I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Laskin, DDS. Dr. Laskin is the founder of Lake Minnetonka Dental in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. Along with founding his dental practice, Dr. Laskin has started several technology companies to aid healthcare practices including a HIPAA compliant communication system called OperaDDS and a virtual reality system for dental patients called OperaVR. He has also been recognized by his peers being voted a “Top Dentist” in both Minneapolis/St. Paul and Minnesota Monthly magazines.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
“I was born the same year Pong was created. I like to tell people I was born the same year as video games because it explains a lot about me. I’ve always been into technology. I’ve also always had a strong desire to help people and to own my own business. I didn’t realize it at the time, but becoming a dentist allows me to marry all those things I love together. I founded Lake Minnetonka Dental in 2001 with a strong desire to provide the highest quality dentistry available using the latest technology in a friendly, comforting environment. Dentistry has always been in the prehistoric ages when it comes to tech. To deliver the care I wanted to my patients, I had to start a tech company. It has blossomed into many projects and products that improve the patient experience, including virtual reality.”
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
“Words are very important in dentistry. I think it makes a big difference to say things like discomfort instead of pain or sleepy juice instead of shot. It’s all to keep people from becoming more anxious. One day I had a patient come in and say that she was ready for her session of pain. I said, “You mean your session of healing.” She immediately looked at me very strangely, but didn’t say anything else. Well, after the appointment, my staff told me that they all thought I had cited the name of a particular Marvin Gaye song and didn’t realize I’d said session of healing. I was mortified. It was yet another example of how much words matter”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
“Our emphasis on the patient experience and focus on seeing things through a patient’s eyes make us stand out. We’re healthcare professionals who got excited about virtual reality. We’re not tech people who are trying to pivot into healthcare. We truly understand the patient perspective and lean on that expertise.”
“As a dentist, I’m used to people telling me they hate coming to see me. In 2018, people don’t say that anywhere else, but dentists hear it all the time. Recently when a patient told me, “I hate being here” I said, “Let’s send you somewhere else.” Within 10 seconds of putting on the virtual reality headset and starting the video, I could see his muscles relax. When the procedure was finished, he said the experience was amazing. Being able to take his awareness elsewhere is exactly what he was looking for. It’s a great example of viewing healthcare through the patient’s eyes. What do they need to make the experience enjoyable?”
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
“I’ve been so encouraged by the positive reactions from patients using virtual reality at my own practice that I’m on a mission to share it with others. For the last several months I’ve been traveling the country to speak about the benefits of virtual reality in treating anxiety and pain. I’m helping dentists across the country install VR in their own practices. This is the wave of the future, and I’m really passionate about helping other dentists realize and embrace the benefits virtual reality provides.”
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
“I think it’s very important to set your team up for little wins as often as possible. This is a great way to keep the positive energy flowing. If you’re only going after the big, audacious goals, it can be difficult and grueling. By setting up little wins along the way, you are working towards that big goal but providing reasons to celebrate and appreciate your accomplishments along the path.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
“My entire team has been so important to helping me get where I am today. I like to say that I can be a race car when I’m on a race track, but if I’m trying to drive around on the street there are a lot of potholes and other obstacles that batter me along the way. I’m a very big-picture thinker, and I am so appreciative of the people that help me with details. Megan Hennen is my executive assistant, and she is outstanding. Martin Helmbrecht is our director of operations, and he takes amazing care of our customers. I would not have been able to grow my dentistry practice or our virtual reality and communication systems into the successful operations they are without their help.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
“I’m very passionate about helping people. It’s the reason I got into dentistry and the reason I feel like it’s so important to use technology innovations to make healthcare visits more enjoyable for patients.
I work with charitable organizations to help make sure everyone can get the dental care they need. The American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile and Donated Dental Services are two of them. Through these programs, I provide free dental care to children, the disabled, elderly or medically compromised individuals who cannot afford necessary treatment or get public aid.
I’m also using our virtual reality systems to help others whenever I can. When I explain how VR eases pain and anxiety, so many people tell me they have family members who could use that kind of help. I’ve been lending out our VR kits to a lot of people, and it’s truly amazing how effective it has been across the board. I recently had a former employee who was recovering from a very painful infection contact me. She was looking for something to help her deal with pain when her husband was changing the dressing on her wound. I gave her one of our OperaVR kits to use. She was so appreciative and said using VR worked wonders. It’s a perfect example of why I’m so passionate about embracing technology and using it to help as many people as I can.”
Can you share the top ways that technology is changing the experience of going to the doctor. (Please share a story or example for each.)
“I’m committed to being a trailblazer in the dental field and staying on the cutting edge of technology. Virtual Reality is a game changer. OperaVR is a virtual reality system I created specifically for dental procedures. It functions as a headset you place on a patient while they are in the chair. The VR experience eases patient anxiety and pain, often taking the place of nitrous oxide. Patients fear healthcare procedures, and this provides a way to focus their mind elsewhere. Virtual reality improves the patient experience. Patients have been blown away by how successfully OperaVR calms and distracts them from the procedure they’re undergoing. It’s also a really fun, new technology. We are giving many patients their first experience with VR. This is a great way to create positive thoughts and feelings about a trip to the dentist which is so important to maintaining overall health.
I strongly believe virtual reality is also part of the solution when it comes to the opioid epidemic. VR is an effective alternative and, in many cases, a much safer option for patients. Virtual reality has proven to be very effective during both preventative and restorative dental procedures as an alternative to nitrous oxide or opioid use.
I was recently working with a boy through the Give Kids a Smile program. He came in after having several fillings done the week before. He was really afraid and especially worried about needles. He needed to get one more filling and also had to have a tooth removed. I asked him if he wanted to watch flowers or be on the beach. Once I put the virtual reality headset on him and started the program, he relaxed. We worked through the filling and when I gave him an injection prior to the tooth extraction, he barely reacted despite how scared he was when he came in. He was so calm throughout the procedure, it was like he was sedated. It’s hard to truly grasp the power of virtual reality until you are in a situation like this. That child’s experience was so much better because of this technology. It’s the kind of story that should motivate us all to embrace VR.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“A smart man can get himself out of a situation that a wise man wouldn’t get into in the first place.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
“I would love to sit down for a meal with Elon Musk. One of the core values at our company is to be bold. I define that as being courageous in the presence of fear. Elon Musk is as bold as it gets when it comes to business. I have an incredible amount of respect for that.”