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Lean On Me—Lean Office Practices Are Just Better Business

Issue: Summer 2010
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Lean and mean is the buzzword of the times of modern business. Operating “lean” now reflects the values of efficiency, financial responsibility, and good leadership. The concept transfers quite effectively to the dental environment—the lean practice. This method of improving a business is universal to all successful endeavors, especially in this era of evolving technology. The primary concept behind lean office is “continuous improvement.” Although this sounds like a lot of work, actually, these methods result in a calmer, less burdened workplace. To continuously improve, a lean office must concentrate on three aspects: willingness to change, involvement of employees, and effective communication. Digital radiography touches all of these points, making for a leaner, and even greener, office.

Willingness to Change: Many offices continue to use inefficient methods because they are stuck in “the X-ray rut.” Most of us become accustomed to everyday rituals and habits, and even bad ones are tough to break. Such is the case with traditional film X-ray. The lean office involves cutting out unnecessary steps and costs. Implementing digital X-ray allows a practitioner to eliminate such burdens as the darkroom, the cleaning and processing chemicals, the mounts, and the film as well as a huge amount of time saved. Digital X-ray is clean and quick to capture providing instant, clear images that are as large as your computer display will allow.

Involvement of Employees: The office staff should be involved serving the patients, not scrubbing a processor or hanging around in a closet waiting for film to develop. You can easily capture images in much less time than traditional film— cutting the time of an FMX potentially by 20 minutes. Some digital sensors, such as mine (DEXIS® Platinum), are built for efficiency—a slim profile with rounded corners, and a special type of cable exit that lets the assistant move it around the mouth with ease. Team members are happy that they can plug their digital sensor right into the computer with a direct USB connection–everybody wins!

DEXIS, a major component to the Lean Dental Practice

Effective Communication: Digital X-ray speaks. Not literally, but word will get around the community that this technology has made the dental experience a quicker, more comfortable, and more understandable process. Digital X-ray lets the dentist educate the patient, with images that can be enlarged and enhanced. Areas of concern can be highlighted in many ways on the screen, with contrast, color, or arrows, just to name a few. Rather than staring blankly at a small piece of film that they cannot really comprehend, an educated patient is empowered to make the right decisions regarding dental care—leading to increased case acceptance. Technology equals quality in the patient’s mind!

Lean principles are by no means a modern concept. In the mid 1900s, W. Edwards Deming taught Japanese auto executives how to improve quality, reduce expenses, increase productivity and improve market share and lower costs. The concept was so effective that the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers established The Deming Prize and bestowed upon him a medal.

Back to modern times, digital imaging has been a real treasure for my dental office. A change toward leaner office practices results in a more efficient, effective, cleaner, greener, calmer, quicker, X-ray process with clearer more “communicable” results. Continuous improvement and a lean office helps you to make more out of less, cutting the fat from the budget and, at the same time, concentrating on the most important aspect of the practice—quality of care for the patients.

Dr. Brad Durham completed his dental training at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston in 1982. He has practiced for 28 years with an emphasis on head, neck, and facial pain treatment, dental cosmetics, and complex dental reconstruction. His practice combines art, science, and technology with personalized care. Dr. Durham is a clinical and featured instructor at The Las Vegas Institute of Advanced Dental Education and he was the first to earn the LVI Mastership Award for aesthetic reconstruction. He teaches a series of courses entitled “The Niche Practice” at LVI and at his home base in Savannah, Georgia. He can be reached at: drd@braddurhamdmd.com and www.nichepractice.com.