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What kind of technology should you buy for the practice? What do you really need? What would be truly useful and what can you do without? Especially with the pace of change in dental technology today, when there seems to be a hot new technology being heavily promoted every few months, these are legitimate concerns for every dentist.

In fact, it came up just recently here when I wrote about my recent class reunion and mentioned how much the technology in our lives had changed since those of us in that group were school kids in Kenya, and how dentistry today has also been transformed in the digital age. A couple of readers pointed out, quite rightly, that even though the profession has seen some incredible advances, dentists need to be careful about deciding which technologies to embrace.

I agree. I am, generally speaking, a supporter of technology in the dental practice. But it has to be the right technology, at the right time - and it has to be right for the individual dentist and practice. Naturally, I'm not qualified to give advice on the clinical worthiness of any particular technology purchase, but there are certain universal criteria that should be used when considering any significant addition. So when dentists approach me with a "Should I or shouldn't I?" question about a new acquisition, I suggest that they ask themselves these three key questions.

  1. Is it in the best interests of the patient? A strong ethic for high-quality patient care is what drives every truly successful practice, so these criteria should always be uppermost in your mind. Will this purchase allow you to raise the level of excellence in the care you provide? And here I am not talking about just clinical excellence, but also excellence in the experience you provide, which is so important now, at a time when patients must also be seen as clients and as savvy consumers. Of course, almost all technologies you are presented with will offer at least some patient benefit. You have to decide if it is a great enough benefit.
  2. Will it help the practice grow? This is the next question to ask yourself, once you have decided there is a real patient benefit. Many technologies are attractive to consider, but any significant investment has to make sense from an economic and practice-growth perspective. Therefore, you also must consider return-on-investment. This sounds obvious, especially with a technology such as digital radiography, which gives you a precise break-even number to work with. The return on something such as your management software system may be harder to pin down, but the economic benefits are real and should be factored in to your deliberations. And a technology such as CEREC, which has the real potential to boost productivity and attract new patients, needs to be evaluated with that growth potential in mind.
  3. Does it fuel my passion for the profession? I used to drive a beat-up Gremlin, when I was young and money was tight. I don't anymore. It's true that the car I have now is much more than I need to get from Point A to Point B, but it adds value to my life. It gives me enjoyment to drive it and I have never regretted spending the money on it.

My point is, dentistry is not just your job, it should be your passion and you should get fulfillment and enjoyment from it. So don't discount this factor when making technology choices. Can you still perform quality dentistry in 20-year-old chairs? Sure. But if performing that dentistry each day on patients who are reclining in state-of-the art chairs amplifies your value and makes it a better experience for you (and for them) why not do it?

The same goes for any addition to the practice. It may be true that a certain purchase you have had your eye on is a "want" more than a real "need." But as long as it satisfies the first two criteria on this list of questions, making that "want" a reality can help keep your passion for the profession alive. And it's hard to put a price on that.

Of course, you still can't say yes to everything, and there are a number of "sub-criteria" that fall into these categories that you must take into account, things such as:

  • What is your overhead right now?
  • What is the projected ROI on this investment?
  • Can it be successfully integrated into the current technology you are using?
  • Are the immediate benefits enough to provide the economic momentum you need to offset the initial cost?

The details of these considerations are beyond the scope of this article, but the framework provided by those first three questions should be enough to get your thinking on the right track.

In the end, technology can do incredible things to boost your practice performance. But any additions you make should be done within the context of a specific purpose and should support your passion.

(Click the link to read more dental practice management articles by Imtiaz Manji.)