With products, techniques and technologies constantly evolving in our industry and dentists increasingly relying on laboratories as technical consultants, the need to train and educate your clients is at an all-time high. Sponsoring courses for your dentist-clients is an ideal way to meet this need and if you already provide continuing education programs, you know the draw a well-known clinician can have--and the price tag he can command. Now, however, cutting-edge technology is giving labs a more cost-effective way to bring big names right into their facilities.
You may have heard of virtual reality, but how about virtual education? That's the concept behind Dental Ed, a continuing education provider that uses live Internet video conferencing to beam clinicians from around the world right into laboratory venues so they can offer continuing education programs to their dentist-clients.
"Putting on educational programs is one of our laboratory's top three marketing strategies, but it's hard to get the big names and a two-hour hour program can cost around $3,500, plus expenses," says Bruce Barrish, administrative and marketing manager at 50-employee Colonial Dental Lab in West Berlin, New Jersey, who participated in all four of Dental Ed's 2005 programs and has also signed up for the 2006 series. "This is an opportunity to bring high-profile clinicians into our facility right here in New Jersey and offer our dentists top-notch speakers without the high costs."
Stan Okon, owner of Stanley Okon Dental Laboratory, Laguna Woods, California, likes the convenience Dental Ed provides. "Essentially, it's a prepackaged study club for my clients. I don't have to go out and arrange it; all I have to do is send out invitations and take registration. And, for my dentists, it beats the heck out of flying across--or out of--the country."
Dental Ed started in Australia in 2003 to provide Internet lectures to orthodontists. In 2005, Founder Emanuel Recupero asked Ed McLaren, director of UCLA's Center for Esthetic Dentistry, if he thought the concept could work in the U.S., and the U.S. branch of Dental Ed was born. Today, it's run by McLaren and two other dentists affiliated with UCLA: his wife, Sandra McLaren, and Brian Lesage, who also has a private practice in Beverly Hills.
Here's how Dental Ed works: For a $7,600 annual subscription fee, the laboratory has access to six live "webcasts" that are broadcast over the Internet about every eight weeks, except during the summer. The one-and-a-half-hour programs are followed by a 30-minute Q&A session and each program is approved for 2 CE credits. To accommodate labs in different time zones, the speaker gives two presentations: one day at 4pm Pacific Standard Time (PST), and again the next day at 6pm PST. All users must have a high-speed Internet connection, PC, projector, screen, microphone, web cam and speakers.
To view the webcast, the laboratory must first log onto a specific Internet address. This connects the lab to Dental Ed's live Internet video conferencing software managed by Recupero in Australia. All programs begin with a greeting and introduction from Recupero, then switch over to the location of that night's speaker. For instance, one recent program featured Brazilian dentist Newton Fahl who gave a PowerPoint presentation on composite resin dentistry from his office in Brazil.
"You're looking at the screen and the person on camera is visible in the upper left-hand corner, while the rest of the screen is usually taken up by one of the presentation slides," says Barrish (see photo below). "We can hear his voice and see his PowerPoint presentation just as if he were in the room with us. It just blows my mind that these guys are in Australia and Brazil and I'm here in New Jersey with my laptop."
Not only are the labs virtually connected to the speakers, they are also able to see and hear one another at various times throughout the program, heightening the feeling of camaraderie with a larger community. For instance, during intermission, the web cams feature "webshots" from all of the different venues around the country.
In addition, the end of the presentation features an interactive question-and-answer component. When a dentist has a question, he stands in front of the web cam and the laboratory hits a button on the computer to signal the speaker. When the speaker is ready to take the question from that venue, a green light blinks on the lab's web cam and the speaker announces both the dentist's name and the laboratory from which he's watching. The dentist asks the question and all of the other venues can hear him and see his picture on the screen.
Viewers also have the opportunity for interactive case planning. For instance, the presenter selects two laboratory venues at random and asks them to come up with a treatment plan for a particular case, giving them the before photos, patient history and what was desired. "He asks the dentists to discuss the case as a group during a short break and when we come back, one dentist selected as the spokesperson presents our group's plan. Sometimes it's cut and dry, and all the attendees agree, other times some have different views and require more discussion. Either way, our dentists really enjoy it," says Tish Boothe, human resource director at Edmonds Dental Prosthetics, Springfield, Missouri, which has been selected twice to give feedback.
New format, similar benefits
Dental Ed walks users through the technical aspects of presenting the virtual seminars. Barrish, for example, got up and running fairly easily because he was computer comfortable and already had most of the equipment he needed. He only had to buy a $35 microphone from RadioShack, connect his computer to the room's surround sound system and have Dental Ed assist him in changing his computer settings to maximize the quality of the webcasts. "I was really nervous about the first program. I thought, 'Is this really going to work?' But once I was comfortable with the technical aspects, it was easy and our programs have gone smoothly," says Barrish, who typically has between 30-40 dentists at each event.
Technical aspects aside, in many ways sponsoring a virtual presentation is no different than sponsoring a traditional one. For instance, both Okon and Barrish make it a social event by offering food and other refreshments, and market the courses just as they would any other program: with phone calls, mailings and case stuffers. To offset the costs of the marketing, refreshments and the service itself, both charge clients a nominal fee, and Barrish also has manufacturers and suppliers sponsor the event. The labs also get marketing support from Dental Ed, which promotes the service through industry trade shows and ads in dental journals; interested dentists get referred to a participating laboratory in their area.
Another similar aspect is the fantastic marketing opportunity and chance to cement existing relationships. For instance, Barrish asks attendees to arrive an hour early for registration and a buffet dinner. While they're milling around, Barrish shows a presentation on the laboratory's services and lab managers mingle with the dentists. At the end of the program, attendees often take a tour of the lab. "It's invaluable to get dentists into our laboratory. We have a nice facility, dentists are usually impressed with it and we often get accounts after a visit. You can't put a price tag on that," says Barrish.
For dentist-attendees, the cutting-edge webcast format is an added draw. "Dentists want to be part of something they perceive as "high tech," says Okon. "And when they walk away from that microphone with an answer from a dentist they respect--who can be hundreds of miles away--they have a smile on their faces. And it's not always easy to get a dentist smiling."
Editor's note: In March, there were 20 laboratories signed up for Dental Ed. Once a lab subscribes, it has exclusive rights to the program within a five- to 20-mile radius, depending on the location and population density. Clinicians slotted for 2006 include Drs. Rella Christensen, Jimmy Ubank, Cherilyn Sheets and more. For additional information on Dental Ed, call Sandra McLaren at 866-268-6323, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.dentalednorthamerica.com.