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  12.09.04 Issue #144
NOTICE: Due to an internet programming error, the salary survey on the newsletter you received yesterday did not appear. We apologize for any inconvenience. You will find below a map of the United States with the dental assistant's salary by state.

Happy Holidays, Sally


Cozy Up To The Complainers

Sally Mckenzie, CEO
McKenzie Management

It’s not easy being on the receiving end of a complaint. Even if those criticisms don’t happen all that often, when they do it can feel like you’re being forced to cuddle a cobra. Almost instantly you sense your oxygen supply being squeezed off. You want to get as far away from this morale crusher as possible, shield yourself from the battery of rapid fire verbal venom that you perceive is about to come shooting your way. So it can be more than a little challenging to accept the recommendation that not only should you welcome complaints but you should most certainly encourage them. Read on.

Often when practices are jarred by complaints it’s because the team members have allowed themselves to be lulled into a false sense of assurance and infallibility. It is the rare patient who will take the time to complain. In fact, 70% of the patients that have left the practice and chosen to seek dental care elsewhere did so because they didn’t care for the way they were treated by the team, and the vast majority never said a word. The patient who complains has done you and your staff an enormous service. You’ve been given a “heads up” to a problem or situation that needs to be addressed. What’s more, if you handle the complaint well, you are likely to have an even more loyal patient than if nothing had gone wrong.

Follow these steps to manage your next patient complaint:

  1. Listen. They want to tell you what went wrong. Give them the opportunity without interrupting. Remember this is not a personal affront, it’s a business concern that the practice now has the opportunity to address.
  2. Pay attention to your body language and your facial expressions. Be careful not to indicate irritation or frustration in your demeanor. If you think of yourself as calm and concerned it will come across to the patient.
  3. Take notes detailing the experience or situation.
  4. Apologize sincerely to the patient for the problem, even if you do not feel the practice is at fault. Blame isn’t your chief concern, addressing the problem is.
  5. Tell them that you will look into the matter.
  6. If it requires follow-up with the patient tell them that you will get back to them within a specified time period, such as by the close of business tomorrow and do so.
  7. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention.
  8. Investigate the matter further to get the full picture. Evaluate it and consider an appropriate solution.
  9. If the complaint is the result of a practice system, consider bringing the matter up at the next staff meeting and ask the staff for input on how it can be addressed to avoid similar complaints in the future.
  10. Take action. Don’t just gather information and do nothing. Implement steps and procedures to avoid a recurrence of the same or similar problem.

Avoid putting yourself in a state of perpetual “damage control.” Get ahead of potential problem areas by asking for feedback regularly from your patients. They feel valued and will be impressed by your efforts. Ask the patients if the practice is truly patient friendly. Are the staff welcoming and helpful? Is the financial policy clear? Are appointment times convenient? Ask yourself if patients are treated the way you would want to be treated. You will receive insights into any number of relatively minor adjustments your practice can make to further improve the experience for your patients. The information you gather is literally worth a fortune in patient retention.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

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Hygiene Enhancement Program

Dr. Allan Monack
Hygiene Clinical Director
McKenzie Management

A lot of people feel going to their beautician is more important than going to their dental recall appointment. "Why should I go to the dentist if nothing hurts? If it isn't broken why fix it? If it doesn't smell or look bad why show up?" When these are the prevailing attitudes of your patients, you have failed in your efforts to communicate the value of the recall visit. Patients will only show up when their dental insurance pays in full, they have nothing better to do that day, or they are in pain.

How do you know if you are having a problem in your hygiene department? Pay attention to the indicators. Do you have more than one opening per hygienist per day on average? Has your hygiene department not grown steadily the past couple of years even though you are getting your usual number of new patients? Is your hygiene department profitable? Do your hygienists produce at least three times their salary including benefit costs? Do they produce 30% of the hygiene services offered with ancillary services such as scaling and root planning, bleaching, halitosis correction, and other treatments that your hygienist is qualified to perform? Do you have a very short or nonexistent list of patients who can fill in hygiene openings? Just as bad, do you have no where to put someone who had to cancel a hygiene visit less than four weeks ahead and still have some of the problems discussed above? Monitoring these statistics monthly are vital to know where you are and where you will be going.

