There’s a buzz in larger corporations today about nurturing a culture of innovation, and in the dental sleep medicine field, it appears the idea of getting seriously innovative is being forced upon us. At one point (long ago and far away) there were few ABDSM Diplomates, medical insurance was looked at in a completely different light than it is today, and DME suppliers did their job and dentists did theirs.
Today, there are over 3,000 members of the AADSM and approximately 10% of them have achieved Diplomate status, with more offices setting their sights to achieve accreditation status. The insurance companies have managed to create enough smoke and mirrors connected with networks and allowable fees, codes and peripheral criteria that to be responsible as a business entity while simultaneously welcoming to potential patients seeking covered treatment pretty much takes an act of God. And there is of course, for now, a shortage of qualified, available clinical assistants, which makes the challenge of staying on schedule formidable for all but the most efficient, Diplomate-wielding dentist, operating in an accredited facility, with a full-time insurance specialist on staff. Now we have added to the mix the challenge of vendors becoming providers.
In some circles, the discussion has turned from one of marketing to grow the dental sleep practice to an often angry one about survival – and I’d like to suggest that we are reacting in completely the wrong direction.
Enter the idea of an innovative culture. In concept, the idea of innovation is generally met with enthusiasm. New ideas, solutions instead of problems – that’s the fun part. Until we get to the place of turning thoughts into actions. New action requires change, and assuming responsibility for change is like putting a target on your back. The culture in most practices reflects the comfort of standardized procedures and routine; ideas that in the dental practice model are essential to the health and well being of schedules, patient care and production. The dental sleep practice requires fully customized appliances applied to unique individuals with specific stories – nothing standard there! And yet, here we are. Snoring and sleep apnea sufferers want our solutions but it feels like it’s getting harder with each passing day to pull it all together for them. How do we market this exciting, in-demand service when we feel overwhelmed?
From a marketing perspective, innovation provides the spark we need. Being able to identify what sets a practice apart and gives the patient benefit is the stuff that wildly successful campaigns are made of. There is brilliance in practices where innovation cultures exist. These practices have created an environment where they have taken on the challenge of finding the best amid the chaos. They have simplified, become models of efficiency, and do what benefits the practice, the patients and the people who make up the staff. They don’t wait until a crisis arises, rather they live in an awareness and take competition on before it arises. It is our nature as individuals to be attracted to “new.” The idea that we can be the ‘new’ is one that must start at the top, with the practice leader. Teams overcome challenges and get to the other side with consistent attention and support from strong leaders. Simply put, it takes innovative leadership to get to an innovative culture. Granting committed team members the license to give voice to insight, moving that insight into actionable ideas and giving those actions support – that’s the kind of culture that is marketable and gains traction. It is a big shift from how practices were once run, but 30 years ago, social media marketing didn’t exist, either.
Change is seldom pretty. As the adage goes, “the only one who likes change is a wet baby!” But dental sleep medicine is a creation of change. It is the place where what was once the bastion of CPAP machines and surgeons collides with dentists and a completely different approach to sleep apnea and snoring. With that as our pedigree, we can hardly dismiss the potential that sits on the horizon, waiting for the same innovation that got us here to rally us into action.