Evolving your business systems into 2023 and beyond—Part 5

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In this last part of his article series, dental consultant Chris Barrow discusses how dental practices can stay relevant in a fast-changing world. (Image: gamavector/Shutterstock)

Thu. 7. December 2023

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Over the past months that Dental Tribune has published my article series, I have looked at financial systems, marketing systems, the patient experience, and leadership and management. In this last article, I will now reach a conclusion of our journey by looking at operational systems—how we run our businesses on a day-to-day basis, remain compliant and stay relevant in a changing world. To conclude my article series, I wanted to look not just at the present but into the future and try to make some predictions about what the world of dentistry will look like in the years ahead.

That is never an easy path to take. Which of the following three predictions turned out to be true?

  • “I think that there is a world market for about five computers.” —Thomas Watson, former IBM chairman, in 1940
  • “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”—Alan Turing in 1947
  • “There is no reason for anyone to have computers in their home.”—Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977

I would be willing to bet that most people would have considered Turing’s quote (at the time) to be the least likely to come true—and yet, here we are, discussing the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on every aspect of our lives. As for the other predictions—red faces all around.

My first prediction is an easy one, given the current landscape: that digital will dominate every aspect of dentistry. We are already seeing the impact of digital workflows on our everyday working lives, and I have taken to discussing with my clients what I call the “five revolutions” that are happening right now:

  • Revolution 1: the correct use of the intra-oral scanner in every aspect of patient communication;
  • Revolution 2: the role of the digital treatment coordinator;
  • Revolution 3: the role of the modern dental therapist in the UK;
  • Revolution 4: the use of off-site digital design and on-site 3D printing; and
  • Revolution 5: the use of AI-driven software in smile simulation for patients before they begin treatment.

All these are game-changers. Add them together and you occupy a different plane of existence from “ordinary” dental practices. A practice that embraces these five revolutions does not have to worry about recruitment, retention, new-patient acquisition, treatment plan conversion, or sales and profitability targets. The five revolutions put the joy back into the practice and business of dentistry.

Basic simulation software has been around for a few years now, but the latest generation of AI-based applications is moving oral health education up by an order of magnitude in terms of patient engagement and treatment plan acceptance. Astonishing and exciting!

My friend Dr Colin Campbell from the Campbell Clinic in Nottingham in the UK recently blogged that dental businesses are changing from dentists who use technology to IT companies with a specialisation in dentistry. It is that mindset change that will identify the leaders in a future that is happening now.

“The latest generation of AI-based applications is moving oral health education up by an order of magnitude in terms of patient engagement and treatment plan acceptance.”

My second prediction relates to team members. What of people in this changing world? What will the dental workforce of the future look like? Dental team members must be tech-savvy. The days when a long-serving team member (or clinician) resisted the advance of technology are now in the past. Everyone in the team has to move beyond beliefs like “I don’t do spreadsheets”, “I’m not very good with computers”, “All this new technology is beyond me” or—most dangerous of all—“We don’t need this; our patients will not want it” and “There’s nothing wrong with the way we have always done things.” If you hear that kind of language in your practice, it is a clear signal that you will have to change the person or change the person.

Whether in front of house, nursing, treatment coordination, marketing or administrative support, a future dental business will be driven by what has come to be known as a “tech stack”—the technology that is used to keep the business wheels turning. Even in today’s practice, the tech stack could include cloud-based:

  • document storage;
  • practice management software;
  • customer relationship management system for managing new enquiries;
  • back office project management;
  • collections and accounting;
  • private interteam online messaging;
  • laboratory design communication;
  • private patient communication;
  • smartphone app;
  • booking and chatbot;
  • intra-oral scanning and smile simulation;
  • CBCT scanning; and
  • compliance.

All these can be designed for multilocation businesses so that all team members can have access to group information and managers can work remotely. My prediction, therefore, is that the dental workforce of the future will be tech-savvy, specialising in dentistry and patient communication (particularly customer service excellence). It remains to be seen how long it will take for academia and training and development businesses to realise this—I rather suspect that it will be independent business owners that pave the way, by recruiting, training and mentoring their homegrown teams.

To keep the dental workforce of the future together, you will have to ensure that there are very good reasons for them to stay in dentistry and to stay with you. Consider these ten golden reasons:

  1. Money: We must accept the bottom line here, that the pay is going to be very important, and so it must be competitive. However, please make sure that you have done the numbers on production, pay, prices and profits to create a win–win.
  2. Team: Provide the very best support both in surgery and throughout the business.
  3. Culture: This must always be in the top three. Culture covers brand, vision, mission, values, goals—the difference that you want to make in the world. It is the unmissable experience of being a part of your business.
  4. Environment: These are the physical facilities you offer throughout your building(s).
  5. Technology: Innovation and early adoption are the key here—being able to confidently say that you are at the forefront in digital workflow.
  6. Marketing: You must be able to reassure your clinical team that your internal, inbound and external marketing systems will ensure full books and a constant supply of new patients.
  7. Patient experience: Your team needs to have the confidence that, from front of house to end-of-treatment review, you deliver a service that patients will review positively and share with others.
  8. Treatment coordination: Provide the support of talented treatment coordinators to smooth the patient transition to treatment and to maximise clinical productivity.
  9. Mentoring: Share your own experience and expertise with those around you and conduct regular peer review with your clinical team.
  10. Postgraduate training: Encourage (and perhaps even fund) further education.

Do you currently deliver on the ten? When a new clinician is applying for a job with you or if an existing team member tells you that they are considering a move, ask yourself whether you are supplying these ten golden reasons to work as part of your team and ask the team member whether the new opportunity that they are considering offers these ten golden ways to support them.

Thank you for staying with me throughout the article series. My hope is that I encouraged you to stop and think, to review what you have done in the past, what you are doing today and how you plan to evolve in the future.

This year is the 30th since my first business planning meeting with a dentist, and I am hugely grateful to a profession and a business that has given me a vocation, kept me busy and allowed me to make a good living and make the very best of friends along the way. In all these years, I have rarely been as excited as I am today about our collective opportunities in this great profession—we are innovating at pace and I am looking forward to participating in our bigger future.

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