dental staff using technology

If you are of a certain age you will remember when researching information meant making a trip to the library. Today, you ask your smartphone — and get frustrated if you don’t get the right answer within seconds. The same goes for shopping. Things we used to head to the mall to find, we now buy with a few taps on a screen. People are buying clothes and even TVs while they are sitting in a coffee shop or in your waiting area. They’re making decisions — and acting on them — in the now with modern technology.

Why should this matter to you as a dentist? Because as I often say, a patient is a patient when their mouth is open. Otherwise they are a client, which means that when they are making decisions, they are driven by many of the same impulses as any other consumer.

And just look at how retailers are responding to this new reality. In today’s world, for anyone who serves people, agility is the watchword.  Amazon is looking at expanding the number of places where it can offer same-day shipping. Zappos lets you return as many pairs of shoes as you like, hassle-free, so you can try on styles to your heart’s content. Trips to the local video store have been replaced by instant downloads. You can get the newest book from your favorite author delivered to your tablet in seconds. Easier, faster, more responsive — with today’s technology, that’s what wins.

Of course some businesses still require face-to-face visits, and dentistry is certainly one of them, at least until someone finds a way to develop a dental care app. But that doesn’t mean there are not lessons we can learn about competing in this evolving consumer landscape.

For starters, you can look into more flexible and strategic scheduling than the traditional “fill the appointment book as they come” approach, so you can get important cases in the chair as soon as possible after the yes. You can communicate with patients by text message, where you are most likely to get timely responses. You can delegate more duties to the team to streamline your processes and free up more clinical time for yourself. At the higher end of the scale, you can invest in dental technology such as CEREC, which opens up  a whole new level of dentistry that is really designed for attracting patients with “in the now” opportunities.

Even as dental technology and procedures have advanced, the dental practice experience has followed essentially the same business model for generations now — the same scheduling protocols, the same wait times for treatment, the same recall system with the same reminder cards and ignored phone messages. Meanwhile, the patient’s world has been changing rapidly, with greater and greater speed and efficiency all around them.

So, no, you can’t replace a crown by Skype. But you can replace stale protocols and procedures. You can look at what is driving innovation in the world around you and find the best ways to apply those advances to the way you practice and to the experience you deliver. You can do your best to engage with patients in the now.

(For more articles by Imtiaz Manji, click here.)