From Google University to Facebook Dental School: Are we too dependent on instant internet knowledge?

When I was preparing to start my practice in 2008, Facebook was just in its toddler stage. I started with a basic profile and I shared some family photos. I searched for, and found some long-lost friends from childhood. To me, Facebook was merely a channel to share my personal life with a small trusted circle of friends; a place to centralize my personal photo albums.

Photo of Dr. Hung

Dr. Hung

As I was looking to build a practice from scratch at that time, I humbly consulted some of my colleagues, predecessors who built their practices, to obtain a to-do list as to how to build a practice from scratch. I learned that I needed a business plan and a construction company.

I signed up for several trade conventions held by professional associations such as the New Jersey Dental Association, Greater New York Dental Meeting and American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. I spent days walking through exhibition floors, seeking dental supply and equipment companies, banks, and various supporting companies to get everything ready.

Six months prior to my projected opening date, I called individual insurance companies to see how I could get credentialed. Through local search, I locked myself in with a business property broker, a lender, an accountant and an attorney to go over my lease contract. Then, two weeks before I opened, I drove around the neighborhood to introduce myself to the neighboring dentists door-to-door, and hired two new dental assistants to train.

The entire process was like the Magic Mouth Wash: an elixir of one part word-of-mouth recommendations, one part physical legwork, one part common sense, and a dash of walking in the blind—the same process of how I somehow meandered through college and dental school application processes in the pre-Internet era. The last place I would look for information would be social media.

Today, it is almost impossible to pass a day by without social media.

On Facebook, I am a member of at least 30 to 40 close groups for dentists, including moderating two of my own.

There are clinical groups where people post clinical questions and discussions about cases, business groups where discussion of practice management and business investment is carried out, and general groups where discussion of any dental-related topics is permitted. I am also involved in other non-dental closed groups for my personal interests such as cooking or how to take care of a puppy. I have an established LinkedIn profile, and a less active Instagram and Twitter account.

Social media is wonderful in establishing thousands and thousands of connections across the world that would not be otherwise possible, especially in the time of COVID-19 where travel is less permissible. There is ease and convenience of posting a photo of an X-ray and asking a group of thousands of dentists, most strangers, “What is happening here?” or “I have a situation in my office, what should I do?”

Get instant, organic interactions from people you know or don’t know from different parts of the world. It is extremely invaluable at the time of need. Like many others, I’ve screen-shot memes, quotes, funny pictures, and responses from useful questions, to repurpose them at a later time. I’ve sought and given advice on many occasions. I’ve also written many clinical posts in close groups to discuss clinical topics and practice management issues. During COVID-19, there are many live presentations to learn from other experts. It’s fun. It’s quick. I made friends.

Amazon sells a mug that says “please do not confuse your Google Search with my medical degree.” You can get a wall print with the same message, or rather, a T-shirt.  Many of us as dental professionals cringe when patients start the conversation as “I did a Google search on…” Many of my patients took the liberty to watch horrifying YouTube videos of how wisdom teeth extractions did not go well. This YouTube phenomenon did not exist when I was younger. You might agree, that too much information out of context is worse than not enough information.

While we enjoy the convenience the Internet brings, bear in mind that social media does not serve as a replacement for school education or post-graduate residency.  There are several recommendations based on my observations:

  1. When the patient is already in your chair and the situation is out of your comfort zone, quick Facebook questions for step-by-step instructions on how to do a procedure is not advisable.
  2. Don’t forget that the dental community consists of a network of specialists: as a new dentist, you may be very passionate about helping your patients and feel obligated to solve all the issues for your patients. However, as you are building up more clinical experience, it is important to know your limits and when to refer to a specialist. Patients appreciate immediate referrals especially if the situation calls for immediate attention.
  3. In order to build up certain clinical skills, you would need more than a weekend seminar. A wonderful seminar will give you the fundamental knowledge about a certain topic and is a great start. Consider a mini-residency or series of hands-on courses to slowly build up a skill. To have a more comprehensive grasp of a discipline, specialty training would be most appropriate.
  4. Technology is not a replacement for clinical knowledge and skills. They can be a supplement to your practice. I once had a fellow dentist show me his state-of-the-art CBCT machine that he just purchased only to contact me two months later to see if I would be interested in purchasing the machine as he didn’t have much use of the equipment nor did he read his own CBCT. The Internet makes everything accessible and building up skills with modern equipment helps to brand your practice.

Social media can be a wonderful source to survey users’ experiences. However, it is important to put in actual legwork to research on the product prior to financial investment of any kind. This can range from conversing with the product companies, research on scientific articles, arrange for a demo and make sure that you are comfortable handling the equipment before your purchase in order to increase the Return of Investment, or ROI.

We must beware of getting ourselves trapped in Facebook dental school or residency where information is fragmented with lots of background noise. Remember that no one practice or practitioner is the same. While it is convenient to get a quick tip, we must conduct our research especially when coming to practice building and learning a new technique.

Dr. Cathy Hung is a Board Certified Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon.  She earned her DDS from Columbia University and received oral and maxillofacial surgery training at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center.  She is the owner and operator of Prospect Oral Surgery Center in New Jersey.  She is an author, speaker and coach on cultural competency for healthcare professionals. Her first book, “Pulling Wisdom: filling the gaps of cross-cultural communication for healthcare providers”, was recently listed as the best-seller on Forbes Books Authority Newsleter.  She is featured in the October issue of Dental Town Magazine cover to talk about diversity and inclusion.  She is a current participant of ADA’s Institute for Diversity in Leadership Program.

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