The adoption of technology in dentistry has always been a slow burn. The high cost of new things is certainly a factor, but not the whole story of why dentists are so slow to adopt new technology in their dental practices.
The thing that makes technology of any kind great is also its greatest enemy: updates. We already know the iPhone in our pocket isn’t perfect because there will always be better versions of the software and hardware right around the corner. We want the products to get better, of course, because some new features actually improve the experience. But when it comes to dental technology, the treadmill of software and hardware updates can be frustrating.
I’ve experienced this in a number of ways with my purchase of a digital impression system in December 2017.The device has the advantage of communicating with my practice management software, but that created its own complications: An additional piece of software had to be configured to broker the communication between the scanner and the practice management software. This “go-between” software is not well-designed or intuitive, but it’s the only option available.
Then I had trouble with the scanner. Telephone support is the most efficient method, but it can be unpredictable because the people you speak with have varying degrees of knowledge. Support calls often feel like looking for a light switch in a dark room; we try a bunch of different moves until we hit the switch.
Once you get things going good, you’ll reach a point where the next best thing comes along and your current solution feels like an iPhone 5. I recently witnessed the early announcement of the latest and greatest with lots of interest ... but the first question that often goes unanswered is “How much?” When a new iPhone comes out, the price is available that very day. I use the iPhone as an example because that’s what people often compare to when they’re explaining why a piece of hardware is updated every few years. But nothing else in that scenario is the same: New dental hardware must be kept secret, pricing is always complicated, and the people who already own the technology don’t feel like they have much incentive to upgrade.
I love all of the technology that has come into the dental space, and I’m excited for some things that have yet to be revealed. In a world filled with iPhone, Alexa and Tesla, there is room for dentistry to do better in the world of technology. This is my wish list for a better dental technology experience:
• Provide tech support unlike any experience in dentistry. There should be better access to troubleshooting information and a product knowledge base. So many questions are simple but require a long telephone call to solve because of hold times, verifying name, describing the problem, etc.
• Provide more transparent pricing. It took an act of Congress in 1958 to standardize pricing on new cars. I think every new technology should clearly include price, cost for support and information about any additional operating costs.
• Uncomplicate the upgrade experience. Provide simple trade-in options when new technology is announced, with the credit based on the age of the machine to be recycled. Or create a plan where the item is on long-term lease, similar to an iPhone upgrade program.
We can sit around and try to justify ROI (return on investment), but I’d rather see a bigger focus on SWI (satisfaction with investment).