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Digitising dentistry

Digitising Dentistry

Australia’s leading dentists are embracing digital technology to improve customer service, boost their marketing efforts, and provide a higher level of in-house patient care. By Shane Conroy

The digital revolution has transformed the way we live, and now it’s set to change what we expect from our healthcare providers.

According to the McKinsey Digital Patient Survey, more than 75 per cent of all patients expect to use digital healthcare services in the future. And that’s not just among your younger patients—the survey also revealed that digital-service use is expected to increase across all age groups.

From virtual health management to 3D-printed prosthetics, the healthcare industry is rapidly embracing a wide range of new digital technologies to meet this shift in consumer expectations.

New technology also promises to help healthcare providers deliver better patient care and find new process efficiencies to reduce the rising cost of healthcare in the face of Australia’s ageing population.

However, it seems the dental industry is arriving a little late to the party.

“I personally think that embracing digitisation is slower in the dental industry compared to other industries, not just in Australia but everywhere else in the world,” says Dr Wilfred Koon, principal dentist at The Point Dental in Victoria.

David Britten, managing director of practice management software provider, PPMP, agrees: “The healthcare industry tends to be very late adopters of technology. Dentists, like the rest of the healthcare industry, are very conservative and can be slow to change.”

Britten cites time, money and knowledge as the common barriers many dentists say prevent them from adopting digital technology in their practices, with resistance from the front desk as a key obstacle.

“We tend to find that it’s very difficult to get past the practice manager, but once we do they end up waving their finger at the boss saying ‘why wasn’t this done 10 years ago, it could have saved me a lot of work’.”

Practice management: the digital way

So what does today’s digital dental practice look like? Dr Frank Farrelly at Darlinghurst Dental in Sydney runs an almost entirely paperless practice that focuses heavily on the use of digital tools to improve patient care, customer service and to streamline processes for staff.

“Our medical history forms are completed on an iPad, we offer online appointment bookings live from our website 24/7, and we use SMS notifications with auto-read replies to confirm appointments,” he says.

“All our treatment plans, referrals and invoices are sent by email to patients rather than printed; we use Invisalign software to 3D model patients teeth, and we make use of digital X-rays and intra-oral cameras to diagnose problems and show digital images immediately to patients for discussion.”

Farrelly and his staff manage all these tools through cloud-based practice management software that functions as the central nervous system of the practice.

Most practice management software essentially combines a CRM (customer relationship management) database and financial management tools with data tracking that provides extensive reporting on key performance indictors that the practice has deemed important, and integrates with a range of communication and marketing applications.

“Without these digital tools I would be crippled in my profession. If you want to be the best in your field, you have to use the best technology.”—Dr Wilfred Koon, principal dentist, The Point Dental, Victoria

“Practice management software has come a long way, and most of them are now very user-friendly and affordable,” says Dr Koon. “At The Point Dental, we use Oasis software. The function we find most useful is the ability to send appointment reminders via SMS at the click of a button, and because it is integrated within our appointment book, patients’ responses are automatically sent directly to the appointment book, which makes scheduling more streamlined.

“Our patients love it. Most people are busy at work and will not be able to pick up a phone call. Having an SMS service allows them to respond to us at any time without the need for us to be physically in the clinic.”

Making marketing simple

Practice management software also makes marketing your practice much more effective, which David Britten says is vital to your success in the modern business environment as practice owners must think of themselves less as dentists and more as entrepreneurs.

“Dentists cover a whole spectrum of entrepreneurial ability,” he says. “At one end there are very capable people out there selling cosmetic dentistry and other dental services extremely well, but at the other end of the spectrum there are dentists who are just hanging their sign on the door and hoping for the best.”

But becoming more business-minded is easy with good practice management software that helps you build better relationships with your patients without the need to invest in specialist marketing staff.

“PPMP integrates with MailChimp which allows you to send out targeted emails to your patient database,” says Britten. “For example, you can use the system to send out a newsletter that’s focused on cosmetic dentistry to women aged between 18 and 30, or if you have a new staff member that specialises in some form of dentistry, you can use the system to promote that to your entire database.”

The next level of patient care

Using practice management software to improve your customer service and expand your marketing efforts is one thing, but many dentists also use a range of digital tools to improve patient care.

“I would say having digital X-rays—both intra-oral and extra-oral—and a digital SLR camera is the minimum standard of care for any dental clinics that want to practise good dentistry,” says Dr Koon.

“All our X-rays are digitised. We use the Sirona Xios XG sensor for intra-oral X-rays, and Morita Veraviewepocs for extra-oral X-rays. Digital X-rays allow us to take X-rays instantly, with no processing time. All our X-rays can be done in-house without the need to go to a separate location, and the quality is amazing.”

Dr Koon’s practice will also soon become the first dental clinic in Australia to use the Morita Veraview X800.

“Morita is well-known for its 3D CBCT scanning technology, and this new unit will give us even more stunning images, which is very important when practising implant dentistry where every millimetre counts.”

Dr Farrelly also uses digital X-rays and intra-oral cameras, which are not only vital for delivering high-level patient care, but also impacts the brand of his practice.

“If the practitioner is not up to date in technology, patients may question if you are up to date in other areas of dentistry,” he says.

Dr Koon agrees: “Without these digital tools I would be crippled in my profession. If you want to be the best in your field, you have to use the best technology.”