Yogi Berra’s famously expressed, “Prognosticating is very difficult…especially about the future,” is an undeniable truism. Despite Berra’s penchant for play on words, it is necessary to project into the future. By using the past as an informative guide, we are not constrained by being locked into yesterday’s dental practice model when planning for the future.
Peering through a retroscope at our practices may produce some immediate comfort, such as the knowledge we can function fairly well given yesterday’s truths. Although reflection is helpful in revealing our strengths and weaknesses, it does not offer the tools to face the inevitable rapid changes that influence our day-to-day professional activities. We need to be proactive in our response to the emerging realities. The areas of challenge will encompass structural and clinical protocols.
Looking at Structural IssuesIt seems probable that the trend towards larger, more complex, often consolidated practices will persist and likely accelerate. Forces behind this trend include pressure on the solo practitioner to afford sophisticated equipment; for example,
1. Digital radiography (including potentially digital MRI)
2. Costly implant systems that require a critical mass of cases in order to justify the stocking expense
3. Sophisticated endodontic microscopes, as complex endodontics become more commonly offered in general practice.
Other possible changes include the following:
4. Projected increased occupancy costs, especially in location positive structures
5. Changes to the physical environment predicated on perceived patient expectations of what a contemporary dental environment should include. Some of these enhancements could consist of more attractive décor and patient access conveniences such as phone, internet, television, and refreshments.
6. Upgrades to office/patient communication systems to allow for electronic confirmations and bookings
7. Website design and maintenance, crucial to
attracting new patients in the digital era
8. Marketing initiatives that create a fully developed BRAND to allow patients to connect with the message the office projects. Since the majority of future prospective patients fall into the category of strong BRAND identifiers, practices would be wise to invest in such upgrades rather than be perceived as “my parent’s dental office.”
Looking at Possible Clinical ProjectionsFuture patients are likely to expect some of the following features:
1. Professionally attired and highly trained clinical and administrative teams
2. Enhanced support staff that include comprehensive treatment coordinators and full service, friendly administration/reception teams, knowledgeable and communicative clinical assistants and hygienists
3. Computerized looped information channels outlining the treatment rendered in the office
4. Prominently displayed mission statement that is consistent with the BRAND. Looking at Possible Clinical Priorities We are already noting a trend toward an appreciation of a more holistic approach to oral health care. The future focus on more than just treatment of teeth and soft tissue in favour of assuming responsibility for total oral health will be the norm for a new entail piggybacking on the recently accepted conceptthat oral health has a direct effect on total systemic health; for example, the consequence of periodontal disease on pathology within other organ systems. Perhaps there will be less emphasis on aesthetics and more placed on biologic health.
In a recent seminar, Dr. Steven Almos exhorted the profession “to put the doctor back into dentistry.” What does this mean for the future? After appropriate, intensive training courses, a new focus can be incorporated into the everyday GP dental practice around issues that were previously thought to be the sole purview of medical practitioners or dental specialists, such as the following:
1. TMD: After surveying our patient base, we could identify a number of patients suffering from temporomandibular joint disorder and safely treat them.
2. Sleep Apnea: A contemporary office of the future could possibly be expected to provide an intra oral alternative to the CPAP therapy (continuous positive airway pressure therapy) that has a long history of non-compliance.
Perhaps future practice will integrate more closely with medical practice so that the opportunity for cross referrals will be enhanced for a whole series of head and neck issues including migraine treatments.
Preparing for Potential New RealitiesWithout a crystal ball, it’s very difficult to look ahead and see specific details of what may emerge as state-of–the-art dental practice in seven to ten years. What seems inevitable is that the practices that thrive will be those taking proactive measures to adjust their current operations to meet the expectations and realities imposed on the profession by an even more activist, demanding, patient base than that of today. All this SEEMS to portend the need for dentists to operate in a more collegial practice environment and, perhaps, reject the attitude of isolated solo practice. Such mentality suggests that dentists operate best as sole proprietors, and, therefore, partnerships and group practices should be shunned. Economic and professional demands seem to refute this perspective.
Reflecting on past practices through a retroscope and seeing the horizon of tomorrow through a periscope help practitioners gradually adapt their practices to satisfy the need for structural and clinical changes to remain viable in the future. Without a vision of the future, we will not have flexibility to deal with inevitable change. PA