A Patient Departs
I just got a phone call from my dentist’s office, telling me that it’s time to come in for a routine cleaning. It was the second reminder. They haven’t figured it out yet that I’m looking for another dentist.
I’d rather not be making the change. If this dentist was nothing else, he was familiar. At least I knew how to get to the office, and where to park. But it’s not as though I’m leaving a close friend or a trusted healthcare advisor. My dentist barely spoke to me when I was there. His staff didn’t know my name. I went in, I sat down, I opened my mouth; he came in, he sat down, he went to work. He never asked me anything at all about my dental regimen, diet or eating habits. I never felt like more than just the procedure at hand. The relationship, if you can call it that, was between his instruments and my MasterCard. I won’t be returning his calls.
I’ve moved around the country over the years, and I’ve been to other dental practices like this. Their way of doing business might be more the standard than the exception in the dental profession. Most practices I’ve visited didn’t see impersonal care as any problem in the first place. Some that did tried to compensate for it using a luxurious waiting room with soft chairs and green plants, and spectacular equipment beside every chair. I’d suggest that both are missing the point.
Your Most Effective Instrument is You
My former dentist is 30 miles away, and that’s too far to drive to be treated like a number. If my friend the dental student were within 300 miles, I’d be in her office regularly. It might sound unrealistic or unprofessional for a dentist to think in these terms. Passion and enthusiasm are great; throughput, cash flow and time management are what keep a practice going day to day. I’m not asking you to weigh one against the other. I’m asking you to see them all as indispensable, both to the pleasure you take from your work and to the bottom line of doing it every day.
It’s never difficult for you to spot indifference in the businesses you patronize. If all they care about is getting through the day and tallying up the receipts, you aren’t likely to stay with them, no matter how they compensate. Bring that same attitude into your dental office and no matter how you disguise it - even from yourself - your patients see it. The new equipment and the comfortable waiting room can’t conceal it.
There is no gap between joy and practicality in life or in business, any more than there is one between oral health and systemic health in the body. Your cash flow and throughput might rest, far more than you realize, on the little impressions you and your staff make on me with simple passion. If you exclude your enthusiasm from your practice, you might exclude mine.
David Clow is a writer/consultant for Fortune 100 companies. His book, A Few Words from the Chair, is the first book written by a patient for dental professionals and students and is available here.
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