Interview: “The true human factor cannot be replaced”
At the annual meeting of the Channel3 group of key opinion leaders, held this year in June in Bologna in Italy, the fourth P-I Brånemark Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dentistry was given to Dr Michael Cohen, founder of the Seattle Study Club. Recognising lifetime achievement in dentistry, it is presented yearly in honour of the late Prof. Per-Ingvar Brånemark, whose research on osseointegration revolutionised implantology and introduced safe and effective implant treatments. At the event, Dental Tribune International’s Nathalie Schüller spoke with Dr Cohen about Seattle Study Club, the two textbooks he compiled and his concept of digital analogue hybridisation.
Dr Cohen, how does it feel to be the recipient of the Brånemark award?
Receiving the fourth Brånemark award was a surprise because there are so many illustrious, well-known people that have been part of Channel3 for many years. It is obviously a big honour to be associated with the late Dr Brånemark. I place a lot of implants in my practice, but I do not consider myself an expert in implantology, rather an expert student.
The award recognises exceptional clinicians who have advanced dentistry for the general well-being of society. One could say that the Seattle Study Club advances dentistry for the general well-being of society, don’t you think?
That is true, and dentistry today is much more than what we have known dentistry to be in the past, with integrated medicine tying to heart disease and diabetes and understanding how important the oral cavity is. The Seattle Study Club is a group of about 270 study clubs and 7,000 members that I started about 27 years ago. The goal is indeed to cooperate to obtain the best treatment outcomes, so I could agree that we aim to work for the general well-being of society.
How did the idea come about to start the Seattle Study Club?
As a periodontist, I rely on referrals, and I felt that, if I could find a way to increase the level of diagnosis in my community, practitioners would want to offer higher quality care, and if they wanted to give more quality to their patients, and periodontics was a part of that, it would help me build my practice. I thought I would do it by starting the study club. I lived in Seattle and I therefore started my first study club there. I did not invent the concept; there were study clubs way before me, but they were very different. In those days, people would get together more to socialise and I really wanted to create an opportunity for collaboration within a group, where people really learnt from each other. At the beginning, people would come and go, and I felt I was compelling them to be part of the study club, so after ten years, I decided to have a patient come in and ask everybody to collaborate to plan the treatment for the case. There was a lot of excitement and I began to realise that this was what was missing, the opportunity for people to learn from each other.
It seems to be a recurrent trend nowadays; practitioners are very much aware of the need to collaborate with one another. Having perceived the importance of collaboration already 17 years ago, you are a sort of pioneer.
That is the whole concept of the Seattle Study Club. It is the idea of the power of collaboration, and it led me to write two textbooks on interdisciplinary treatement planning, in 2008 (Interdisciplinary Treatment Planning: Principles, Design, Implementation) and 2011 (Interdisciplinary Treatment Planning, Volume II: Comprehensive Case Studies). In this journey, I used the same concept, bringing together the best people in the world for the content of these books. It was very successful.
I wanted the contributors to provide one or two principles of treatment that they felt were essential in treatment planning for cases they saw daily. I asked them to identify the principles, illustrate them and then present the case for the reader to treatment plan. The contributor would present the reason he or she had treated the case and how it was treated, with commentaries, what he or she had learnt from it and what he or she might have done differently.
We ended up with 17 contributing clinicians in the first book, in all different areas of dentistry. The first book took me five years to put together, the second three years.
I knew what I wanted and was very protective of the way I wanted to impart the message. What was important was not just the words on paper; it was the message, the experience I wanted to create for the reader. Therefore, I wanted to have control and did most of the work the publisher would usually do.
I had no desire really to write a book, but clinicians who are close friends really encouraged me to do it and finally I agreed. If I was going to do it, I was not going to do it to do it; I wanted to make a statement and fill a void. There are thousands of books available, but I still felt there was a void, and the book was very well received. The second book I did only because I had so many cases left over from the first book that I decided that knowing how to do it now, I could do a second one quickly—but it was not quick!
Mark Ferber, founder of Channel3, and others have asked me to do another book. I am not so willing to do so, but Mark is really working on convincing me. This book will be about thriving in the new world of dentistry.
So how do you see that book?
I am still thinking about it. I have agreed in a sense, but I have so many projects I have to finish first. In my mind, the essence of the book will be digital analogue hybridisation. It will be the idea that the whole world has become digital, but we cannot forget the analogue. The true human factor cannot be replaced, and we need to understand that it is everywhere, in our practice, in everything we do, in the way we relate to people. It is part of conveying information, not just sitting in front of a computer, and it is so important because the younger dentists would rather be at home, spending time with their families and getting their continuing education on their computers. There is nothing like having a personal exchange, someone in a room with whom you can communicate.
Thank you so much for your time, Dr Cohen.