Monday, May 28, 2012
One of the great things about going to tradeshows, besides seeing all that the industry has to offer, is the interaction with our users. Inevitably, a few conversations take place that are invaluable in helping us determine the best direction for Dentalcompare. CDA Spring, which took place May 3–5 in Anaheim, was no exception. I had the pleasure of sitting down with a practicing dentist, who, without much prodding, opened up about what is on his mind in 2012.
Being the best product resource for dentists certainly has its perks–Manufacturers love to work with us to bring product information to dentists, and we routinely get sneak peeks at upcoming products. However, the products themselves do not define the character of a dental practice—There is much more to it than what composite you are using this week. It takes a large amount of skill and artistry to practice great dentistry. In fact, the California Dental Association (CDA) has named their conventions, “The Art and Science of Dentistry,” and it couldn’t be closer to the truth. Along with choosing the right products comes choosing the right staff, the right location, and the right marketing. Added to all of this is the weight of being a small business owner in what can be considered “interesting” economic times.
What does this have to do with the conversation I mentioned? Everything. Practicing dentists spend years honing their craft. After many long nights at dental school (and student loan debt), they embark on becoming part of a practice and purchase a share in that practice. They feel confident that they are helping individuals, but are a bit uneasy about the business side of their profession. Thankfully there are organizations that are there to help, in this case, the ADA and CDA offer members a bulk of resources that help them get their feet on the ground and help to ensure a successful practice.
A topic that has been in the news lately is access to quality care. This has been debated across the board as individuals lose insurance and the cost of healthcare continues to increase.
Whether it is a social or geographical barrier, there is a drive to ensure that everyone has access to affordable healthcare. In response to this, the ADA has launched a pilot program in urban and rural areas and on Indian reservations that will allow a high school graduate to take part in a two-year training program called “Community Dental Health Coordinators.” Once an individual completes the program, he or she becomes certified to perform basic dental care, which ensures that everyone in the community has affordable access. This program is being introduced in different areas of the country, with several phases complete. The initial rollout will be on Indian reservations that have limited access to healthcare. Once the pilot is complete, the idea is to roll it out to the rest of the country.
The dentist I was speaking with takes issue with several points in the ADA’s pilot program. This individual takes great pride in being a dentist, and respects all of the efforts made by those in his industry. Dentists have gotten a bad rap over the years (think Little Shop of Horrors and Marathon Man), and he feels that the tide is now starting to turn.
His biggest fear is that this program will begin to erode the respect that dentists have worked for over the years in the communities they are part of. Why would I send my child to a dentist who has tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, when there is a Community Dental Health Coordinator that is certified by the ADA to do the same procedure that costs me pennies on the dollar in comparison? His main concern is not the loss in potential revenue, but the potential irrevocable harm that may come to his profession. His point is that by allowing someone with such little training to perform procedures that could potentially harm the patient, dentistry in general will suffer. In his mind, reducing the requirements to do certain procedures is not the answer, and he pointed out that much of the pilot has been focused on areas that do have access to dentists, but not free dentists, which is what much of this comes down to.
Let’s look at this from another angle—Learning to drive is just too hard and too expensive, so instead we will eliminate the need for driver’s training and the licensing test, as most people will eventually “get it.” If that idea were instituted, there would be utter chaos on the roads. The reason it is hard and expensive is that you literally have someone’s life in your hands. As a dentist, if you make the wrong move, cut the wrong way, you could end someone’s life. Giving that power to someone with just a few years’ training out of high school truly frightens this dentist.
Overall, he believes that the issue of access to care is being confused with access to free care. The vast majority of the population lives within several miles of quality healthcare. All but the smallest towns in America have a dentist and at least one medical center. For areas such as rural Alaska, where there simply are no dentists (or ATMs, banks, or running water), the program has merit. However, part of living in the last frontier has its challenges, and citizens routinely fly to larger cities to receive the healthcare they need. Just look at the large number of regional airlines in the state, and you will see how much their citizens rely on air travel to get access to the services they need. This dentist feels that if you read between the lines, the issue is that dentists cost money, and what’s cheaper—someone who is a doctor in dental surgery or someone with a two-year trade certificate? Do we really want someone who has the same amount of training as a truck mechanic taking care of our health?
He also feels that the same organizations that promised to represent him and his profession are the ones pushing the hardest on this program, which has left him a bit confused.
What I found most fascinating about this conversation is that not once did he mention products or new procedures. His main concern is maintaining a profession he has worked so hard to build up over the years. As with most dentists, he is incredibly proud of helping to improve the lives of his patients. Dentists love being part of the community they are serving, and are paid back in spades because of this devotion.
What do you think of access to affordable care? Is the ADA going too far? Or are they meeting a real need in our communities? Sound off in the comments below!