Rise of the Dental Machines?

by Shawn Peers, DentalPeers

Many markets across Canada are experiencing a serious shortage in qualified team members across all positions. Whether you are looking for a dental assistant, hygienist or admin team member, gone are the days of having multiple candidates to choose from.

For many offices, the result of this shortage has been higher wages (the laws of supply and demand) and higher rates of staff turnover. This makes it harder to create the ideal patient experience as offices struggle with both costs and consistency of service delivery when they are short staffed.

Obviously, making your office the place everyone wants to work can certainly help. Money is not always the greatest motivating factor. Career development, flexible work conditions and a positive work environment go a long way to keeping a team together. But when we are talking about 20% wage increases that becomes hard for some to ignore, no matter how positive the environment may be.

For some, technology may help provide the solution for dentists struggling with staffing. We have seen fast food restaurants and grocery stores reduce labour costs by implementing new technology. So why not the dental office?

Self-check-in kiosks are starting to become the norm. They can come complete with the ability to fill out medical history forms and updates that will go directly to your digital PMS – much more efficient than trying to transcribe or scan paper forms filled out from a clipboard.

Remote calendar services can allow patients to control their schedules by remoting into your calendar to book an appointment. Perhaps there are some negatives to the loss of control this might entail. Proper planning as to how you can use this technology effectively will have to be considered.

However, each of these technologies can help alleviate the stress on an office that is struggling with staff shortages. And the developments will not stop there.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is being developed that will dramatically assist and improve the diagnostic abilities of the dentist. Furthermore, it may soon be capable of reviewing patient records, determining which patients are overdue for an appointment, diagnosing conditions that have not been treated, and dealing with your insurance and accounting systems.

Sure, your PMS can produce these reports for you when you run them. However, you have to run them, review them and interpret them before you decide how to act on that information. Many offices find themselves “too busy” to follow these vital steps. AI could do much of that for you, leaving you only to decide what to do.

There is a negative to over-reliance upon such emerging technology: The loss of the human connection in the office. As AI grows, one wonders: Will personal intelligence suffer?

But the reality is the machines are coming and you should have a plan for how to adapt and incorporate them into your practice. As this technology becomes more affordable, it may help fill the void of staff shortages. In time, it may take on some of the business tasks many dentists despise and for which they turn to the DSO world to avoid.

Could AI help the dentist who wants to remain private continue to be competitive? Who knows.

Just remember: it is a world that is rapidly evolving and you will start to see more and more evidence of this in dental offices very soon. So think about how you might use it to your benefit before you either dive in without a plan or find yourself scrambling to catch up.