The Evolving Digital Practice

by Karl Schmidt, Vice President, Business Development Cleardent and Director of Market Research, DIAC

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Dentistry has evolved dramatically for decades due to computers, telecommunications, and various digital equipment interconnection. The days of one-write systems, film-based X-rays, and even fileservers and backup drives will soon be relics of the past.

The term Digital Transformation encapsulates the ongoing migration from analog to digital systems. It is best defined as using digital technologies to create new – or modify existing – business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation. The IDC estimates that digital transformation investments will increase to more than 53% of combined information and communications technologies by 2023, up from 36% today. The most significant increase will be in data intelligence and analytics.

The key to understanding the implications of digital transformation is knowing that by changing one aspect of the practice, nearly every business process that the office relies on to operate can be affected. Some beneficial outcomes include centralized and on-demand analytics reporting, increased visibility of multi-location data, enhanced patient engagement, data-driven patient insights, improved patient experience, tighter resource management, improved collaboration, agility, productivity, and increased profits, to name just a few.

It should also be understood that digital transformation is an ongoing and evolving process as the underlying technologies that support the functions such as Big data, AI (Artificial Intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things), and cloud computing continue to advance and converge.

From a more practical perspective, today and in the near term, many examples of new digital services are being deployed now, and even more are on the horizon. Here are just a few areas of dentistry that have and will continue to evolve through digital transformation.

Teledentistry: Teledentistry rose in popularity during the pandemic when both patients and practices were unwilling or unable to schedule dental appointments. Advancements in telecommunications, software, and audio/video technology have given dentists the ability to meet their patients in a virtual environment, allowing them to provide dental education, evaluate conditions, prescribe medication, and engage in pre- and post-operation appointments.

Marketing: Few industries have digitized as rapidly as marketing in recent years, which has grown more in the last five years, than the previous fifty. Marketing used to be similar to cold calling, in that companies would send out messages in hopes that the right person sees them. In today’s world, the power is with the consumers who make informed decisions using search engines, company websites, social media and online reviews, which they trust as much as personal recommendations. Therefore, not only does a practice need a secure and mobile-friendly website as the new “front door” of the office, but it also needs to consider its search engine ranking, online reputation, social media presence, position as a thought leader, and digital advertising techniques. These categories are typically referred to as the ”Marketing Stack” and, if implemented well, can increase service demand as well as improve patient acquisition and retention. Since everything is digital, tools are readily available to help practices better understand how to attract new patients. A well-planned and executed digital marketing strategy is essential to any new practice.

Practice Analytics: Dentists need better decision-making tools to improve services, referrals, and the overall patient experience. A majority of practices today use practice management software to help run their practice, while others have data analysis tools that are now available to provide insights into many aspects of the practice, including reasons for appointment no-shows or cancellations, patient complaints, the popularity of individual providers, frequency of patient issues, patient referral types, and which referral engagement is the most and least effective. As software solutions continue to evolve, an ever-increasing number of solutions will be available to support decision-making based on how key performance indicators (KPIs) are being achieved while validating what areas of the services and processes impact outcomes positively and negatively.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Instead of searching for ways to work harder, dentistry will begin to look for ways to work smarter. With applied AI, dentists will soon be able to develop insights and improve productivity. Machine learning is a subset of AI, and there are already solutions available to the market that can provide automated interpretation of digital x-rays, including 2D and 3D scans. Machine Learning algorithms provide a “second opinion” in diagnosing tooth decay or predicting whether a tooth should be extracted, retained, or have restorative treatment. AI can also go back in time to find potential missed treatments, paving the way for connecting with patients to complete missed procedures. AI won’t stop there; there will soon be a time when it will automate mundane administrative tasks to provide greater efficiencies. In due course, AI is poised to create a significant win-win for dentists and patients. An excellent article on the Evolution of AI in Dental Practice Management Software can be found here.

Practice Management Software: The heart of a practice’s digital ecosystem is the dental practice management software, and companies are rapidly advancing their offerings to take advantage of cloud computing. Most Canadian dental practices use traditional on-premise software utilizing the servers and computer networks within the practice. That’s set to change as software providers actively deploy full-cloud solutions that will ultimately reduce the IT infrastructure costs while opening many new features and solutions that were impossible with on-premise software. Features such as online booking, text-to-pay billing, automated recall, centralized reporting and analytics for multi-site environments, and the combined features of AI are just the start of new features and benefits to the patient and practice. Full cloud computing will provide a runway for software companies, service providers and digital equipment manufacturers to connect via Application Programming Interfaces (API), paving the way for a more robust, streamlined workflow which will inevitably positively impact the profitability of the practice.

Digital Transformation has and will continually be a significant factor in the decision-making process as the industry looks to automate further and create a superior patient experience. The investments that solo, group practices and DSOs make will be significant in the coming years, and careful budgeting, planning and execution will be critical to success. Selecting vendors with experience in the Canadian market is well-advised as privacy issues, compliance, and experience are always a good idea. It is no secret that Canada may be in for a lengthy recession, so prudent choices in selecting technologies that do what they claim to do is sound advice.

The good news is that the Canadian government has launched the Canadian Digital Adoption Program to support Canadian small to medium size enterprises. The program includes a $15,000 grant that covers up to 90% of the consultation costs of a digital advisor, up to $100,000 interest-free loan to cover the cost of implementing the digital adoption plan, and finally, a $7,300 youth wage subsidy to hire a role to support your digital transformation. Information regarding the program can be found at these resources: https://cdap-advisor.com/ and https://ised-isde.canada.ca/site/canada-digital-adoption-program/en?open 


About the Author

Karl Schmidt, Vice President, Business Development Cleardent and Director of Market Research, DIAC. His experience in the dental industry spans nearly 30 years. He has been involved in several start-ups and has had leadership positions with the largest distributors in Canada. Karl is part of the executive team of ClearDent as Vice President of Business Development, one of Canada’s fastest-growing integrated software platforms. He is also a long-standing member of the Market Research and Data Committee for the Dental Industry Association of Canada (DIAC). kschmidt@cleardent.com


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