10-point checklist for investing in technology

Throughout the history of modern dentistry, new technologies have earned their place in practices by outperforming older technologies in some crucial way. The introduction of innovative clinical procedures and materials stimulate the development of new support technologies. And basic scientific and engineering advances — such as from analog to digital systems — can have a revolutionary impact on the hardware and software that dentists and staff members use.

TechnologyWhether they are improving clinical outcomes, enhancing the patient experience, adding capabilities or improving productivity and profitability, new technologies continue driving dentistry to higher levels of performance. However, that doesn’t mean practices should be quick to invest in the latest, most-talked-about products on the market. The pace of technological change has become so fast, there are so many choices, and their impact can be so complex, so you should establish some guidelines for deciding what to invest in. Otherwise, you could make some costly mistakes.

Here are 10 questions you should answer before introducing new technology to your practice.

  1. Will it have a positive impact on clinical care? Naturally, manufacturers claim that their products will improve clinical performance and outcomes for patients. Look for proof, relying not just on manufacturers’ representatives or marketing materials but also on independent evaluations and, if available, the comments of actual users. Understand, too, that a minimal improvement — gained at great expense — will probably not turn out to be a good investment.
  2. Will it help your practice run more efficiently? A practice that runs like the proverbial well-oiled machine will have much greater potential productivity and profitability. New technologies that facilitate more efficient performance, greater workflow, easier team interconnections or reduced stress merit your consideration. If a manufacturer promises such improvements, check the data — and think through whether the gains will actually apply in your case. What’s great for one practice can be totally wrong for another.
  3. Will it be cost-effective? When evaluating a possible purchase of new technology, calculate the return on investment, or ROI. You need to determine if its overall financial impact will be positive, negligible or negative. To do so, you need to factor in both the initial cost (whether paid outright or in installments) and the projected operating costs. Look at these numbers separately as well as together. Bear in mind that the ROI might be good in spite of a high initial expenditure if operating costs are low enough, and that an attractive purchase price might be masking operating costs that will undermine profitability. Figuring out the ROI of new technology can be very difficult, so if the manufacturer offers a 90-day trial period, take advantage of it. This will enable you to get an accurate picture of operating costs and the impact of profitability before you make a permanent commitment. The trial will also enable you to compare performance in other respects.
  4. Will it last and still provide cost-effective service years from now? Judging the service life of new technology can be difficult, especially if it’s too new to have a long-term track record. Gauge how long it will last and continue performing efficiently. Try to determine if it’s likely to give you years of profitable service or become obsolete before it’s paid for.
  5. Will it open new revenue sources? Any practice seeking to increase production and profitability should consider offering new clinical services, and new technologies are often the key to adding these revenue sources to your service mix. Many dentists have discovered that equipping their practices to perform more cosmetic dentistry, for example, can have a significant effect on their bottom line. Manufacturers’ representatives — who typically know not only their products but also how other practices are using them profitably — can be useful sources of ideas and information in this area. Just remember that reps will present their products in the best possible light.
  6. Will it reduce risks for staff members? Technologies that reduce or eliminate safety hazards in your office deserve careful consideration. Though they may have little direct impact on profitability, they can influence productivity. You can also calculate cost reductions resulting from a decrease in accidents, injuries and stress.
  7. Is it user-friendly? The capability of new technology to perform cost-effectively depends in many cases on the performance of the doctor or staff members who are using it. Some products have incredibly steep and long learning curves, making any claims of productivity misleading. Other products, though relatively easy to learn how to use, actually slow down team members with laborious operational steps or outright bottlenecks built into product design. This is another area where trial usage can be very enlightening. You should also ascertain what kind of training and ongoing support the manufacturer offers. A robust training program can ensure that staff will acquire requisite new skills quickly, while a true commitment to technical support can raise your long-term comfort level. Faced with a choice between products from competing firms, training and support could be the deciding factors.
  8. Can it be integrated smoothly with legacy technologies? Many of the technologies and systems used by your practice are closely interconnected. When you introduce something new, it will probably have an effect on related functions. You may need to pass up an otherwise valuable technology simply because it will not relate well to other existing systems.
  9. Can it be implemented easily? Even if a new technology will ultimately work well with other products and systems in your office, implementation could become a real cost issue if it requires upgrades to other systems — like new digital radiography technology that your current computer system can’t handle — or consumes many hours of staff time.
  10. Will you and your staff actually use the new technology? What seems exciting in theory can turn out to be less appealing in practice. Many dentists have made substantial investments in technologies that end up underutilized and not utilized at all. Obviously, such investments are not cost-effective in the least, and their ROI is nil. Before committing, be honest with yourself and ask for frank appraisals from your staff.

Decision time

Rather than making impulsive or ill-informed decisions about new technology purchases, take a systematic, objective approach. Avoid costly mistakes by coming up with solid answers to these 10 questions. This will enable you to accurately predict how new products will contribute to office functionality, productivity and profit.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Dental Practice Success. It was written by Dr. Roger Levin, founder and CEO of Levin Group Inc., a leading dental consulting firm. Attend one of Dr. Levin’s new GP seminars in 2016 and learn the latest practice-building strategies. See the complete 2016 schedule, including seminars in many new cities, by clicking here.

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