July/August 2006, Volume 2, Issue 6
Published by AEGIS Communications
Eight Tips for Evaluating Technology
Roger P. Levin, DDS
Dentistry has always been a technology-dependent profession. From x-ray machines to high-speed drills to management software, dentists have historically relied on technology and innovation to provide patient care. The challenge today is that new technologies are emerging rapidly and many come with a significant cost. That rate of change often makes it difficult to decide on which technologies to incorporate into the practice.
At Levin Group, the belief is that technology can bring significant efficiency to dental practices, but it must be the right technology. Selecting the wrong technologies can result in decreased production and profitability for practices. Technical innovations are not limited to high-ticket items such as software and equipment, but also include new products, materials, and supplies. Before investing in technology, practices should answer these eight questions:
1. Will the technology improve the quality of patient care?
Providing excellent patient care is the number one goal for dental practices. Any technology that helps dentists and their teams achieve this goal should be investigated thoroughly. Dental practices receive information on many new products and services (everything from expensive equipment to impression materials). Some products, although good products, may not be the right fit for your practice and patients.
2. Will the technology increase efficiency?
Anything that helps the team work faster should be considered. Boosting productivity and removing bottlenecks leads to increased profitability. When new products and services help the team work more efficiently, quality of care increases, stress is reduced, and team members become happier and more effective. Current technology can help dentists and team members increase practice efficiency by allowing them to complete more procedures in shorter periods of time. A historical example of how modern technology has increased practice productivity is the transition from a slow-speed handpiece to the high-speed handpiece. Simply think about the amount of time it used to take to prepare six teeth for crowns using a slow-speed handpiece. It is also important to evaluate technologies that allow assistants or front desk staff to perform their jobs faster. Whether it is improved sterilization or faster filing of dental insurance, these all add up to increasing the speed of the practice without rushing anyone on the team.
3. Will the technology reduce costs?
There are two ways a practice can increase profitability—increase production or cut costs. For example, finding a better product at a less expensive price will reduce overhead, or adding a new product may increase production. Because it can be difficult to evaluate the return of an investment on technology, we recommend (when possible) using a new product for a 90-day trial period before incorporating it permanently into the practice.
4. Will the technology generate new revenue?
Each new service adds an opportunity for boosting the average production per patient, which is one of Levin Group’s key statistics. The average production per patient should increase annually in a dental practice. One way to generate greater profitability without adding significantly more patients is to increase the number of services offered to patients. Think about how adding esthetic services has helped many practices boost revenue during the last decade. Successful incorporation of new services and products will lead to increased production and greater profitability.
5. Will the technology improve safety?
Safety is an investment that pays off in reduced accidents, decreased injuries, improved infection control, and less stress for the staff. Practices should look for opportunities to improve safety through innovation and technology. For example, a new, larger autoclave may work more efficiently and effectively than several older, smaller models.
6. Is the technology easy to use?
If a new technology is effective but difficult to use, then it is doubtful that the product will be successfully incorporated by the practice. However, dentists must realize that every new product has a learning curve. Adopting a new product or technology may result in some initial inefficiency as team members learn how to use it. Research is critical when making a significant practice investment. We advise dentists to read product reviews, seek feedback from colleagues who have purchased the technology, read product literature, speak with sales representatives, and visit the company’s Web site.
7. Will the technology provide a return on investment?
Look down the road 5 years. Will the technology last that long? What are the trends regarding the technology? If it is a substantial investment, such as digital radiography, how long will it take the practice to pay for the investment? By the time you make your last payment, will the technology be obsolete? What type of track record does the company have? Many technologies today are extremely expensive. In some cases, it is because the products are first-generation technologies and prices will eventually come down. In others, it is simply the cost of producing a large and complex technology. Regardless of the reason, the practice needs to evaluate the return on investment of any technology. One way to do this is to perform a historical analysis of practice procedures related to the technology. Based on that type of analysis, the practice can evaluate how many times additional fees can be charged to achieve a return on investment. If the product offers better quality but costs less, the practice benefits doubly by increasing patient care while simultaneously increasing profit margins.
8. Can the technology be integrated with current practice technologies?
It is difficult to change just one thing in your practice because, as in most workplaces, everything is interconnected. For example, if you decide to switch to a new adhesive, you need to see how it will work with the crowns and veneers you are currently placing. On a larger scale, if you are thinking about purchasing a digital radiograph system, you need to see if it is compatible with your current practice management software. Having systems that do not interact with each other creates inefficiencies. A well-integrated approach to technology is the best one to take when investing in new products, services, materials, and equipment.
Technology investments should improve the quality of patient care, increase efficiency, generate new revenue, reduce costs, or enhance the practice in some tangible way. Whether it is a large or small investment, technology should be evaluated thoroughly before practices make a purchase decision. These eight questions can help your practice make the correct decision.
|About the autor|
Roger P. Levin, DDS