Keeping up with technology is a concern for any specialist. However, for many orthodontists, the question is often, “Does it make sense to invest in technology for my practice when business is slow?”

This is a big change from a few years ago, when the most common challenge for an orthodontist was how to see more patients each day. Schedules were full, new patients were plentiful, and doctors were chair hopping.

Today, it is a much different picture for many. The growth of clear aligner therapy and other economic pressures have made it very attractive for general dentists to perform orthodontic treatments on their patients. Patients may also find it favorable to elect what they perceive as “lower-cost” treatment from their family dentist. In short, the change in the economy has driven many general dentists to provide their own orthodontics, and has made it harder for orthodontists to stay busy.

This has also forced the orthodontic practice to look at technology differently. When schedules were full, any technology that promised shorter treatment time, fewer appointments, or less chairtime was quickly purchased. The incremental benefit of improved efficiency is no longer as valuable. This raises the question, “Do I need (can I afford) technology in my practice?”

An orthodontic practice is a business. When you view it as such, this question seems quite simple to answer. Still, the questions that should be asked when purchasing technology have changed, and they are even more significant.

Will this technology help ?me provide a better clinical outcome for my patients?

As health care providers, this is perhaps the most important question and a very simple one to apply to a technology investment. If the answer is “Yes, this would benefit my patient clinically,” it should be made available to the patient. I say “made available,” because this does not mean it should be purchased for the practice.

For example, it is commonly accepted that 3D imaging can provide important information that will help provide better care in some cases. However, if an office plans to only use 3D imaging once or twice per month, it may make more sense to arrange access to a CBCT system at an imaging center or clinician close by. (Keep in mind that convenience for the patient is a very important consideration when working with an outside source.)

Will this technology help me attract more patients and increase my rate of case acceptance?

The reality is that when orthodontists have fewer prospective patients, competition to attract potential patients and convert them into a start increases. This problem is compounded by the fact that patients are more educated and aware of their choices than ever before. More patients are looking for a “smile design” and not simply for straight teeth. As a result, any technologies that will help you impress and communicate more effectively with your prospective patients are of high value to the practice. Things to ask yourself:

  • Will this help me provide a more effective case presentation?
  • Will this help me better communicate the clinical outcome?
  • Will this help the patient feel that we are maximizing the overall facial design and not just straightening his/her teeth?

Will this technology provide a positive return on the investment?

When you strip it down to the basics, if an investment in a particular technology will add more value to your business than it will cost, it should be purchased. Value (benefits) will come primarily from three areas:

  1. Indirect benefits that increase the number of starts. If a technology can reasonably be expected to generate one new start per month at a value of $6,000 to the practice, and only costs $1,000 per month, it is generally a smart investment.
  2. Direct benefit from reduced overhead. For example, if purchasing a digital impression system will save you $600 in materials each month at a cost of $400 per month, it is generally a wise purchase.
  3. Direct benefit of increased billing. An example may be the purchase of a CBCT system, where you plan to charge for the CBCT scan. If you can reasonably expect to bill an additional $2,000 per month (without additional staff overhead, etc) for a cost of $1,000 per month, it is generally a good investment.

Not all technology is worth the investment, but certain technologies are even more important to offices that have “free time” than it may have been when practices had more patients than they could see. Ask yourself the questions above when deciding whether or not to purchase new technology for your practice. OP

Matt Hendrickson has spent more than 20 years in the industry. He is currently US orthodontic director for Carestream Dental. Prior to joining Carestream Dental, Hendrickson founded and served as president of Integrated Dental Solutions, as well as held a variety of roles within dental practices.