RDH magazine has an older brother. He's big and strong.

July 21, 2016
He's probably as popular, if not more so, than she is.

He's probably as popular, if not more so, than she is. He was a star quarterback and voted most likely to succeed since all of his classmates knew how frugal he was. His name is Dental Economics, or DE for short. Many of you know the titles of PennWell's top two printed dental magazines. I just wanted to make sure you've met the fellow. Information generated by DE crosses my desk quite a bit. While DE's out fishing, I'll steal a look at it.

With apologies to female dentists for this male metaphor, DE hit the streets recently to conduct a couple of surveys. The first one was about technology, and, bless his heart, ol' DE knows more about insurance codes than source code.

But I want to initially refer to one question in the other survey. The May 2016 survey asked almost 200 dentists to identify areas they wished could improve on the business side, such as reimbursement rates, collections, patient loyalty, etc. The survey started with an open-ended question, asking the doctor to list the three "most frustrating or challenging aspects" of running a dental business. Twenty-nine percent of the doctors listed "staff" or "employees" as the first response. My favorite, uh, elaborations of those monosyllabic grunts for answers were "keeping staff happy and motivated," "getting the staff to stay focused on the goal," and "getting workers to do what you want them to do." Only 17% used their second answer to refer to staff issues, and 13% used the answer as a third option. So doctors are more inclined think of employees as being challenging right off the bat. Overall, if you're counting, 57% think of staff management as being frustrating or challenging.

Some elaborations worth noting as second or third answers were "staff not working as a team," "maintaining team unity," "keeping staff working hard," "staff performing at the same competency level every day," "making sure everyone is doing their delegated job," and "staff that just don't get it."

Technology ought to come in handy here, eh? Technology may or may not help keep staff motivated, since other factors are in play. But the click of a mouse can help ensure conformity with office protocols. However, there are a couple of interesting statistics from the second survey of 604 dentists to keep in mind here. First, 45% of dentists say "there is no plan" when new practice software and hardware is introduced in a practice. This seems high to me. Remember, we're not talking about 10 or 20 years ago; the doctors answering this survey did so last spring. Also, only 12% of dentists are not confident about software and hardware working in conjunction "without issues." That's good news; what prompts a pause, though, is the revelation that 45% are "somewhat confident" about technology compared to the 43% who are "very confident" about it. (As a footnote, 90% of respondents use practice management software, so almost all of them are entitled to knowledgeably feel confident, or not so much.)

Again, that's too high. To me, it sounds like ol' DE should pressure the producers of dental technology to increase confidence levels. If you want to buy (and gamble on whether the purchase is wasteful spending) consumer technology simply because it sounded cool in the commercial, that's your call. A business is a different matter. The technology needs to be part of a plan-a plan that also helps reduce the headaches of staff management. Hear that, ol' DE? Your little sister is talking.

Mark Hartley

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