Three cheers for dental technology

How to Be an Effective Advocate for Office Technology

Almost every hygienist probably has a secret wish list of technologies or practices she or he wishes their office would implement. Whether you dream of digital X-rays, better clinical software, or better patient education options, your fellow team members probably have their own wish lists as well. But many dental team members often hold back on sharing these wishes with the dentist or others in the practice out of hesitation that it isn't their place to ask.

However, the truth is, it is your place to ask. You were hired for your knowledge and skills, and advocating for new tools helps you and your fellow team members advance both. In my years as a trainer for Eaglesoft practice management software, a Patterson Technology, I often worked with practices where staff members had long assumed the doctor was not interested in investing in new technology, only to find this was not the case.

Many dentists are simply focused so much on patient care and the day-to-day operations of running their practices that they don't have the time or energy to investigate new options. Alternately, other dentists are perhaps interested in implementing new tools, but are worried about disrupting their teams. In either case, it often takes a proactive member of the dental team to research the options and broach the subject with the decision-makers. If that team member is you, here are some tips to help increase your odds of success:

1. Know Your Dentist

If you work for a dentist who has a history of embracing change, you probably have an easier road ahead of you. In these situations, one good approach is to do preliminary research on the new technology, collect a few articles or brochures, and have an educated conversation with the dentist. By saying something like "I've been reading about this technology and I think it could benefit our patients because of X, Y, and Z. I'd be happy to spearhead the effort," you can show the dentist that you're not only informed, but you've already thought through the impacts on patient care, and you're ready to take on new responsibilities regarding implementing the new software. After leaving the dentist with the information you collected, you can follow up later to see if he or she is ready to take the next step.

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When the dentist is reluctant to change, it can sometimes be more effective to perform these steps in reverse. Start with a few simple questions such as: "I'm interested in going paperless; what would you think if I did some more research on that?" This gives the dentist an opportunity to think about your idea, and he or she is not obligated to do anything by simply giving you the go-ahead to look into it further.

2. Rally Your Team Members

In many dental offices, there are usually one or two staff members who are cynical about new technology. Perhaps these people have been around long enough that they can do their jobs on autopilot and they like that. Or perhaps they themselves had a role in setting up the systems that you're now hoping to change. Often, even the dentist can be hesitant to alienate these team members by implementing something new. In working with these team members and attempting to show them the positive aspects of the proposed change, my advice is to not sell anyone short. In training offices, I have personally seen some of the biggest opponents of change end up being the practice superstars.

Fear of the unknown is the most common reason that team members aren't as enthusiastic about new technologies, and fortunately this is easily remedied. It's okay to ask your colleagues to share their concerns in a direct manner. Saying "I sense that you're not excited about this; will you tell me why?" opens the door for team members to get their feelings on the table so they can be proactively addressed. Whether your team makes a visit to another office that has successfully implemented the technology you're looking at, or whether you simply reassure your colleagues that they will have ready access to support during the transition, the best way to tackle objections is to get them out in the open.

3. Make Sure You'll Have VendorSupport

Once you actually get to the implementation phase with a new technology, there will undoubtedly be a transition period of a few days or even several weeks. This is when it's crucial that your team has easy access to technical support and training. You don't want to find that your support is mediocre after implementation, so during your investigation phase it's vital not only to look into the technology itself, but also the support that backs it. How much time will a trainer spend with your team? What are the online support options? Is there typically a wait on the call center line, and if so, what is the average hold time? You'll need a reliable "phone-a-friend" option during this period, so make sure it's there in advance. Good technology support can be key to ensuring that the entire office is ultimately happy with the change and that the implementation is successful.

4. Check Your Technology Backbone

Before making the leap to a technology such as digital X-rays, 3D imaging, or practice marketing tools, you'll first need to confirm that core technologies such as your office's practice management and clinical software can be integrated with your new tools. While it can feel like a momentum-buster to start with this step, if your software isn't doing a great job now, it's likely only going to be more challenging with the addition of new technology components. When it comes to practice management software, this definitely is not the place to settle for just "good enough."

At Patterson, we use the analogy of a "digital waterfall" to illustrate this. A waterfall with a limestone foundation will collapse, but one with a rock-solid foundation will endure, and is truly invigorating to behold. Only strong and continuously updated software gives you the flexibility to incorporate new technologies now and into the future, and this kind of software can act as a solid foundation for your impressive cascade of practice tools.

Most of us got into dentistry because of a desire to help patients. One thing to always keep foremost in your mind when considering a transition is "Will this help my patients?" With so many of today's technologies, the answer is a resounding yes. Knowing this fact can be a great motivator to move forward and continue investing your time and energy in new practice technologies. Good luck! RDH

Jana Berghoff, RDH, FAADOM, has managed a diverse selection of dental offices, including general/family, dental X-ray facilities, TMJ/facial pain clinics, and cosmetic. Seeing the need for experienced clinical staff in computer training, Jana became a trainer for Patterson Dental. After training close to 500 dental offices, she is now the technology marketing manager with Patterson Dental. Reach her at jana.berghoff@pattersondental.com.

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