this happen time and again in working with clinicians from all different types of practices. Dr. Lorne Lavine, DMD, and founder of The Digital Dentist, explained:

“We have a ton of offices that we worked with over the years. They have, and I use the term very loosely, invested in technology,” he said.  “They bought it but it ended up being a coat hanger. We see that way too many times. It’s not because those dentists are not intelligent. It’s not because they can’t figure the technology out. It’s because they didn’t think it through enough in the beginning, and it became a burden.”

John Cox, vice president of technology sales for Henry Schein Dental, also agrees that technology could be used more effectively. He sees the problem stemming from the pain of change.

“What’s wrapped around technology is change. The challenge for a practice is any time they adopt new technology, they have to change the way they do things. They have to change the way they deliver a procedure or a clinical workflow in the practice. Change is never easy. The practice leader, the dentist, has to manage that change with their dental team and staff,” he said.

Jenny Allen, regional technology advisor at Patterson Dental, agrees change is difficult, and the pain of learning a new one can get in the way of optimal usage of a technology. She said most offices are barely skimming the surface of what their software can do because they didn’t train enough. She said she believes “you can’t learn something if you are not aware of what it can do.” Her advice to overcome this challenge is to keep trying.

“You’ve got to use it,” she said. “Practices get a new piece of technology implemented, and they try it, but they don’t love it. Maybe they don’t really know how to use it entirely, so they don’t use it. So continue to use it so you continue to learn about it. Continue to ask questions about it so you continue to evolve as an office,” she said.

The three most underused technologies, according to our experts

Whatever the reason the technology isn’t getting used, three innovations in the last decade are routinely underutilized by most practices. According to our experts, these include practice management software, intraoral cameras and digital impressions. 

Practice management software

Cox asserts that most practices don’t use all the functions of their practice management software effectively. He estimates that most clinicians use 10 to 20 percent of what their software can do. They miss the benefit of much of the data they have at their fingertips that would improve practice efficiencies and reduce the chair time per patient. As a result, some of the patients and treatments fall away from the practice. The key to overcoming this is to use the reports practice management software provides.

“You have to be more productive. The only way you can be more productive is either to increase your hours-which a lot of dentists aren’t signing up for that-or to be able to deliver that same treatment in a shorter amount of time without compromising quality. The only way to do that is to use some of the technologies,” he said. 

Related reading: Why dental practices need annual practice management software training

Dr. Lavine agrees most practices don’t maximize the potential for their practice management software.

“The typical practice uses it as a fancy version of QuickBooks. They use it for scheduling. They use it for treatment planning, running monthly reports, billing…that’s basically it. They are using five to 10 percent of what the software can do. This is always due to a lack of training,” he said.

Allen said that training options have changed for most practices. Patterson has a robust online training program for its Eaglesoft practice management software. These online options were designed to give dental professionals the flexibility to learn in a way that works best for them, even if that’s at home on the couch in their free time. What’s important, she said, is to take the time to learn it well.

“If they don’t invest that time to learn it, it’s not going to improve their practice,” Allen said. 

Related reading: Emerging trends in practice management software solutions for dental practices

Intraoral cameras

Dr. Lavine said he believes clinicians overlook the benefits an intraoral camera can provide to the practice. Popular in the ’90s and early 2000s, he explains they have fallen out of favor, even though there is no technology out there with a quicker return on investment. He said he believes they are critical to helping patients understand their treatment plans.

“Patients don’t understand what we are saying. When the camera image is on an 19- or 22-inch monitor, and it’s right in front of their face, they can see the big black spot on it. Now we’ve involved the patient in the process. Now they understand it. Now they can see the things that we see. They can see cracks. They can see bleeding points. They can see calculus. They can see what we see, so they are going to be far more accepting of our treatment plans,” Dr. Lavine said. “We have never found an office that had a decline in treatment plan acceptance once they use the intraoral camera.”

Related reading: Top 3 ways to maximize your intraoral camera

Cox agrees that with as much penetration as they see with the Digital Doc and SoproCARE intraoral cameras Schein delivers to dentists, they are not used as they should be. They should be used on every patient to facilitate better understanding of treatment plans for patients.

“Any patient is a visual learner. Educate and inform them about what’s going on in the oral cavity. There’s nothing better for that patient education than the intraoral camera,” Cox explained. 

Digital impressions

Cox thinks digital impressions are a technology with many patient and practice management benefits that are never realized because they aren’t used enough. The patient benefit by eliminating trays is incredible. Also, digital impressions eliminate some of the errors associated with conventional impressions, a great benefit to patients and clinicians alike. In addition, the capturing of a digital record stored in the cloud that can communicate to the lab faster and at a higher level improves efficiencies.

“Digital impressions allow the lab almost to be in the practice. They have a vision of what dentists are doing. They see the information immediately. It gives the lab greater visibility into the practice,” he said. “It’s a technology just emerging that’s very exciting for both the dentists and the labs today.”

Related reading: Navigating digital impressions and CAD/CAM in the real world

Technology is always evolving, and that is true for digital impressions as well. The 3Shape digital impression line is continually adding new features designed to integrate into the patient record. Moving forward, Cox sees a future where a three-dimensional dental record will integrate with practice management software, like those available on the ProMax® 3D Plus product line by PLANMECA®.

“As technology continues to evolve, I think you are going to see technology captured in the practice management software, an integrated 3D patient record, utilized for diagnostics or patient communication. To integrate this into a 3D software is going to be very important moving forward,” he said.

Allen encounters the same kind of thinking about her CAD/CAM digital impressioning products.

“I think many doctors have a belief that CAD/CAM technology is clinically inferior or that it’s one size fits all. The reality is that CEREC restorations are clinically superior and the technology has evolved dramatically. We have many solutions, each tailored to best fit the needs of the individual practice,” she explained.

Related reading: CAD/CAM: Having it all ... your way

So, how do we use these technologies better? 

Technology is always changing. However, one thing that isn’t changing is its presence in the dental practice. Dr. Lavine agrees that moving forward technology is the key to the office and managing a practice.

“Technology is critical. We are continuing to see a shift toward high tech offices. I don’t see that going down anytime in the next little while,” he said.

Dr. Lavine founded his technology consulting business for dental professionals to help his clients navigate the ever-changing technology landscape. He works with practices falling into three general categories. The new builds out of dental schools ready to adopt technology, those dentists in the middle of their careers needing a major overhaul to outdated technology and dentists late in their career that don’t use technology but need to adopt it to be more attractive when they sell the practice. He recommends the following advice to all these types of practices.

“We certainly recommend to an office, no matter what system we are talking about, to bring a trainer in once or twice a year for a lunch and learn. Sit down and see if there are ways they can be more efficient or if there are features you are not aware of that can be more efficient. Constantly keep up with the training, and you won’t run into the issues we might see,” he said.

Trending article: 7 ways to cross train your dental team

 Allen touts the importance of using all the training resources available to get the most out of your technology, from in-office training to webinars and training videos. She also says to have realistic expectations of what technology can do.

“When I do Schick 33 Digital X-Rays training to offices, I say, ‘I am going to show you how to use tools that enhance a good image. These software tools are not going to fix a bad X-ray.’  We have to have that foundation in place. We have to start with a good X-ray,” she said.

Cox had a different take on using technology better. He explains his three keys to incorporating new technology into your practice.

“So the keys are choosing a great partner, understanding what technologies are right and having a plan to implement the technology. If clinicians do that, I think they are going to be successful and not buy technology they are not going to use. The clinicians will only buy the products that make sense but will also have a partner that helps them implement it at the highest level. Then the revenue and the success of the practice take care of itself.

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