When I was a kid in the 1970s, UFOs were all the rage. Sightings occurred regularly and everyone had a theory as to what the visitors wanted and how they would either elevate or destroy humanity. So why do you care and why am I writing about this? Honestly, I had forgotten all about the UFO craze until we binge watched the TV series Fargo this weekend (which is excellent BTW) but the show, combined with the fanfare surrounding the release of the new Samsung Galaxy S7 got me thinking. What happened to the UFOs and why don’t they ever visit us any more? The possibilities are obvious. Either there never were UFOs and we humans, in our ignorance, collectively fooled ourselves into fearing and dreading an all powerful group of hyper-intelligent beings that controlled us at will OR the aliens do exist but fear the billions of cell phone cameras that now monitor every corner of the Earth.
Yeah, yeah but what’s that got to do with us?
I’m glad you asked because it wasn’t readily apparent to me either but we orthodontists are currently in the process of vanquishing our ignorance and our primitive, nebulous and unfounded fears through the use of technology and the real time sharing of information with peers. Just like the evolution of bag phones and bricks into iPhone 6s and Samsung Galaxies, the process of becoming more connected and informed has happened over several decades in orthodontics.
For as long as there have been orthodontists, there have been study clubs but they were largely local or regional and the information exchange only happened when the meetings did. National meetings are better but again they still didn’t allow real time information dispersal. Email listserve groups like the one the Schulman Group still uses were the beginning of modern communication and were a real step up from what came before, but they are unwieldy and inefficient (much like the bag phone) and were highly restricted as to the number of orthodontists involved. Dr. Howard Farran is the godfather of dental publishing and connectivity and he single handedly took dentistry out of the dark ages with his multifaceted media group that includes DentalTown and OrthoTown. The OrthoTown forum was a big step up from email. I like to think of OT like a Blackberry… they were like nothing else at the time and I loved mine! OT’s forum allowed a place for all orthodontists to discuss issues in real time and for the first time. This broad based connectivity was a HUGE deal, but like the Blackberry, the forum setup is not without problems. Forums can be difficult to fit into one’s routine and a pain to log into and browse the topics. Also, allowing users anonymity creates a culture where everyone is an expert on everything, the number of comments is equated to acumen (this is good if you’re selling ads based on website hits) and there is little restraint or common courtesy. I applaud Howard’s willingness to upgrade and change with things like the adaptation of the OT app. I’ll readily admit that the app makes the forum much easier to access but the forum setup is dated and I’m not sure the inherent flaws can be overcome successfully long term. This leads us to the iPhone 6 of orthodontist communication formats, the closed Facebook group. I’d been on Facebook a long time and really disliked the forum and the listserve formats for even longer. I would love to tell you that using Facebook was my idea, but it was not. I’ll go further and readily admit that I’d seen dentist/orthodontist FB groups and I thought they were dumb and I also feared putting info on FB. There have been FB groups for dentists and orthodontists for a long time but they generally have little real interaction, have thousands of unverified members and offer a parade of spam and junk. The first person I know of who understood how to properly harness the power of the closed FB group is Dr. David Butler. He formed Orthodontic Exchange and made it work very well and then showed me the future (well it’s the present now). By following David’s lead and creating closed groups that are open only to orthodontists and orthodontic residents (but with no limits on members other than that), the Ortho101 and Pragmatic Orthodontic Clinical Discussions FB group have emerged (Dr. Derek Bock administers Pragmatic). These two groups have a significant percentage of the residents and orthodontists in North America as well as many from across the globe engaged and sharing real time information.
Why does this matter?
It matters because being connected allows us all to throw off the shackles of ignorance and see the big picture. By simply being informed and connected we scare off the UFOs and the nebulous fear that has pushed us around in the past because of our isolation. Here are examples of what I mean:
1) Sales tactics used to prey on orthodontic residents and orthodontists have been exposed for what they are and the honest discussions about personal experience and loss have saved many of us from being taken advantage of.
2) In the past we had to buy and use technology or products to find out if they work as advertised but now we just ask our peers. Peers we can call by name.
3) It’s now possible for those starting out to learn about bankers, real estate agents, contractors, floor plans, etc. from those who have done it and get specific answers to specific, real world questions in real time.
4) Have a hard case or a difficult parent? Get solid feedback from peers who use their real name and genuinely want to help you as opposed to just showing out.
5) Learn and understand that liability and lawsuits are not the world destroying and ubiquitous monsters you were told they were in school and by the AAOIC (fear is good if you’re selling insurance but experience and perspective is good for the practicing orthodontist).
6) Learn and understand what your dues money is used for and why and who decides and what it all means. The AAO has been like the Holy Church for a long time and like the Church the AAO is going to have to start answering for what is gong on and becoming transparent. The nebulous fear that the AAO as instilled in its members in the past is like a fog that is lifting due to the improved connectivity of orthodontists.
7) You no longer have to take an expert’s or guru’s or an AAO Board of Trustees Member’s word for anything. Don’t trust, verify! You have the ability to get multiple opinions in real time on any issue due to our connectivity and you can look up the people who are sharing to assess their acumen and gravitas for yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, is misinformed or just messes up now and again. I certainly do. There is no right answer, there is only what is best for you and your patients. You’ll have to choose from among the options and information you’re given to figure that out.
Change is good. And whether or not you agree with that statement, change is the only constant. Someday soon, someone will come up with a better way of doing things and make Facebook Closed Groups antiquated. When that happens, I hope I can recognize it, throw out the old and embrace the new. I hope we all will do so together. Life is a journey and journeys are always more fun when you travel with friends and peers.