Many of the questions above are actually interrelated and connected to inconsistent poor communication with your patients. Having consulted with various types of hygiene departments throughout the U. S., I see first hand that your patients don't understand the value of their hygiene visit. No one told them that their visit involves a lot more than a "cleaning." They "clean" their teeth every day. We hope! Why do they need you to "clean" them? Does the hygienist give the right message during their visit only to be sabotaged by the front desk or the doctor? Yes, doctors sometimes do sabotage the hygienist's communications with the patient. Is everyone in the office giving the same consistent message on how important it is to return at the appropriate interval? Once you figure out what is wrong, you need to take immediate remediation so as not to compound the problem.

These same consistent communication skills also improve treatment acceptance. Your hygienists are great educators. Empower them to discuss with the patient their concerns and dental needs. The hygienist can teach the patients the proper home care and preventive skills. They have the time to show the patient the health status of the periodontal and restorative condition. They discuss the patients concerns and suggest treatment options that may be appropriate. Your hygienist should also inform the patient of cosmetic improvements to the patient's smile that are available in the office or available at a specialist's office. Bleaching, veneers, orthodontics, implants, and gingival reshaping can be discussed. The hygienist can also point out overall health concerns such as halitosis, snoring, high blood pressure, temporal-mandibular disease, diet and smoking.

Co-Diagnosis and Handoff
Now it is important for the rest of the staff to know what your hygienist has told the patient. The office needs a plan that will allow the doctor and staff to reinforce the information presented by your hygienist to the patient. This information needs to be repeated in the proper way so the patient will understand and retain what has been told to them. The patient needs to own their problem and then they will be more likely to accept treatment. Once the protocols and communication skills are learned by the office, the patient will have a greater appreciation of the hygiene recall visit, more readily accept necessary treatment and value the need to return at the proper interval for their hygiene professional cleaning or periodontal maintenance visit.

Skills needed to solve the most common of problems encountered in the hygiene department can be taught. In most cases, the typical dental office increases hygiene production from 20-30% within four months of receiving this hygiene enhancement education. The doctor's production also increases because of the higher percentage of treatment acceptance. Consider helping your hygiene department get the results you, your staff, and your patients deserve in 2005.

If you have any questions, please submit them to me at and I will answer them in future articles.

Interested in having Dr. Allan Monack speak to your dental society or study club? Click here

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Dental Assistant’s Salary Survey

The Dental Assistant’s National Board just completed their 2004 Salary Survey of Certified Dental Assistants.  Approximately 5000 surveys were mailed to a nationwide random sample stratified by state. An impressive 28.5% returned the survey to ensure solid research data according to the Certified Press.  This survey was last conducted in 2002 and continues to indicate that dental assistants who are Certified stay in the profession, on average 14.4 years and with the same employer for over 8 years!  These data indicate that CDA’s remain in the profession nearly three times as long as non-certified assistants, and remain loyal to the same employer nearly twice as long.

The survey indicated that the median salary of Certified Assistants is $14.558 an hour, while the U. S. bureau of Labor Statistics last reported in 2002 that the median hourly wage for non-certified assistant was $13.10 an hour.  When adjusted for 3% inflation, the median hourly salary of non-certified dental assistants is $13.90 in 2004, meaning Certified Assistants make an average $1.58 more an hour than non-DANB certified assistants.



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This issue is sponsored
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McKenzie Management Upcoming Events
Date Location Sponsor Speaker
Feb. 24-27, 2005 Chicago, IL Chicago Mid-Winter Meeting Exhibit Only
Mar. 3, 2005 Rochester, NY Monroe County Dental Society Sally McKenzie
Mar. 14, 2005 Santa Rosa, CA Redwood Empire Dental Society Sally McKenzie

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