Mobile Dental Systems Getting Started
c. Who can help us research our options for mobile vehicles?

Buying a mobile van entails a large outlay of money and is a major decision to make. Don't rely on the mobile van company to tell you what you need. You will need to talk with a variety of people. Most viewers of this Web site probably will be serving "underserved" populations, so a public health perspective is crucial. Contact your state oral health program to see if they have experience with mobile programs of if they know people who do. There may be dental professionals in the local health department or community health center who have a public health background and a great deal of program experience. Most dental practitioners who work in typical office or clinic settings and are not involved in mobile care will not be able to help you with specific design elements for a mobile vehicle--they are primarily familiar with dental operatories and equipment in a fixed location. However, they will be helpful in selecting instruments or in other aspects of the program. Most dental suppliers will also not be helpful at this point--they mostly know equipment choices and specifications for fixed facilities. Talk to people in other programs that have mobile vans, and ask van companies to refer you to those who have bought their vehicles. Ask for a complete client list from the manufacturer. Select organizations that are working in environments and with populations similar to what you plan. Contact both new and established programs. Ask what successes they have had and what they would have done differently. A valuable resource for information on a variety of mobile health issues and a good source of technical assistance is the Mobile Health Clinics Network (MHCN). They can facilitate communication with other mobile healthcare providers. MHCN is a membership organization. Members have access to best practices, educational resources, program management tools and funding opportunities. MHCN is currently engaged in developing a number of new initiatives: Speakers Bureau, regional partnerships, outcomes analysis, an emergency response policy, (new and pre-owned) vehicle buyers/sellers registry, specialty Listservs and Special Interest Groups (SIGs). They also hold an annual meeting, usually in mid-May. 

Questions to ask other programs:
  1. What is the scope of your program and has it expanded?
  2. How long has your program been in existence?
  3. What would you do differently now that your program is up and running?
  4. Would you purchase from the same manufacturer again?
  5. Did your builder assist you in identifying a contractor for ongoing maintenance in your area? Did they honor all warranties?
  6. What is the best feature of your mobile vehicle?
  7. What features have caused you problems?
  8. How has the equipment withstood the wear and tear of transportation?
  9. What would you change about your equipment and vehicle if you could?
  10. What delivery dates did your manufacturer hit and miss?

These open-ended questions are used to begin conversations with existing programs. Generally, owners of mobile programs are very proud of their operations and how the community benefits. While it may be easy to elicit positives about their program, it often is difficult to elicit their concerns and anything they wish they had done differently. Try to probe with follow-up questions to understand some of the issues they faced and mistakes they overcame. If possible, go look at some of the vans that provide dental services, especially during hours of operation. You can't get the feel of the van space, environment and patient flow from pictures.