Dental Tribune Middle East
(Image: Markus Sebastian)

The future of dentistry: an inevitable shift towards a digital ecosystem

By Markus Sebastian, Align Technology
April 13, 2021

There is no doubt that the past year has been a challenge for most businesses. It’s been especially hard for those in the dental industry, including dental service organisations, and group practices. With mandated closures, new infection control guidelines, an increased need for expensive personal protective equipment - operating one dental practice, let alone a group with dozens of locations, became a test of perseverance and adaptability.

On the brighter side, post-COVID-19, there is the possibility to rebuild the industry in a better, more future-proof way. The immediate response to the public health crisis is causing seismic shifts in how and where care is provided for our communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced orthodontists and dentists to establish new norms and operational best practices to benefit frontline workers and patients, ushering in a new era of innovation, collaboration, and technology.

Prior to COVID-19, dental practices were already in the early stages of digital transformation – in some markets more than others. I believe the pandemic has catalysed a digital shift that will continue to make waves in the dental world, and the vast majority of dentists and orthodontists will welcome the benefits that digital presents into their practices.

The seismic shift towards teledentistry

When movements were restricted, practice owners needed a way to safely continue connecting with their patients and staff - whether this was to conduct dental triage, implement virtual workflows, or cautiously perform emergency procedures. What’s more, they needed to alleviate anxiety whilst maintaining the trust of patients. Teledentistry platforms filled these needs and helped preserve the life of legions of practice owners during the first wave of closings.

As the EMEA markets continue to make progress with vaccinations, and we all hope the following months will slowly mark the end of the pandemic, dental practices will continue to use digital tools and workflows to dive into new levels of growth. By implementing teledentistry more broadly, dentists and orthodontists can care for more patients in a shorter amount of time. For example, with the Invisalign Virtual Appointment tool, doctors can monitor the progress of the treatment of existing patients and support the patients remotely by checking their progress and answering their questions about their Invisalign treatment. The tool allows the doctor to schedule consults and follow-ups, stay close to the existing patients by communicating through the Virtual Appointment platform, remotely address patient questions and concerns.

With the use of the Invisalign Virtual Appointment and other online modes of communication, dentists and orthodontists can effectively address problems and challenges, providing advice and recommendations from anywhere they sit. Having experienced this level of efficiency and convenience, which can be successfully leveraged for a certain type of treatments, it makes little sense for dentistry to revert back to a 100 per cent traditional practice post-pandemic.

Thinking differently

The very nature of dental care will always make person-to-person contact paramount, but the dynamics have changed dramatically. Creating frictionless access for patients and prompt, personal responses will help practitioners stand out from the crowd. Managing the customer experience will generate different sources of revenue and allow the practice to better control cost. According to strategy and management consulting firm McKinsey & Company: “Organizations that can quickly reimagine their omnichannel approach to create a distinctive customer experience will recover faster from the pandemic.”

Increasing a consumer`s lifetime value is all about engagement. It’s time to temper efforts on the new patient acquisition with more emphasis on retention. With a broader scope of care and services and an ecosystem that fosters ease and efficiency, consumer lifetime value will increase. This results in a win/win for the patient and the practice. A resilient practice can meet this challenge, and in return, patients searching for real value with integrity are sure to respond with their trust and loyalty.

Seeing the future

There are no guarantees in life, but we can be certain of a few things; one of which being that virtually every human being has teeth they need for ease of consuming food, cosmetic purposes, and overall health reasons. In other words, the demand for dentistry may evolve and fluctuate, but it will not disappear. With a flexible approach and careful planning, neither will dental practices.

That said, digital dentistry is becoming increasingly important. Even practitioners who have not yet looked into the digital future of dentistry will not be able to avoid this for much longer. Digital processes and technologies will significantly change dentistry, if not revolutionise it. For many doctors, this offers a plethora of new options and advantages for shaping their future success.

This includes optimising processes and creating a more streamlined digitised workflow that covers every aspect of the patient journey – from diagnostics to planning and dental lab production as well as patient follow-up. The rise of telehealth and virtual consultations in response to the current pandemic will only serve to advance the digital workflows already available.

For this reason, dentists and orthodontists should sooner rather than later think about how they can make the best possible use of these new circumstances. Making the switch to incorporate digital dentistry is worthwhile as they can be easily combined with conventional manual methods.

The key to success is often to use a smart and balanced mixture of both digital and traditional methods. One-size-fits-all recommendations cannot be given. Rather, doctors should consider individual strategies that suit their circumstances best, with a sound sense of judgment and pragmatism.

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