Oral Health Group
Feature

Getting the most out of new technology

September 1, 2006
by Roger P. Levin, DDS


Before making a technology purchase, you need to do your homework. The more expensive the technology, the more preparation is required before making a purchase decision. Technology has the potential to transform your practice, but I have seen many practices make poor technology decisions that have a negative impact and lead to increased stress and decreased productivity.

One common misperception about technology is that it will by itself solve persistent practice challenges. If a practice has systemic problems, adding a new technology will often make those problems worse. As Microsoft founder Bill Gates has said, “. . . automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

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Let’s look at the problems encountered by one doctor when he made a major technology purchase without adequately preparing his practice . . .

Case Study

After much consideration, the doctor finally decided to take the technology plunge. He had been putting off making a major investment for years. It was always the wrong time. Suddenly, he decided it was the “right” time to purchase a digital imagery and software package. There was a lot of stress in his practice, and he thought the technology would make the team more efficient. The price tag for the technology was more than $50,000.

The dentist looked at the several sales brochures and packets, but the products all seemed about the same. He had talked to a few sales representatives, but one was particularly persistent. The doctor liked what he heard from this salesman. The technology “seemed” like it was the right fit for the practice, and the doctor wrote a cheque for the full price.

Immediately, the practice had problems. The digital imagery software — and the use of high-resolution digital images — overwhelmed the practice’s operating system, causing a major crash. For several weeks, the practice couldn’t bill patients or send in their insurance claims. The schedule had to be re-created by hand. Cash flow dribbled to a halt. Practice stress ratcheted up. The office manager ended up quitting in part due to the additional stress.

Due to the practice’s remote rural location, the software company said it would take several weeks to get a service person on-site. In the meantime, the practice was left to fend for itself. Eventually, most of the issues were resolved. But would you want to put your practice through such unnecessary stress?

What could the practice have done differently?

1) Multi-bid projects.

Don’t just talk to several sales representatives — get them to provide pricing for the technology you are requesting. Bids should be accompanied by an itemized list of what products and services will be provided by the company.

2)Ask questions.

The more it costs, the more questions you should ask. How long has the technology been available? What are other customers saying about the product? Can the sales representative provide the names of three satisfied customers who can vouch for the effectiveness of the technology?

3)Call references.

Talk to your colleagues who have purchased the technology. Are they happy with its performance? Did it meet expectations? Have they encountered any unforeseen problems? What was the level of support from the company once the technology had been purchased?

4)Have a contingency plan.

Implementing a new technology can be challenging. Often newer and older technologies have compatibility issues. Sometimes they are easily resolved. Sometimes not. What is the worst-case scenario? Could your current practice management software be down for days or weeks? What is the company’s level of support once the technology has been purchased? Make sure to get this in writing.

5)Never pay full price upfront.

Once you do, you lose any leverage if things go wrong. If there are problems with implementation or integration, withholding payment (or threatening to do so) usually ensures attention will be paid to any challenges you’re having with the technology.

6)Call your technical support providers.

If the technology will be traveling across the Web or internal network, talk to the network administrator and support people at your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Get their input on whether your current set-up will be able to support the new technology. Digital images take up a lot of memory and bandwidth. Can your current system handle an influx of graphic files? Find out before you take the plunge.

What else do you need to do?

Levin Group recommends developing a multi-year technology plan that maps out which technologies are right for your practice. A well-designed plan also helps you select the best products for your practice. Here are three steps to create a technology plan for your practice:

1.Develop a practice vision;

2.Determine current needs;

3.Assess future needs.

1.Develop a practice vision.

Developing a practice vision is a necessary first step for achieving long-term practice success. To be effective, your vision must be written down. After all, it is the guiding principle of the practice and will drive your decision-making regarding technology and every other facet of the practice.

Everything stems from the practice vision. A dentist who is focused mainly on need-based dentistry will have different technology needs than a dentist who wants to be the top cosmetic practice in the area.

2. Determine current needs.

Look at the systems currently in place in your practice — scheduling, collections, overhead, case presentation, and customer service, among others. Are there opportunities to improve quality of patient care, increase efficiency, reduce cost, or generate new revenue through the use of technology? Do you have practice management software? How old is that software? Does it automate patient billing? Does it allow you to track incomplete treatment and recare?

Case presentation, especially of elective services, can be challenging for many doctors and staff members, even those with excellent verbal skills. The saying “a picture is worth a 1,000 words” certainly holds true for case presentation. Seeing the results of cosmetic dentistry is much more compelling for patients than just hearing a description about veneers or implants. Many practices use before-and-after visuals. Another effective tool is case presentation software that has clear treatment imaging. This can be very persuasive to those patients who are still “on the fence” about the recommended treatment. Examine your current systems to determine your strengths and deficiencies. Seek feedback and suggestions from staff members on how to improve the practice through technology.

3.Assess future needs.

Where is your practice now and where do you want to take it? Your vision fuels your technology needs now and in the future. If your goal is to generate more than 50 percent of practice production from esthetic dentistry five years from now, you need to make investments in technological products supporting that decision. Such technologies may include digital radiography, cosmetic imaging, and case presentation software. By having a technology plan, dentists are better able to make the technology choices that support the practice vision. Once technology is aligned with the practice’s long-term goals, the dentist is one step closer to achieving his or her vision.

How to evaluate technology?

A good technology plan lays the groundwork for purchasing the right technology for the dental practice. Practices should evaluate technology by looking at these factors:

1.Integration

2.Improvement

3.Return on Investment

1.Integration.

Before purchasing technology, make a list of specific technology needs and requirements. Research those prospective technologies. Most manufacturers and vendors have websites loaded with product information. Talk to staff members and colleagues about their experience
s with different technologies. By carefully planning, you can reduce your chances of failed technology integration.

2.Improvement.

Technology should enhance your practice in some tangible way. It should improve quality of patient care, increase efficiency, reduce costs, or generate new revenue. If it does not improve the practice, then the question is — why should I purchase this technology? To help practices better evaluate technology, here are some questions that you should ask before making a purchase:

* Will this technology improve patient care?

* Will it increase case acceptance?

* Is it essential to providing a new service?

* Will this technology make it easier for staff members to do their jobs?

* Is it easy to implement?

* Will it improve training of new staff members?

* What are the hidden costs of this technology over time?

* How will it affect other practice systems?

* How long has this technology been on the market?

* What is the reputation of the manufacturer?

* What fees can I charge to patients based on the technology being used?

There questions and others will help you decide on the right technology purchase for your practices. Remember, it is always best to ask questions and raise concerns before making a purchase rather than afterwards.

3.Return on investment.

Many technologies significantly add to overhead and therefore need to provide a commensurate return on investment. Levin Group recommends that before purchasing new technologies you should take at least 90 days and evaluate how often you would use the new technology and at what cost. For example, purchasing a laptop for the doctor might not make sense if the practice only has one location. On the other hand, for high-tech practices, placing computers in every operatory may be a good investment because they would increase staff efficiency, increase case acceptance and reduce unnecessary work.

Summary

The goal of technology is to improve your practice. Developing a technology plan will help you make the right decisions when it comes to selecting and purchasing technology. Any associated cost of the technology should be measured against its return on investment.

Roger P. Levin, DDS is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental practice management consulting firm. Since the company’s inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry.