At Aspen Dental, meeting the needs of physicians is at the heart of every learning decision made by the leadership team. âIf we take care of their needs, they can take care of the millions of patients we serve,â says Arwinder Judge, Clinical Director. âThe only way to do that is to have a great learning program. “
This commitment to training physicians and staff in the company’s nearly 900 offices in 43 states has earned Aspen Dental fifth place in the Chief Learning Officerâs LearningElite 2021 program.
Aspen’s learning strategy revolves around developing physicians and their staff from a clinical and business perspective, and aligning the investment in learning with the overall business strategy of the ‘business. Lenore Jaquin, VP of Learning and Performance, notes that the team’s ability to meet these needs is possible because âL&D has a seat at the table and is held accountable for business results in the same way. than any other department within the organization â.
Jaquin attends annual strategy meetings and uses these conversations to set annual learning goals in collaboration with leaders and practice owners. A plan is drawn up and then reviewed and approved by the Learning Council, which includes the CEO, COO, CHRO and CFO, as well as several physicians who have multiple practices in the network. âExecutives see learning as a performance lever like any other,â she says. KPIs are reviewed regularly and the L&D team is held accountable for the performance of the company.
All teams in the Aspen Dental network have access to a solid set of programs to support everything from onboarding to executive leadership training. And while clinical training is essential to keeping physicians and staff up to date, one of the biggest areas of interest for Aspen physicians is business and leadership training.
Each Aspen dental office is independently owned and operated by a licensed dentist. While the company provides support services, the owners are responsible for running their business, the judge explains. It is a challenge for many of them. “When they go to dental school, they learn medicine, not how to run a business.”
To ensure they have the business skills needed to run their offices, the L&D team offers a series of courses on people management, recruiting, customer service, and the basics of running a business, including understood how to manage insurance billing and prove compliance with HIPPA and OSHA requirements. . âThis is an important pillar of our program,â says Judge.
In addition to offering a diverse curriculum, one of the current priorities of the L&D team is to modernize the learning experience. Before the pandemic, the company implemented a new learning management system, dubbed Blueprint Learning, which harnesses automation, social learning and flexible training formats to meet the needs of each learner. Learners can also view detailed learning paths, track continuing education credits, and receive personalized course recommendations powered by artificial intelligence to help them choose the next best course.
Mentoring via virtual reality
The LMS was not selected to meet the needs of COVID, but when the pandemic struck, it gave the company a head start to pivot its offering and help its offices adapt. âCOVID hasn’t stopped the need for dental care,â notes Lori D’Anna, senior vice president of the division. But it transformed the way patients would access care and the way dentists and staff engaged them.
Aspen closed 500 sites in the first few weeks of the pandemic, and during that time the leadership team has made virtualized learning one of the top five organizational priorities. They worked together to re-prioritize projects and learning resources, reimagining them for a digital world. This included replacing the in-person mentorship program for new physicians with a virtual reality solution.
Traditionally, Aspen physicians spend four or more weeks with a trained mentor before going âsoloâ with patients. But the pandemic prevented this face to face contact. The L&D team therefore adopted Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, an augmented reality technology to provide virtual mentoring in an immersive environment. The mentee doctor wears the HoloLens equipment and the mentor provides real-time information and remote assistance while they work.
Jaquin’s team also rolled out a virtual reality patient consultation training program for office managers that helped them quickly train staff in all offices on a new dental implant offering which is a component major part of Aspen’s business model. VR content created a simulated office environment where managers could practice conversations with patients and answer questions in an interactive environment without sacrificing the patient experience. Content was designed using real-life environments and actors from Aspen Dental who have been trained to accurately represent patients.
For the other programs taught in person, the team quickly converted them into live virtual events, with the goal of creating as many opportunities as possible to interact with people and have real-time conversations. âI was worried we might not be able to do it all, but we rocked on a dime,â says Judge. âThis is why we are an elite organization.
Their success inspired the Aspen Dental leadership team to share digital content with the entire dental community, whether or not they are part of the Aspen Dental network. âWe offered it to the masses because everyone needs learning resources right now,â says D’Anna.
Once the pandemic is over, Aspen Dental is ready to resume face-to-face learning, much of which will take place at its brand new 300,000 square foot flagship learning center in downtown Chicago. The new facility will become Aspen’s center of excellence for hands-on training, networking and large group events. âIt’s a big part of our future and our continued efforts to support the leadership development of our employees,â said Judge.
However, they are not going to abandon the lessons learned during the pandemic. The forced adoption of virtual learning has helped the training and development team see the benefits of virtual learning and take a more blended learning approach. âWe can’t get everyone to Chicago all the time,â D’Anna notes. She believes virtual content will help them find the right balance and create a continuous learning environment that can adapt to the ongoing needs of the organization as it grows.