Maximizing Your Return on High-tech Investments

Educated patients have a greater understanding of the skill, training and experience it takes to achieve excellence in dentistry. They know there is a difference in the quality of the crown itself. More important, however, is how the doctor applies his expertise and skill to produce excellent restorations. Unfortunate, but true, low IQ patients think they are buying a crown and overlook the skill required to make it fit properly.


Patients with low dental IQs tend to view dentistry as a commodity. Since they can’t ascertain differences in quality and service, they buy the least expensive solution. Their rationale is “a crown is a crown is a crown.”


The methodology many doctors use to buy high technology is very similar to the uninformed patient’s approach. Those doctors who educate themselves about the best way to buy and implement technology achieve better results. Their productivity, income and satisfaction are higher. Their storage closet for mistakes is surprisingly bare, rather than being laden with failures.


I’d like to present a new decision model that reduces failures and virtually guarantees higher performance of technology in the dental office. Doctors who incorporate this decision process will see their practice income and productivity skyrocket.


The most prevalent purchase decision models doctors currently use revolve around the product. Examples include:


In search of excellence:

“Which is the best product?”


Safety in numbers:

“Which products are my friends happiest with?”


Risk aversion:

“Since all products look the same to me, shouldn’t I buy the cheapest one?”


Striving for enlightenment:

“Which product makes the most sense for me and my practice?”


Attaining enlightenment:

“Which produce makes the most sense for me, my staff, and my practice?”


l Analysis paralysis:

“I need to know everything about every product and feel totally comfortable

before I make a decision.”


These decision models are flawed because they revolve around the product without considering the people using them. Imagine the failure resulting from an unskilled provider who preps a tooth, uses the finest lab, and then seats the crown. The lab alone does not determine the outcome of the case. The model for restorative success is a triangle consisting of the operator’s skill level, the lab, and the environment (the patient’s condition). Similarly, the model for high-tech success is a triangle consisting of the technology, the level of skill the operator has, and the environment (existing systems and office procedures that need to be integrated into the technology).


Doctors who allocate sufficient time and money for honing staff members’ skill and modifying existing systems to fit with new technologies achieve higher levels of success and minimize their risk of failure.

Training: The forgotten expense

I recommend spending 30% to 50% of the cost of the technology on continuing education and re-engineering the practice. For example, if you purchase a $10,000 technology product, you should budget an additional $3,000 - $5,000 on staff development and re-engineering, which brings the total investment to $13,000 to $15,000.


While the initial investment may be higher than planned, the return on investment will also be higher. Many vendors are answering the call to educate doctors and staffs to maximize their clients’ return on investment in their technology products.


“Without any training, the office will only be able to use 40% to 50% of the system’s capabilities. After completing a level three course, most offices use 80% to 90% of the systems capabilities, notes Charles Dermott, president of Professional Software Solutions, Inc., makers of the SoftDent dental management system.


This means that the return on investment for the office with a low technology IQ will be about half that of the office that has been well trained. Furthermore, doctors who do not invest in staff development are ripe for becoming high-tech product victims who inexplicably don’t enjoy the benefits of their high-tech investments.


Seminar-based training is an ideal way to educate large numbers of dentists. Some companies are using high-profile management and technology consultants in their seminars to help better educate doctors.


These types of seminars can be of great benefit to system users, but doctors and their staffs must make their ongoing commitment to expand their knowledge of dental office technology to reap the full benefits of their investments.


The Productivity Paradox

The entire world of high-tech consumers, not just doctors, invests billions of dollars each year with the anticipation of achieving better results and greater efficiency. Often, however, the promise of increased productivity goes unfulfilled. This phenomenon is so common that researchers have labeled it the “productivity paradox.” Extensive research in this area has documented the absence of productivity gains in these cases.

Several theories exist concerning the causes of the productivity paradox. For dentistry, I believe the two relevant causes are under-skilled operators and the need to re-engineer management systems and facilities.


The need to re-engineer dental offices is not as important as training skilled operators and revamping management systems. Doctors are demanding more implementation support from vendors and consultants to realize the benefits of technology.


Vendors are responding by offering more ongoing, quality-oriented training. As you focus your business plans, now is the time to re-evaluate your continuing education plans. Analyze the relative benefit of taking a clinical course versus the relative benefit of taking a technology course. For example, if you already know 80% of what a clinical course covers, the maximum benefit you can derive is 20%. With a technology course, if you only know 20% of what the course offers, the maximum benefit is 80%.


There is no doubt that learning how best to use technology creates more stress and challenges because there is so much to learn. There is also no doubt that the knowledge you gain in technology courses goes a long way to improving the practice.


The decision model that offers the greatest return on investment can best be characterized by a high-tech success triangle that focuses 60% on the “operator skills,” 20% on “environment,” and 20% on “technology.” Doctors who concentrate their energies and resources in these proportions will produce technology outcomes that turn frowns and wrinkled foreheads into beaming smiles.