By Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH
Dental professionals provide treatment plans for patients on a daily basis. Whether it is creating a simple restorative plan or a complex full-mouth case, dental team members discuss options and create viable treatment plans for patients.
But what about the treatment plan for the practice? Is there a plan developed for keeping pace with the rapidly changing landscape of dentistry? Or does the practice haphazardly move forward in a reactionary mode rather than a proactive role?
New rules and regulations from governmental sources and insurance carriers can propel an office forward, and this is reactionary. The same is true with technology. Many teams are reluctant to move forward with technology, and they take a reactionary rather than a proactive approach. Many people dislike and postpone any change. But like death and taxes, change is inevitable. When a reactionary practice finally does move forward with technology, it is often implemented haphazardly with little thought. They purchase new equipment and technology but don’t provide the necessary training to make it work.
How often has the doctor attended a continuing education program and bought the latest product, only to let it collect dust because the team was not trained properly in its use? As a technology advisor for Patterson Dental, I see this on a daily basis. Training is the basis of making a smooth change with any new equipment, procedure, or technology, and it needs to be incorporated into the practice’s treatment plan.
Training has been proven to increase job satisfaction and motivation. A 2014 study from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom found that happiness makes people 12% more productive. Having appropriate training, which initially may seem cost prohibitive, actually decreases costs and increases productivity. When team members receive the appropriate training, they want to be long-term members of the practice, which decreases turnover costs and challenges. Yet many teams are reluctant to hold training. What are the barriers to executing an effective training program? Here are some of the most common reasons for resisting training.
Any change is disruptive. We constantly experience change in our lives. Change can be both positive and negative. In order to grow and develop, change is a must. Practices that don’t change become stagnant and declining. The antidote to their fear is communication. If the fear is voiced and addressed, the issue can be addressed.
Some people fear technology. “Technology doesn’t always work,” or “We’ll have to do more work with no extra time.” The real reason they feel technology “doesn’t work” is their fear of change. Does the office that believes technology “doesn’t work” have a verified backup program for hardware and software? Do team members have access to that information, or is that the job of the IT person? Everyone should have a basic understanding of the process, which will reduce their fear.
A protocol can be developed that addresses any issues that might arise. What can the practice do if the system is down? The time issue must also be confronted. Yes, initially any new procedure, product, or technology will take time to learn. But many agree that once the learning curve is behind them, they love working with the new information.
System compatibility. Another problem teams face while adopting new technology is system compatibility. Practices have invested money and energy in developing the current systems, and the thought of incorporating another piece of the puzzle strikes fear. This can be overcome by researching various options that will incorporate the current technology and products into new systems without having to reinvent the wheel.
However, sales reps may gloss over these issues. It’s the team’s responsibility to research and make sure the product or technology will be compatible. Speak with other teams who have used the products or technology and discuss their problems and what has worked for them. Establishing expectations regarding what the system or product can do increases satisfaction.
Teams often don’t know where to start. It is essential to have an impartial adviser who understands the practice needs and goals. This adviser can serve as the technology trainer as well as the practice cheerleader.
Many practices are told they need to go paperless, but what does that mean exactly? I was recently asked to train a team that wanted to go paperless, but once I started training I learned they were still using a paper appointment book and used their practice management software only for accounting and billing purposes.
We decided that before we could move forward, we needed to take baby steps within the technology. All team members needed to be involved in the training, not just those who would be directly affected. Having everyone involved provides opportunities to appreciate and understand one another’s roles and responsibilities, thus improving overall communication, treatment, and productivity.
Once a new technology has been installed and the team is using it effectively, ongoing training is as important as the initial training. Due to a number of factors during initial training - from time constraints to team members being overwhelmed - trainers can provide only the basic information. Ongoing training allows team members to address issues they didn’t know they would have until they used the technology. Follow-up training in six to eight weeks provides the team with enhanced information. Annual updating is also important as new team members come on board or new enhancements are enacted.
Training and technology need to be incorporated into the overall treatment plan for a practice to ensure successful treatment outcomes.
When we recommend that a practice close for a period of time for training, we often hear, “We can’t lose the production time.” Doctors and teams need to understand that taking time initially enhances the overall experience and decreases expenses later. It costs more in lost productivity to search online for answers and wait for service requests than it does to have initial dedicated training time.
In May 2016, Dental Economics, the sister publication to RDH magazine, published a survey of dentists regarding areas of dental practice that needed improvement. One of the prominent answers dealt with team motivation. Yet if dentists followed Zig Ziglar’s advice, “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them,” many of the motivation issues would diminish and productivity and profitability would increase.
This survey also included questions regarding technology, and many had issues with compatibility and confidence in their technology. However, I would ask these same survey participants, “Did they engage their team in the technology process from the beginning, and was available training utilized?” As Sir Richard Branson states, “Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is the 2017 recipient of the Esther M. Wilkins Distinguished Alumni Award of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygiene/Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie has authored chapters in several texts for dental hygiene. She can be reached at [email protected].