More and more Oral Surgeons are realizing the importance of ‘going digital’. Like any other business, oral surgeries and dental practices need to be aware of trends in information technology that could impact their oral surgery practice.  This is no small task, and there are several aspects of digital transformation that should be understood before implementing a new technology.  This is because a true digital transformation is about more than just acquiring a system or software; this newly implemented technology will almost certainly impact both the practice’s people and its processes. The impact will vary depending on the size and nature of the practice, the team, and the extent to which it’s automate.  This article will highlight important considerations in “going digital.”

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Change is “Personal”
Digital transformation means change, and change is “personal.” It will affect the team members, patients, and the way work gets done.  And it often sparks resistance – even though the change may be a necessity for the growth of the business. And resistance can come at all levels in the practice, not just the front-line team members. Failing to overcome this resistance to change is the leading cause of sub-optimal results in organizational transformations. The most common reasons include; lack of buy-in and participation (especially from the employees who are impacted directly), misalignment of the technology solution with the needs of the practice, under-communicating the vision/strategy for the initiative, insufficient training and/or resources, and change fatigue (for more causes of resistance, interested readers can check out this article). Let’s delve into these a little further.

Change Needs “Team Captains” and “Team Players” Onboard
Organizational change is a team sport, and the “team captains” in an oral surgery practice are (usually) the surgeons. As such, they may be removed from the day-to-day functions and processes under the control of the line team members. Yet, it is those team members who have the most knowledge about what is working well and what could be (or needs to be) improved.  If the practice leaders disenfranchise the line in the procurement of technology solutions, odds are that the team will resist the initiative even if the solution would be effective.  That resistance can linger for years.

In addition, team member input is essential to aligning the solution to the needs of the business. Line workers are closest to the oral surgery practice, and are likely to have the best handle on operational pain points. Teams feel valued and validated when management makes a genuine effort to solicit their ideas and feedback. Good employee relations techniques such as this can result in increased productivity, job satisfaction, and retention.

Overcoming Resistance
Kathleen Dannemiller and Robert Jacobs first proposed a formula to help executives and change leaders conceptualize organizational change.  The formula is D x V x F > R. They posit that the main dependency of successful change is the ability to overcome “R” (resistance). The “D” represents dissatisfaction with the status quo, “V,” the vision of the future state (i.e., post-implementation), and “F” first steps toward the vision. In simple terms, the people affected most by the change must be “dissatisfied enough” to want to change; the vision communicated to them must be clear enough to understand how it will benefit them; and, finally, the organization must take the first steps to advance the initiate within a reasonable time to keep the employees engaged and enthused. Of course, underlying all of this are resources and training. While this may seem intuitive, leaders should not take these for granted. D, V, and F won’t matter if there is a lack of funding, top-level support, expertise, and/or user training.

The level of resistance also can be influenced by fear and something experts call “change fatigue.” During any major organizational change, employees naturally wonder about job security and their careers. Again, addressing these fears may seem intuitive, but many practices don’t address the organizational impact until well into, or even after, the implementation, thereby fueling employee anxiety and negatively impacting job performance.  Moreover, if past change initiatives have failed, employees may feel more cynical and resistant because resistance is cumulative. Resistance will increase if past initiatives, though successful to one degree or another, were arduous and/or very disruptive to the team’s routine.  The more recent the memory of previous bad experiences, the less likely team members will be to embrace a new one.

Preparing for Change
So, as a change agent/leader, what are some steps you can take to prepare for organizational transformation?

  1. Gather change readiness data. Do a little research to identify web-enabled surveys and/or assessment tools. This data will provide traction for the project, enable more support from the team, help surgeons and administrators to anticipate the sources and level of potential resistance, and develop a strategy to overcome the resistance.
  2. Frame conversations in terms of what is needed from them in terms of visible support/sponsorship. They will be more willing to interact and communicate if the messaging is positive and accentuates the importance of their roles in success versus a reaction to resistance.
  3. Since resistance correlates with the level of disruption (in the change process), the greater the team members’ sense of control, the easier it will be to manage through the resistance. The involvement of those most affected by the change establishes personal ownership, breaks down resistance, and increases acceptance of the initiative.
  4. Be prepared to deal with resistance at the all levels in the organization. It is not “a given” that a surgeon or senior administrator who is a sponsor of the initiative is also a champion of it. Resistance can occur at all levels. “Team captains” need to cascade the vision to the lower levels of the organization. If they harbor resistance, that surely will become apparent to the team members and likely doom the initiative to failure.
  5. Finally, as a project manager and change agent for the initiative, prepare to address resistance with brief and scripted responses to frequently asked questions. Don’t assume that correct, logical explanations will eliminate resistance. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Be sure to reiterate the vision and the post-implementation benefits of the initiative often and in as personal a way as possible.

No business would want to waste money on the wrong digital technology, especially during difficult times such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. By understanding the nature of change, having a strategy to identify and address resistance to it, and by celebrating early successes and creating cultural experiences that support the vision, businesses can increase the success rate of their digital transformation initiatives.

Before “closing out” this topic, we should note that digital transformation is an ongoing process. The pace of change and the refinement of emerging technologies requires dental and oral surgery practices to be vigilant and adapt to changing patient preferences that result from those refinements. To do that, practices need a digital strategy that includes a plan for patient engagement at every stage of the patient lifecycle. 

In previous posts in this series, we highlighted how a practice can increase teamwork in the office with software like MaxilloSoft that includes online patient intake forms, and automated appointment reminders, fee estimates, insurance verification, payment processing, and referral letters. We also explored ways to improve communication among staff and with patients to reduce human error, and save time and money while delivering higher touch experiences that both the team and patients will appreciate. These considerations need to be a part of the digital strategy, as well as marketing approaches. Marketing encompasses things like site website design, mobile compatibility, search engine optimization, organic link building, and content building for the practice website.

Social media has become a game changer in digital transformation for many businesses. Every oral surgery practice should have a well thought out social media marketing plan, a budget for it, and a notion of how to integrate the plan with the rest of its online marketing efforts.  Marketing efforts should include an online reputation building initiative. Potential patients will be consulting online reviews with comments from other patients about your practice. A proactive online reputation building approach can help ensure a fair, balanced and positive brand image. The rewards of a consistent and sustainable digital marketing plan can be substantial over time in a competitive marketplace. With a holistic approach to digital transformation, you can grow your practice successfully!

This blog post was first published in July 2020, and updated April 2021.

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