Dentists spend most of their working hours in their practices, so they usually don’t get many opportunities to see what it’s like inside another doctor’s office. Dentaltown magazine’s recurring Office Visit profile offers a chance for Townies to meet their peers, hear their stories and get a sense of their practice protocols.
In this issue, we introduce Dr. Bryan Laskin, who’s been a Townie since 2003 and has defined the modern dental office through virtual reality, same-day treatments, advanced communication, and a need to be not just an early adopter of new tech but a creator of it, too. Read on and check out Laskin’s Minneapolis-area practice that includes a massive 35-person team, including a small army of associates and specialists.
Let’s talk about patient anxiety, a subject you’re passionate about. Why does it interest you and how are you addressing it?
Dental anxiety is one of the biggest challenges and, consequently, one of the biggest opportunities for massive growth and improvement in our industry. As dental professionals, we become desensitized to patient anxiety over time. But I encourage dentists to think about what we go through: It’s not uncommon to have patients tell you they “hate you,” or to stare with eyes full of sheer terror as you administer anesthetic. This is unique to dentistry.
It is just wrong that we’re living in the 21st century and 80% of adults admit to experiencing some amount of dental anxiety—and a smaller subset have so much dental fear that they’ll avoid going to the dentist “at all costs,” according to a 2016 Gallup poll.
In the 20 years that I’ve been practicing, there have been phenomenal advancements in clinical dentistry. Yet the experience that patients have is still largely the same as back in the 1950s.
The last real innovation in this space was in 1844, with nitrous oxide. Something I’m very excited about and have been using in my practice is virtual reality (VR)—or as I like to call it, “digital nitrous.”
More and more, we’re seeing VR as a source of entertainment—video games, experiences created by TV networks. You’re using VR to enhance the patient experience. What exactly are you doing and how has it been going?
What really drove me to pursue VR as a solution to pain and anxiety in the operatory stemmed from the massive amount of clinical research around its ability to reduce pain and anxiety. Many people don’t know this, but there are great, respected organizations doing some incredible research out there. Once I reviewed the research and verified the claims, I knew this was something I had to make work for dentistry.
On the face of it, using VR in a dental setting seems simple enough. In practice, though, it was not. VR is incredibly immersive, to the point of blurring the lines of what your brain conceives as reality versus fantasy. This is why people can sometimes experience motion sickness in cases such as riding a VR roller coaster—it “feels” like you are there. Also, if you’ve ever seen someone in VR, they’re looking all around them moving their head. People moving their heads around and puking out the crown you’re attempting to cement isn’t a good combination!
To overcome this, I worked with experts to create unique experiences that we call “adventures.” The result was OperaVR, a system that uses VR goggles as a delivery system to administer a calming experience to patients. In the process, we added some convenient features like the ability to deliver postoperative instructional videos, and dental-related facts that boost case acceptance.
I’ve been impressed with the results. It’s one thing to read a study that states VR has been shown to decrease pain and anxiety in health care settings up to 60%. It’s quite another to see a patient who’s hiding behind their dental napkin one minute, and a few minutes later is lying still and completely relaxed.
This leads nicely to your love of technology, and how you try to leverage it as a means to practice growth. What are some examples you’ve seen in your practice, or in practices you’ve helped, where tech has been the difference maker?
Technology is the “easy button” to increasing the quality, quantity and experience of care that we deliver. I look at the many technology solutions in my practice as team members that work for me and my associates 24/7, 365 days a year, to help us be at our best.
I’m always trying to improve myself and the level of care my team is able to deliver. This started when I first saw the Cerec 3D about 20 years ago; I went to another dentist’s office in my building who had just bought it and I thought, “If I was having a crown done, this is exactly how I would want to do it.” Plus, it looked like so damn much fun to do! I knew I was going to start being a CAD/CAM dentist immediately; the details of how, why and when didn’t really matter. It took about three months to figure that out.
How’d you get into dentistry?
It’s a funny story that I don’t tell often. Especially because I never even had a filling until I was in dental school—and still haven’t had decay! I wanted to be in health care so I could directly do good for people. I’ve also always liked working with my hands, doing things like drawing, painting and playing guitar. I was going to be a cardiac surgeon, but changed my mind after going on rounds with some physicians. So I took a year to figure it out: I decided on dentistry because all the dentists I met were very calm, collected professionals and I, having way too much energy, thought dentistry would mellow me out. How mistaken I was!
Here’s something a bit off topic: You’re into martial arts, and a big-time Bruce Lee fan. What are your top two Lee movies? And which pieces of dental equipment could you most easily karate chop in half?
