The secret to technology success

By Dr. Marty Jablow, contributing writer

January 12, 2009 -- Martin Jablow, D.M.D., is a self-professed technophile who lectures and blogs ( on a variety of technologies used in dentistry. His Q&A column, Ask Marty, is featured daily on the home page. If you have a technology question for Dr. Jablow, e-mail it to us at and we'll pass it along!

When we were children, we would pull out a box of Legos and start to build. Our imagination was the only limitation. There was no plan, no fear of failure. We just created!

Unfortunately, this approach does not work in the modern dental practice. In fact, when it comes to technology, the time and money associated with failing to plan can be enormous.

Thus, we need to come up with the proper framework for implementing technology into the dental practice. A strategic plan should be developed for acquiring and upgrading technology in a dental office. We need to lose the fear but not the imagination.

In most dental offices, thinking about technology is usually left to the doctor, as he or she handles the purse strings. Unfortunately, this means that all too often the decisions are emotional and not based on facts, or they are made out of necessity. If you have staff members who are more technologically oriented, let them run with the project!

For example, failure of an office computer should not be what makes you decide that it's time to upgrade the office's computer infrastructure. You should have a plan for the systematic replacement of the oldest computer(s) in the office, annually or biannually. Computer hardware has come way down in price and should not be an impediment. Take the oldest computer out of service first. You can even use it as a backup.

This is no different than preaching to your patients about the need for routine checkups. Using systematic computer replacement, you should never get caught up in the need for a major hardware upgrade if demanded by your practice management software. In the long run, the cost of a computer disaster is far more expensive and stressful than preventing the disaster in the first place.

First things first

So where do you start when it comes to assessing your office's technology needs? First, pick realistic goals. Don't try to go completely chartless in a day. Just like with Legos, you need to build one piece at a time. Take small steps, not large ones. Everything will come together in the end. That's why we are planning.

Next, write down your goals. Written goals are accomplished much more often then unwritten ones. Establish a timeline to implement the goals. Don't get frustrated if you fall behind a little, as you still have the plan in place. Does this not sound identical to a patient's treatment plan?

Here are some basic questions to get you started:

What type of technology do I want for the office? Do I have the proper infrastructure in place to support it, or will it be limited to one treatment room?

If you are looking at a treatment modality such as a laser, you would want the doctor to be evaluating this technology because he or she is the one who will be using it. You should also consider how much room the equipment may require. For example, if you have small treatment rooms, a small diode laser that fits on the counter might be better than the larger standalone erbium lasers.

Maybe you want to add digital radiography. What are the infrastructure requirements necessary for taking digital x-rays? To start with, you will need a computer local area network (LAN).

Since the entire office will be involved with the radiography, it behooves the dentist to include the staff members who take the radiographs in the decision-making process. The staff can make or break a technology if they refuse to embrace it. Make sure that they are onboard with the technology by showing them how it will make their jobs easier. What good is having the technology if no one wants to use it?

What is my budget for implementing and maintaining this technology? What is the potential return on investment?

Once you know what type of technology you want and the infrastructure required to support it, you can begin developing a budget. Will the practice be doing new procedures or becoming more efficient? These are all factors in the budgeting process. Don't forget to include in the budget such things as ongoing support, upgrades, and training. Consider establishing a technology fund in which you save a fixed dollar amount every month to assist in acquiring additional technologies.

Other key questions to ask yourself include the following:

  • Will I need training on using this technology?
  • How do I involve my staff in the implementation?
  • What are my time frames to complete this all?

If this is starting to seem like it is a daunting task, you might want to bring in an expert. Numerous technology integration companies are available to help you with the planning, budgeting, and implementation.

Once you have all the pieces in place, you no longer have to worry -- because you have a plan! Follow it and modify it as necessary, without fear.

It's just like building the picture on the front of the Lego box. In truth, there was a plan all along.

Copyright © 2009


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