Digital technology and the Dental Value Chain

Jul 21, 2017

Arnold Rosen, DDS, MBA

I recently came across an article published just a year ago in Dental Lab International. Titled Value Chains Being Transformed by New Digital Dental Technologies, its authored by Friedhelm Klingenburg, CEO of Germany-based Merz Dental GmbH, a dental lab respected worldwide for its leading dental companies worldwide for technologically sophisticated production.

I agree with Klingenburg’s observation that the dental “value chain” would have seen little change if companies like Sirona had not introduced the scanners and CAD/CAM milling machines in the 1980s.  In his article, he refers to a dental technician's occupation as “no longer a ‘plaster room’ job but rather a computer workstation position.” The digital future, Klingenburg says, will see a full denture completed by a master craftsman and customized to suit the patient's oral situation in just one appointment.  

Yes – a full denture based on completely digital development and production, completely devoid of dust and plaster. 

As a decades-long practicing prosthodontist and advisor in the management and operation of dental implant centers, I’ve witnessed a major evolution in dentistry’s value chain. 

I provide this basic definition of a value chain: the whole series of activities that create and build value at every step. I also like the German reference Klingenburg cites in his article, describing the value (adding) chain as ‘the stages of the transformation process that a product or service passes through, from starting materials to final use.’  Value added, he says, “is the difference between the income that the product generates and the resources employed.”

Consider the many contacts and “tasks” associated with a patient’s care, from the time they walk into your office until their treatment is complete: engagement, education, diagnosis and treatment planning, surgical execution, prosthetics execution, laboratory technology, insertion, and follow-up, with multiple players using various products, technologies and channels of communication. 

We could easily spend a day discussing each element by itself and we tend to look at the trees rather than the forest. Unfortunately, many of us take a penny wise and pound-foolish approach to individual issues within the chain of events.

In 1985, Michael Porter, management guru from the Harvard School of Business, introduced the value chain concept. In it, he tells us that to be effective we must understand and pay attention to the interrelationship of elements of the chain. It is the relationship within the chain that maximizes value. Hence, in applying the concept to dentistry, cohesive effective workflow starts at the reception desk and ends at delivery of a final product  

Let’s take communications as a simple example of an essential element in support of the value chain and cohesive uninterrupted workflow. 

In the world of digital technology, we talk about information that needs to be shared and stored. But we seldom discuss vehicles for efficient communication. We also seldom address the need for respect of the security and privacy of patient information, which is evolving into a critical issue in the virtual world.  

How are you communicating with colleagues and patients?  How are you sharing, storing, archiving and documenting the treatment experience of patients? Are you leveraging the newest communication channels to optimize the value chain?  I’ll cover these important topics in a future blog and explore various communication options for ensuring efficient, secure and private exchange of information for every aspect of the patient experience in the value chain.