Andrew has been writing Anti Buzz for 4 years resulting in almost 200 articles. For the next several weeks we will revisit some of these just in case you missed it.
I have spent many of my recent articles trying to make some sense of the smartphone/tablet boom, but what I haven’t done is really dig into what I think it means for you, a practicing dentist.
I think it is fair to categorize this move to mobile devices as a renaissance – that is to say a rebirth of the computing revolution.
You went paperless? Good! You have a website? Good! Computers in every office and treatment room? Good!
Now tear it all out, we’re starting over.
That’s what it means to you. Not very anti-buzz of me, but that’s what I think you are looking at. You might be able to make like the publishing industry and forestall the disruption – your industry has the means of sandbagging – but the day is coming where you will put a tablet in the hand of every employee and hold the expectation that your patients will have already checked in on their phone before entering your office, (perhaps forwarding you a note of their location when they do so you don’t jump the gun). You will visualize their circumstance with photos and x-rays and charts, passed to them on a tablet which they will flip through in the exam chair, paging the items with their fingers, (not unlike paging through the old records of yore, ironically). When finished they will finger in their next appointment on a calendar sync’d to respect both your time and theirs. The bill will be e-mailed, and they will pay on the spot, right there in the treatment room, either swiping their card down the side of the tablet, or just routing through PayPal with the press of a few buttons.
This will happen. When? That’s trickier.
Why It Will Happen
If you think the above narrative is dubious, I would guess it would be for one of two reasons.
You can’t run a dental practice on a tablet – Which is literally true, in the same way that you can’t run a dental practice on a keyboard. The keyboard alone certainly doesn’t have the storage capacity for your records and neither does a tablet, but they are both just interfaces. Your records are still on a big computer somewhere, (possibly not in your office). I am also not suggesting that your practice would become computer-free, just computer-light.
Patients won’t want to be so involved – which may well be true of some of them. You will still have a front desk, where your patients will be free to pretend that it’s still 1980 if they want. But there is a bigger picture you are missing if you think this level of customer interaction isn’t on the horizon. An increasingly large portion of commerce is being driven not just through the Internet, but through mobile devices specifically. The triumph of small software means there is an app for everything. People enter a business and compare prices, real-time, with other stores near them, (there is an app for it). We are already beyond the comfort threshold – that is, customers are already comfortable with this. We are looking at expectation. Customers will soon /expect/ that they can enhance their experience through their mobile device at all times.
The difference between a practice that allows patients to take some control on the small screen and the practice that keeps all knowledge guarded on “professionals only” machines is the difference between an inviting, personable practice, and a stereotypically sterile one. You used to keep your appointment book behind the front desk because only your receptionists were trained to keep it straight. Then you kept it squirreled away on the treatment room computers because you couldn’t expect your patients to know how to use your software. If everything is handled on a light, intuitive touch interface, there really is no reason not to let the patient pencil themselves in. A patient who physically sets their own appointment is going to feel more invested in returning for treatment. And while I understand that many offices are already rife with tools to present information to patients, handling a patient the means to explore their own records and information offers a touch of humanity, makes them feel like they have more control, and will ultimately make them feel more comfortable with you and the services you offer. You want these changes to happen.
Apart from infrastructure, the real change is that practice management software is currently designed for use by you and your staff, and it will need to change to be used by you, your staff and your patients.
Why It Won’t Happen
As said, as an industry, that you are capable of sandbagging. The sort of mobile revolution I’m talking about is going on right now in the retail industry, but there we are mostly talking about large national chains. It makes sense that these corporations would either hire engineers to build a solution, or contract with a large development company to build one for them. You are a small business, and aren’t really in the game of revolutionizing practice management tools. You indirectly contract engineers by purchasing practice management software, but ultimately you are just a customer, not a true partner. It is possible that the changes I’m discussing will come naturally. Perhaps the types of packages I’m describing are in development right now! But much as the stubborn among you were able to hold out against “computerizing” your office, you can again hold out against “tabletizing” it too. It would be a mistake, but it would not be an immediately dire one. It’s really a matter of how forward thinking you are as a group, because the types of solutions you are offered will be reflective of that.
If the developers of practice management software do not move away from the increasingly archaic large software suite, they will be prone to be disrupted by the first company to take the risk. Right now the industry enjoys being composed almost entirely of small businesses. There are no ubiquitous dental chains. But if, as a group, you stall out on modernizing again, you could risk being supplanted by anyone daring enough to try putting the sleek “mobile” dental experience in offices around the country.