The New Dental Paradigm: Five Defining Trends

The landscape of dentistry is shifting—fast. The 92 million Americans born between 1980 and 2000 represent the largest segment of the population today, and they have their own ideas about everything. More and more, Millennial sensibilities are dictating how business is conducted, and the $129 billion dental industry is no exception.

Generational attitudes may be shifting, but must-have technology also creates its own very compelling business considerations. On the one hand, practices need the latest devices; on the other hand, newly minted doctors are graduating with unprecedented levels of debt, along with limited access to capital. Today the average dental student is $300,000 in debt at graduation. Add the cost of buying or investing in a practice (roughly another $500,000 to $1 million), the cost of the associated technology to run the practice, and the cost of insurance, and it’s no surprise that today less than 10% of current dental graduates are seeking solo-practice ownership, by some estimates.

In dentistry as in business, the rules have changed because the tools have changed. Nimbleness, efficiency to the extreme, and connectivity rule the day. Today’s practices must adapt to these new realities. Here are five trends that define the modern dental practice.

The Line Dividing Dentistry and Business Has Blurred

Social media, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, bloggers, Yelp, YouTube—all businesses feel their effects today, including medical and dental practices. Now more than ever, extraordinary practices are extraordinary businesses. For example, referrals are the lifeblood of a practice, but now they can originate from new and unexpected sources. To this end, there is an unmistakable trend today toward aligning all manner of specialists under one roof. Corporate or group practices are a self-sustaining, best-of-breed model where everyone wins, starting with the patient. Think immediate, seamless interaction between a general practitioner and specialists, along with economies of scale that yield a sustainable revenue stream. Capital requirements are easier to manage as well, because costs are shouldered by all partners, right along with real estate, equipment, and hiring.

Consolidating patient information into a single practice management solution across a diverse enterprise carries distinct advantages, such as centralized access, consistency of data updated in real time, and ongoing regulatory compliance. Within an integrated environment, an equally integrated approach to technology is essential. That makes for good medicine and good business.

The Forecast Calls for More Cloud

For anyone wondering what the next digital revolution will be after the widespread adoption of the Electronic Medical Record (EMR), the answer is clear: Practices are heading to the Cloud in droves. The Cloud is secure, accessible, and, by now, familiar. If the promise of the EMR was better data, then the Cloud is about better access to that data. In an age of proliferating dental franchises and group practices, as well as multi-office and multispecialty practices, the demand for anytime-anywhere access has never been greater.

Time Flies, but It Also Hides

In the final analysis, there are still only so many production hours in a day. Each hour is a window into the productivity and efficiency of your team. Today’s game-changer, however, is powerful technology that gives you insight into your workday in smaller, more precise increments. Your schedule can now reflect the actual time it takes to accomplish a procedure. Precious time was hiding in plain sight all along. You can’t be in two places at the same time, but you can find hidden pockets of availability over the course of a day that can add up to some serious hours. It’s not working harder so much as working smarter.

There’s Safety in Numbers—Encrypted Numbers

In 2017, IT breaches among healthcare providers added up to about $6 billion. What’s even more sobering is the fact that cybercrimes are growing in this segment because medical records are a treasure trove of personal information They include not only insurance and health data, but social security, drivers license, and credit card information. On the darknet, these records can be worth $1K or more. The good news is that robust encryption is readily available.

There Are No Weak Links

In the practice management software world, we foresee a period of rapid and unrelenting change ahead. New capabilities will lead to continuous disruption of the technology stack and a new focus on integration. The only way to extract the promise of these new tools is through perfect integration. Every practice would be wise to focus on highly adaptive, agnostic tech providers committed to delivering a seamless experience.

Talent, drive, ambition, integrity—nothing has changed. Yet everything has changed. Tech continues to rule the day, opening the door to entirely new possibilities while rooting out inefficiencies everywhere. IT is a dedicated servant that continues to devastate anything that stands in the way of insight, productivity, and effective care.