Second Opinion: Why dentists, rather than dental technology, will be the future's biggest change

2016 10 12 14 41 06 881 Dr B Second Opinion 400

Most dentists and senior executives are unaware that everything has changed -- forever. The pandemic, the recession, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change -- they are all colliding at the same time and their united forces are distorting what used to be. What used to be will be no longer.

Global events such as World War I, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, World War II, and Vietnam all changed the world. Imagine putting four major global events -- COVID-19, racial inequality, a deep economic downturn with millions out of work, and undeniable global warming -- together in one bundle. Consider their combined impact.

Marc Cooper, DDS, MSD.Marc Cooper, DDS, MSD.

This confluence of forces has shown us that we are all profoundly and irreversibly interconnected. It has become obvious with supply chain interruptions, recognition of essential workers, masks, stay-at-home orders, virus surges, morbidity levels, melting continents, food shortages, weather catastrophes, and geopolitical conflicts that we are genuinely and irrevocably interconnected more than ever before.

As interconnectedness becomes increasingly dominant, more pressure will be put on dentists to change. Dentists will need to realize that individuation, their autonomy, and their independence (all of which propelled them in their careers) will not do very well in an expanding interconnecting world.

The most profound change in dentistry will not be in clinical delivery or the quantum advances in IT and artificial intelligence (AI).

Dentists will always be needed to confirm diagnoses and treatment plans and to deliver dentistry. The technology and machine-to-machine learning itself will drive their own changes. Dentists will adjust and adapt to these new technologies, but the system in which they are operating is what will also change.

Dentists have been trained, developed, and educated (and compensated) to be autonomous providers in the old healthcare system. Dentists had only distant relationships with providers in the healthcare system and then only on an infrequent basis. But all that is going to change.

As the demand for greater interconnectedness continues to grow, dentists will be pressed to be more integrated into the healthcare system, not peripheral players.

Dentists are in the midst of a new future unfolding -- a future of greater integration and interdependence. How will these changes affect what it means to be a dentist? This new future will demand that a dentist become integral and integrated into the whole healthcare system. "Independent operator" will be a thing of the past.

Dentists will need to become contributory and participatory team members of interdisciplinary teams with other healthcare providers and institutions. Compensation will be based not on their individual productivity but on their healthcare team's success. Much of their compensation will be based on health outcomes, not procedures; more of a capitated system than a fee-for-service system.

Both solo dental practices, which make up about 70% of dental practices today, and dental service organizations (DSOs) compensate dentists on individual performance. So, becoming an integral team player with other healthcare providers from multiple areas will require dentists to change at the most fundamental level -- and that change will be the most difficult of all. Becoming an accountable, contributory, and participatory partner of a healthcare cohort will be a significant transition.

Marc Cooper, DDS, MSD, is the president of MBC Consultants. Dr. Cooper has worked throughout the healthcare industry during his career, with the majority of his clients being in the dental industry. His current focus is coaching leaders, dentists, and senior executives on how to effectively navigate their organizations and lead their respective teams during this period of tremendous uncertainty.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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