Easy! No. 1 is definitely Game of Death, because it was the first one I saw and it left a huge impression on me. I’m not really a sports fan at all, but even though I was only 6 or 7 years old, I recognized Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the film and thought the combination of him and Bruce Lee was amazing. Enter the Dragon would have to be No. 2.
Dental equipment I could chop in half: First, the audio headsets that dangle out of team members’ ears. Seriously—it’s rude to patients, because you’re never truly focused on someone while wearing a headset. Plus, your team looks like they should be wearing a tan and mustard-colored uniform while serving fries to patients, instead of like the caring professionals that they are. Second would be paper: Making the move to a paperless practice (as much as possible) has proven to be a huge reduction in stress, wasted time and delays.
What feature of your practice are you most proud of? Which feature do patients enjoy the most?
I’m most proud of the heavy focus on technology and dedication to exceeding patient expectations. It’s truly a part of our culture. It allows us to deliver an experience and a level of care that I’m proud of, and I believe it’s helped attract the incredible team of A-players we have assembled.
I believe this resonates with our patients as well, because many of our reviews mention it directly. When you’re able to diagnose and treat in the same day, in a fraction of the time that patients are used to, they are truly blown away. Allowing our patients to “relax on the beach” in virtual reality while they’re getting their dental work done has been a hit lately as well.
One area you’re incredibly familiar with is implantology. Where do you see this segment of dentistry in the next 10 years?
There are some interesting advances in robotics in implants that are available today. While robotic placement of implants is in its infancy, I believe that over the next decade this will become commonplace.
You created OperaDDS, a cloud-based intraoffice communication platform. What are some communication tips that every dentist should know?
Clear, accurate and instant communication is key to providing everything from high-quality care to increasing case acceptance. I recommend utilizing huddles every morning to calibrate your team, and then providing the team with the tools to truly fly.
Leveraging easy, secure messaging is like having an extra assistant—or three—running around telling everybody what to do and when to do it. This leads typically to a 30% increase in production and also helps with patient retention. But recognize that not all communication tools are created equal: It’s not easy ensuring that a communication platform has been developed with HIPAA compliance in mind. I’ve seen “under the hood” of some recall systems that claim to be compliant and I was shocked. For example, if someone else can give you your password to the system, that’s not OK! Increasing productivity and convenience shouldn’t mean you’re gambling with potentially risking your practice because of a HIPAA violation.
The most talented people in the industry want to work in an environment that leverages technology. I think it has helped us not only attract some of the amazing talent that we have at Lake Minnetonka Dental but also to retain them, because it makes them even more effective.
What’s something that remains a challenge to you, clinically or as a business owner? What’s something you’ve mastered over the years that you think other dentists could master as well?
My biggest challenge was, and remains, adequately delegating to my team. People in general—and I believe dentists in particular, at least this dentist—love being able to control outcomes. But this puts a ceiling on what you can accomplish.
I was forced to delegate much of the dentistry and business functions of my practice as my technology business started taking off. This turned out to be one of the best things that has happened to the practice and me personally.
What’s your favorite patient story?
Not a specific story, but I love delivering full-arch, implant-supported dentures. It is so gratifying to be able to so positively affect someone’s life with a single procedure.
I had the pleasure of working with a local news celebrity who’d neglected their dental care because of dental anxiety, followed by the great shame of “letting things go too long.” While the desire to fix their teeth was there, and certainly the need was great, being able to remove the barriers to treatment and create a new smile transformed this person’s life, and they’ve referred many similar patients.
I think this patient’s restoration had such an impact because I’m constantly reminded of the work. In dentistry we can often change someone’s life and hear about it every six months, but it’s fun to see smiles we create much more often than that.
You’ve mentioned before that if you’d never gone into dentistry, you’d be an animator. Which animated character would make the best office manager? Which one would make the worst patient?
The best office manager would be the octopus from Finding Nemo, because every office manager I know is doing at least eight things at once.
For the worst patient, I’ll go with Ralph Wiggum because, as those of us who love The Simpsons know, when he’s asked if he flosses, he turns Dr. Wolfe’s office into “a house of lies.”
Outside of dentistry, you’re a snowboarder. What are your favorite spots? Do you have a bucket list spot you’d love to hit up?
I love Utah—the best snow, short lift lines, and I can take a 9 a.m. flight from Minneapolis and be on the mountain by 11 local time. I also love Whistler and Lake Tahoe.
My bucket list would be helicopter riding in the Canadian Rockies. I used to work with a dentist who would go every year, and it sounds phenomenal. All my friends I ride with are scared, though, so if any dentists want to go, hit me up!