Private practice is a challenge for everyone! That means for everyone in the practice, not just the dentist. So many times, dentists forget everything that staff does. Without the staff support, no one would be productive.
We cannot do it alone.
For many dentists, this is very hard because we tend to be, as a group, self-motivating and “used to working alone.” The model has changed from the solo dentist, front desk person, and someone who mixes amalgam. We also need to remember that it is not just the MOD on tooth No. 14 that needs to be done with no postoperative sensitivity or the painless injection that is given before the tooth is treated. There is so much more.
We all know that dental offices are complex, multitasking businesses and that each staff member has key roles that help create a successful dental practice. The definition of success can be debated, defined, and bantered for days. The one thing that can be agreed upon is that staffing and how roles are carried are so important.
Balancing Art, Science, and the Business of Dentistry
There are so many different, important roles in our practices that are played by so many people. The hard part is that every person has different skill sets and comes to the job with different training.
Consultants have been working with dental practices for years, teaching and training staffs to provide the highest quality patient experience. Many consultants have a “boiler plate” plan for the offices that they work with. But everyone knows that it is “client-centered businesses” and the patient experience that are the separating factors between very successful dental practices and those that wallow in mediocrity. Is it the quality of dentistry provided that is the separating factor?
Do patients really know unless they are uncomfortable or displeased with the cosmetic result? They do not. I believe that the clinical result is only a small part of the success story.
My mission statement that I have been using for years really sums it up: Provide the highest quality care for the greatest number of people while maintaining a balance between the art, science, and business of dentistry. The dentist can provide the highest quality restorations that are the most beautiful in the world, but if the patient experience is not great, you will fail.
It is the first impression when the phone is answered, the ease of finding the office and parking, the greeting at the front desk, how the office smells and looks, staff friendliness, and all the things that happen before the patient leaves the building. It is not just beautiful dentistry.
How many tasks does your front desk staff need to do that we as dentists do not see or even know about? What are they doing, and most importantly, what are they doing that they do not need to do? What could be automated so that a person could be free to do other important direct patient care functions?
What is the dentist responsible for besides direct patient care?
The list is almost endless, and as we get busy and more productive, the patient experience becomes more critical.
How can some of this burden be reduced with technology? How can we use technology so that it does not lose the “human” connection that is so very important?
When the phone rings and your staff, which has nothing else to do but answer the phone (nothing could be further from the truth), picks up and they do not know what to expect, everyone should try to be friendly, pleasant, and upbeat. “Answer the phone with a smile on your face.”
The amazing phone desk person who answers the phone is always the first impression and, many times, the first contact for your office.
Communication Is the Key
Those of us who have been in private practice for a while have seen some interesting things. Many of these clinical things are not just examples of great clinical dentistry but also some really terrible and sometimes bizarre dentistry. Many things happen that are beyond our control because almost everything we do can never really replace natural teeth. We do the best we can with the materials and methods we have, and even that cannot satisfy all patients and clinical situations.
Sometimes we see clinical dentistry that is hard to explain: situations like broken root canal files in teeth, post-orthodontic results where teeth are not even in occlusion, fillings with overhangs, and crowns with wide open margins. Most of the time, the patient does not even know what is going on but is telling you how much they loved their last dentist.
Not only did they love their dentist, but their entire family and all their friends go to see that same one.
Why was this dentist so successful and yet his or her clinical work was so marginal? What was the key for that dentist’s success? What did that dentist do that got the referrals? You work hard in your practice and have done exquisite work, and yet you are struggling because you are not getting referrals. Maybe you are quiet and just like to put your head down and do the best you can. You believe your dentistry will speak for itself and your patients will be grateful and refer to your practice. But how does a patient really know?
When a patient calls on the phone and wants to speak to you or your staff, does it feel like only the complaining patients call?
Many of us think: “We went to dental school to work with our hands, not talk to people.” That is because most dentists are introverts. If you do not get referrals and expand your patient base, it really affects your bottom line. You need referrals to expand your practice and grow. As Dr. Omar Reed said, “Patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
So, what can you do to get referrals without asking for them directly, especially when you do not feel comfortable doing that? What steps can you take? Many people would hire a consultant for large sums of money. You may have read all the materials, and it seems that the consultant is telling you what you already know.
You can go to a course, try it out on Monday, and forget about it by Friday. Or you can fake it ’til you make it. The fact is you know what to do. We all have access to practice management. It is all over the internet, and you can read books, go on Facebook, and listen to every podcast. They all seem to say the same things!
So why don’t we do it? Or why don’t we implement the very important things we need to do? Is it that you’re just too busy learning clinical skills? Or maybe you just do not want to do it and try to give it to someone else to do.
You Really Don’t Want to Do That Stuff Anyway
I pride myself as being at the front of technology with my clinical procedures, but what if there was a completely automated way to make your patients feel like you care? What if that automated patient experience required absolutely no effort? I have found that contacting a patient post-appointment, not just after a difficult procedure, and showing them that you care is a wonderful practice builder as well as a referral machine. There is no better way to show your patients that you care before or after appointments.
But who has time to make all of these calls? I did find a tech answer: an automated system (apedental.com) that contacts patients via texts—not only post-op but also when welcoming new patients, reminding people that they didn’t schedule their next followup or recall, and more. And it takes just seconds for multiple texts as it is connected to your practice management system and schedule. I found the patient response to be remarkable.
This seems to fill in the blanks and answer the questions that I brought to you in this piece. So, quoting myself, communication is the key to success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Hoos received his MS degree in biology from the University of Bridgeport, his BA in zoology from Drew University, and his DMD degree from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. He lectures nationally and internationally on advanced techniques as well as innovative procedures that he’s developed.
He maintains a practice, Brush & Floss Dental Center in Stratford, Conn.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Dr. Hoos reports no disclosures.