Troubleshooting at Frontier Dental Laboratories just got easier. The laboratory has implemented a new on-line video conferencing service, VideoScript, that allows the laboratory and the dentist to have a live, face-to-face meeting on the Internet. While the service may be used for general case planning in the future, for now it's proving to be a valuable tool for when the laboratory has a specific question or concern on a particular case.
"Verbally explaining a problem with a case has always been difficult," says Garrett Caldwell, vice president of the 100-employee operation. For instance, the laboratory recently had a concern about the tissue placement on an out-of-state client's case. "We simply called the doctor, and in under three minutes we were able to show him live images on his computer, just like we were sitting right next to him," says Caldwell. "We were able to make changes right away without any delays and without having to redo the entire case. Being able to point to our concerns right on the model made it very easy to explain."
To use the service, both the lab and the client need to have a computer, Internet connection, video camera, camera software, USB port for hooking up the camera, and Internet video conferencing software. Frontier uses Microsoft's Net Meeting software which comes free with all Windows® operating systems.
Here's how the service works: both of the lab's production managers' computers are equipped with video cameras. When the lab needs to discuss a case, it calls or e-mails the client and the client uses a specific IP address to connect to the lab's computer. The laboratory team--usually the production manager and the technician working on the case--sits in front of the camera with the case. While the dentist views the video live on his computer, the team talks over the telephone (each technician is equipped with a wireless headset).
Having a camera in the dental office also allows the laboratory to go one step further than simply discussing a case with a client--it allows them to virtually bring the patient into the laboratory during initial case planning, before preparation or on difficult cases. "Some of our clients use the service while the patient is actually in the chair," says Caldwell. "They use their intraoral cameras so that we can see exactly what he's looking at in the patient's mouth. It can be of assistance when looking at things such as lip line, gummy smile and overjet, which may not be apparent on a model."
The key to getting clients to use the service, says Caldwell, is to keep it simple. For instance, the dentist can even use a basic dial-up Internet connection, which most of Frontier's clients use. "For the most part, dentists are not techies who want to use computers. So in offering this service, we knew it had to be easy to use and the doctor had to be comfortable using it," he says. "To get them up and running, we walk them through every step and can even fix their technical difficulties so there's no stress on their part."
Before marketing the service, the laboratory ran tests with some key accounts to determine which software to use and what type of lighting was necessary. It also bought about five different video cameras in a variety of price ranges and ended up selecting a $99 Logitech-brand model. "In the past few years, the cost of video cameras has really gone down, while the image quality has gone up. Plus, since we're using the cameras to communicate morphology and case design--not color-critical shades, for example--we found that we didn't need to invest in the higher-end cameras," says Caldwell.
The lab offers a $125 VideoScript package to its clients that includes a Logitech camera, camera software and simple, three-step directions; clients that do over $2,500 of case work in a six-month period receive the package at no charge.
Launched last year, about 25 of the lab's 2,000 clients are currently using the service. "The clients who are excited about it are our mail-order accounts or those who work at a very high level and want their cases absolutely perfect," says Caldwell. "They know this is just one more tool that is available to them if they need it."
Frontier Dental Laboratories El Dorado Hills, CA
Kent Hallmeyer, a CDT and ceramist, founded the laboratory 24 years ago in Citrus Heights, CA. Then, the laboratory had just three employees; today, it's a 100-person operation and a leader in education.
One major turning point in the lab's growth came around 1994 when Hallmeyer decided to start offering continuing education programs at the laboratory as a way to connect with a more sophisticated pool of dentist-clients. Today, the laboratory caters to a high-end clientele and its seminars have blossomed into an entire education division with a three-person staff. The division is made up of Frontiers Seminars West, the Northern California Institute of Cosmetic Dentistry which offers live patient courses in San Franciso and El Dorado Hills, and the Frontier Institute.
But the lab's commitment to education doesn't end there. It just finished constructing a state-of-the-art education center at its facility--complete with a lecture hall, dental suite and two operatories--and founded the Sacramento chapter of the AACD which now has 60 members.
Frontier is also the facilitating laboratory for The Aesthetic Advantage--The Rosenthal Institute's hands-on program at NYU in New York; Palm Beach, FL; and London. In addition, in 2005, it opened a London office to better service the clients it has gained through its affiliation with the program.