Virtual Consults and Eating Hot Dogs

Brian Harris, DDS


It was the morning of July 4, 2000, as hundreds of people gathered on Coney Island for Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. For 84 years, people had come together to see how many hot dogs could franticly be eaten in 12 minutes. The all-time record was set the year before with 25, but this year was different.

Takeru Kobiyashi of Japan was new on the scene, weighing just 128 pounds and standing 5 feet and 8 inches tall, which was about a third the size of many of the other competitors. You can imagine the looks and laughs he was getting as he stepped up on stage for the first time.  

The bell rang and the contestants started stuffing their faces with hot dogs as fast as they could. But when the buzzer sounded at the end of the competition, Kobiyashi had eaten 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He not only beat the record, he doubled it! 

So how did he do it? For months leading up to the contest, Kobiyashi studied the art of eating hot dogs and realized that if he could just make the process more efficient, he could eat twice as much. Instead of eating them in the bun one at a time, he practiced eating two of them at the same time out of the bun. He then quickly soaked the bun in water and swallowed it to wash it down. 

He was able to take the simple process of eating a hot dog and double the efficiency, and that’s not even the best part of the story. Once others saw a more efficient way of eating hot dogs, they were able to improve upon his strategy. Today, Joey Chestnut holds the record for eating 74 hot dogs in 12 minutes.  

Efficiency in Dentistry

So what does this have to do with the business of dentistry? Everything. What we put our patients through to get simple questions answered is the most inefficient sales process known to mankind. We make them sort through hundreds of options to find us online, find our number, call our office, find a time in our schedule, find a time that works for their schedule, take time off work, get a babysitter, drive across town, and spend an hour in our office, just to get their questions answered.  

This is how we have always done things because it is all we have ever known. For most dentists, this process results in a 61% treatment conversion on all dental procedures, for cosmetic or elective procedures those percentages are expectedly much lower. It’s crazy, yet we do it every single day. 

Do you want to know a more efficient way of communicating with your patients? The answer is simple: virtual consults. When I started doing them three years ago, my whole practice changed. I was able to make the consultation process so much more efficient for me and, most importantly, for my patients. 

There are millions of people out there right now who are unhappy with their smile.  The problem is that they have no idea who to trust, what to do, or what things cost, so they do nothing. When you can help them and answer their questions from the comfort of their own home, you will be able to really serve them and connect with so many more potential patients.   

Patients simply upload a smile photo, share what it is they don’t like about their smile, and send it in. Within a few days, they receive a personalized video from a dentist. This process has resulted in an87% treatment conversion rate on cosmetic and elective procedures for patients in my practice who take the next step to come meet with me in person.

What I am not talking about here is a dental consult done virtually face to face with a patient, which is an extremely Inefficient way to communicate and still takes time to schedule and coordinate. I’m talking about a video recorded by the doctor when the doctor has the time and then sent to the patient to watch when the patient chooses to. It truly breaks down all the barriers of communication and makes it so simple to connect and serve people.  

Statistics show that over 76% of the hospitals in the United States have a telemedicine program, and it is becoming more and more common in dentistry. But knowing the HIPAA rules and regulations around telemedicine is important if you’re going to start offering virtual consults.

The biggest violation HIPAA is seeing right now is that doctors are allowing patients to upload photos onto their practice website and then emailing them a video consult. This puts both the doctor and the company managing the website at risk because the patients’ personal photos and private data are fully available on the doctor’s laptop and online for people to find if they wanted to.  

For virtual consults to be HIPAA compliant, the uploaded photos, patient data, and recorded consult videos need to be stored in one place and sent by separate virtual consult software that is fully encrypted and stored in the cloud. Nobody should have access to that information except for the treating doctor and the patient, and a specific username and password would need to be created to view it.

If you look at virtual consultations for what they really are, they’re just taking an old way of doing something and making it easier for both the doctor and the patient. It’s the same old way of having patients in the chair for an hour for a consult, but now it’s done without them having to come in and see you, get a babysitter, and take time off work.

It’s important to know that we’re not talking about diagnosis and treatment planning here. We’re talking about getting in front of people and letting them see who you are and understand their options. We’ve taken a very basic process that’s been done inefficiently for years and simplified it in such a way that it breaks down all barriers for patients. 

At the end of the day, it really isn’t about virtual consults. It’s about connecting with people! It’s about impacting lives and helping people get their questions answered so they can better take care of their oral health.  

The world is changing, and now more than ever, we are in competition for people’s time. I challenge you to look for ways to connect with your patients virtually and answer their questions. That kind of transparency and efficiency is what people are really looking for. 

Dr. Harris has been practicing dentistry for 15 years. He is currently recognized as one of the nation’s top cosmetic dentists, but if you were to ask him what he does for a living, he will tell you that he is a confidence builder.Dr. Harris is the pioneer of virtual consults in dentistry. He is the creator of Smile Virtual, the first fully HIPPA-compliant virtual consult platform in dentistry.

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