Regional Support Manager, Emma Flunt, reflects on some of the points raised in a recent Practice Plan workshop by Marcos White on adapting the patient journey to the digital age.
From listening to Marcos, I realised that’s it’s possible to use digital tools of some sort for the whole of the patient journey. In his practice he uses a 3D printer, digital design, milling, guided dentistry, a scanner, iPhones so images can be sent by WhatsApp to patients, AI (artificial intelligence) apps to show how good people’s teeth could look and a CBCT scanner which is a scan that can show both bones and soft tissues. Every part of the process has a digital element. He even uses digital language as he describes treatment planning and delivery as a ‘workflow’ which involves a combination of digital tools.
There are so many advantages to working digitally. However, one of the big benefits to dentists of digital methods is the protection it affords them. By scanning every patient, every time, there’s a date stamped record of the patient’s teeth each time they are examined or receive treatment. Also, by scanning on completion of any treatment, there’s evidence of what has been done. In the unlikely event of a patient complaint, these scans provide compelling evidence of any work completed on the patient and the standard to which it was done, so there’s no dispute.
Marcos mentioned that all communication with patients at his practice about treatment is done by email or WhatsApp, so there’s a digital record of the treatment they consent to, so there should be fewer misunderstandings and greater protection for dentists should a patient make a complaint.
One of the benefits of digital scanning is that all scans and images are saved to the Cloud, so there isn’t the storage problem of physical charts. It also means they can be viewed easily by other people in the practice too. When a patient rings up, a team member answering the call can bring up the patient’s scans and see exactly what is happening with their teeth. This makes conversations easier and clearer.
Combining all these digital tools leads to compounding levels of efficiency. The more tools, the more apps, the more visualisation, the greater the communication. However, this isn't at the expense of the human element. The tools are there to help the patient visualise the outcome of the treatment, so they’re an aid to communication and to inspire patients to take action. As Marcos remarked: “A picture speaks a thousand words. A scan speaks a million. It's been the one piece missing in dentistry. To show people what we can do before we've ever done it.”
All too often, patients come to a practice asking for a treatment and too often dentists think in terms of treatments. Their websites offer treatments, their fee scales offer treatments. By thinking this way dentists are not being able to make best use of their creativity and problem-solving skills. By scanning patients’ teeth, you can show them exactly what’s going on and by using apps on an iPhone to produce an idealised image of how their smile could look, dentists can give patients a visual representation of what can be achieved. One app uses artificial intelligence to produce an idealised version of the patient’s smile. It manages to make the teeth look better, but not too perfect. If the patient likes what they see, then the dentist can ‘reverse engineer’ to establish what needs to be done to achieve it. By using the app and showing them how things could be, patients will want an outcome, not a treatment, and they'll be open to whatever techniques the dentist advises are required to obtain it. The outcome will determine the treatment required, not the other way around.
Another advantage of going digital is it’s global. Marcos’ digital lab is in Poland. Despite this, things still work as smoothly as they did pre-Brexit when his digital designer was based in a room in his practice and hadn’t made the choice to go back home. There’s less need to ship models and there's no postage as it’s all done at the push of a button.
The process is also green. There's no piece of impression and there's no putty. Nothing goes into landfill and there's less waste. There's less need to store models because any printed model has its digital counterpart inside the practice’s computer. So, as soon as a model is finished with, it just goes in the bin because the record of it is the digital file. So, there’s no need to keep models everywhere. It’s a lot tidier!
Scanners will, in the future, be a diagnostic tool. Like when you go to get an MRI to see if there's something wrong with you. You'll come to the dentist, you'll be scanned and that scan will tell you if there's anything wrong with your teeth.
From a business point of view, going digital can turn a practice into a Purple Cow. According to author and former dot com executive, Seth Godin, in his book ‘Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable’, a Purple Cow is something remarkable. If you saw a purple cow you would tell your friends and family about it, wouldn’t you? And all of the things that digital brings are purple cows. As Marcos says: “When a patient rings your practice and they say that the receptionist was able to tell me about my broken tooth because it was on their TV screen, they're going to tell someone. When you WhatsApp them an image of their ideal smile, they're going to share that with people. So, all the time you're doing all these things, just because it's better, that patient is telling someone.” Word of mouth is such a great way of attracting new patients to a practice as it’s based on a real person’s actual experience, so people trust it.