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Humans, AI, and Networks: How ADAPT Makes Connections

Posted by Bill Robinson, ADAPT President & CEO on 6/22/21 8:13 AM
Bill Robinson, ADAPT President & CEO


In April, we at ADA Practice Transitions celebrated our second anniversary. Our beginnings were modest, launching in just two states, Maine and Wisconsin. Within that first year, we expanded to six additional states. And now, by the end of our second year, we have expanded our service to all 50 states, with customers in every single one of them.

It is a human tendency to use an anniversary as a time of reflection. At ADAPT, our goal has always been to provide a better way of managing transitions for all of dentistry.

We started off with extensive research, where we often heard dentists complain how difficult it is to find a good match. No one had the scope to cast a wide net in matching sellers with buyers or owners with employees. We thought, “The ADA can do that,” and began designing the service to address those complaints.

A network product, but more

 ADAPT is what the startup world calls a “network product.” That means that growth drives success: each new participant exponentially increases the potential possible connections. By definition, the bigger the network, the better, more useful, and more efficient the solution becomes for its participants. The classic example is the telephone. One telephone is essentially worthless – but as more people have a telephone, each is more valuable because you can connect with everyone in the network.

As the volume of ADAPT participants grows, we are harnessing technology to help make the connections.

So, which matters more? The volume of dentists participating or the artificial intelligence/machine learning that facilitates the matches?

Spoiler alert – it’s both. In my estimation, the approach of using deeper insights to find solid matches is the real secret sauce. The collection of those insights through the profile relies on both the size of the network and the value of analyzing responses to find matches that are efficient and sustainable.

Beyond just a listing service

Our plan for ADAPT is to build the largest and most comprehensive network in the industry.

When we initially described the idea, some of our survey participants said, “It would be so great if there were a national listing service for dental practices. That way you could see what is for sale and who is looking for associates anywhere in the country.” While that is a lofty goal, we think it is mostly attainable. However, we purposely shied away from that description because we never wanted to be just a “listing service.”

Instead, we wanted to be aware of all the potential practices – but rather than make them publically searchable, we wanted to do the sorting on behalf of our customers. We envisioned making matches based on what we call philosophy of care – those deeper insights into how a dentist runs a practice, how they interact with patients and staff, and their treatment approach.

Our research involved detailed conversations with a wide variety of dentists who have been through the transition process, both as owners/associates and as buyers/sellers.

We found no shortage of dentists who were eager to share what worked and what did not as they made these important decisions. We learned that the most common reason that a relationship fell apart was because of a difference in the philosophy of care.

Using machine learning to make smarter matches

Netflix tells us that if we “liked Monty Python & The Holy Grail” (and who doesn’t) then we might like….. Amazon tells us what other people who bought what we are buying also bought. These recommendations are driven by an algorithm, a computer program that looks for relationships and then automatically makes recommendations to the customer.

Just like other network services that use algorithms or machine learning to grow, ADAPT is using a similar type of artificial intelligence to make a far more important and critical recommendation – what you do with your career in dentistry. As W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru, said, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.”

I am not saying that ADAPT is the equivalent of Netflix or Amazon. But we do want to use machine learning and/or artificial intelligence to drive better recommendations. Doing so lets us create efficiencies and drive down costs so we can create success and savings for dentists.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence can drive better recommendations, while creating efficiencies AND successful matches.

While dentistry is a much smaller market, it is still too large nationally to manage in a completely manual fashion. It is especially true when attributes are more “gray” than “black and white.” For example, all dentists talk about having relationships with their patients, but some characterize it more as a personal relationship (“I know about their family and their personal interests”) while others characterize it as clinical (“I know everything about their oral condition and how to improve it”). It’s a matter of where they put their energy and emphasis when describing that relationship – and that requires more nuance than simple algorithms can discern

ADAPT has found efficient ways to characterize some of these gray areas that allow us to be more predictive in what relationships will be successful long term. But we can never imagine turning it all over to a machine. We believe, and our experience tells us, that using artificial intelligence tempered with human intuition and empathy yields the best results.

At ADAPT, we use technology to support and amplify the effectiveness of our ADA Advisors.

Dr. Omar Besbes, a researcher at Columbia University says, “To get the most from your organization’s data, start with the human – not the data.” At ADAPT, we believe there is something in that personal interaction even if it happens on a virtual platform. When a dentist articulates their philosophy of care, the ADA Advisor reads their words. Can an algorithm help categorize a philosophy? Sure. Can machine learning identify patterns and preferences? Absolutely. So far, we have asked technology to sort and group and order, but the recommendation itself comes from the ADA Advisor who has experience in what makes a good match between dentists – and who can pick up on nuance that a machine can’t.

That is why ADAPT strives to be both a network product AND an artificial intelligence tool. The more people who participate, the more effective and efficient the machine learning becomes. The more matches ADAPT creates, the better we become at identifying factors that lead to good matches. The good news for you is that there is no risk on your part. You can create a profile at no cost – ADAPT only charges fees upon the completion of a successful match. Sign up and create your profile today.

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