6 Ways to Reenergize Your Practice
There’s no way around it. You’re tired. Some might even say you’re burnt out. You’ve been practicing dentistry for years and the challenges that come with the job, from staff turnover to low case acceptance to a lack of new patients, have simply worn you out.
This happens to many dentists after they’ve been practicing for 15 to 20 years. Problems in practice systems keep piling on, overwhelming dentists who just want to focus on treating patients. But the demand for treatment is way down, and typical practice feeders such as patient promotions, hygiene visits and good old fashioned case acceptance are in severe trouble.
Yes, this is all exhausting, but I’m here to help you refocus yourself and your team members and reenergize your practice. Here are six tips designed to get you over your burnout and poised for success.
1. Take responsibility. Remember, you’re the practice CEO and must provide your team members with guidance through detailed job descriptions and continual feedback. Lack of leadership from you will only breed apathy among your team members. If you don’t care for your practice, it starts to run on autopilot. When it remains there, your practice will not only struggle, it might even fail.
2. Look at key treatment generators. For example, let’s say you just began a new patient promotion. For this promotion to succeed, your team members must be trained to represent you and the practice effectively on the phone. Team members who aren’t properly trained will unknowingly sabotage your efforts, meaning you won’t see the results you’re after – wasting both your time and your money.
Make sure team members know about the promotion and how to properly talk with potential new patients about it when they call. No matter why new or existing patients are calling, team members should never make them feel like a nuisance or let the fact that they’re irritated by the disruption come through over the phone. Patients will notice and opt not to schedule, hurting your production numbers.
3. Examine hygiene production. Hygienists should produce three times their salary. Not happening in your practice? That could be because your Scheduling Coordinator simply hasn’t been trained to schedule the hygienist that way, or because your practice has a problem with broken appointments. Either way, the issue needs to be addressed. Provide your Scheduling Coordinator with the necessary training and make sure all hygiene appointments are confirmed two days in advance.
When scheduling appointments, ask patients how they prefer to confirm those appointments, whether it’s via text, email or phone call, then make sure that’s how the patient is contacted. And remember, an appointment isn’t confirmed until you actually get a response from the patient.
4. Educate patients about the value of hygiene visits. When patients don’t understand the importance of routine dental care, they’re more likely to cancel appointments at the last second or just not show up at all. That’s where patient education comes in. Explain the link between oral and systemic health. Educate them about periodontal disease and oral cancer. Show patients the importance of keeping their appointments and the value of the services your practice provides. This will go a long way in ensuring they not only schedule appointments, but they also keep them.
5. Give patients a hygiene report summary. Before patients leave, make sure they receive a summary of the treatment completed during their appointment, as well as any free products they’re leaving with and recommendations on areas to pay special attention to in-between visits. This will help patients understand exactly what goes into every dental appointment, making them less likely to flake when it’s time for their next visit.
6. Evaluate your practice’s attitude toward case acceptance. Many dentists don’t realize this, but often they’re the ones keeping patients from going forward with treatment. Ask yourself these questions to determine if that’s happening in your practice:
• Do you or your team members undermine practice production by assuming patients won’t consider ideal treatment options?
As a dentist, you have a lot to deal with and think about every day. It’s easy to become burnt out, especially if your practice is struggling. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to contact me. I can help you examine your production feeders and determine what you need to do to get your practice back on the road to true success and profitability.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
Trust - The Most Important Element for Case Acceptance
Last month a friend called me in alarm with questions concerning her dental health and some recommendations her dentist had made. She had been seeing this dentist for several years and was on a six-month recall schedule. At her last recall appointment the dentist told her that she had serious bone loss throughout her mouth and would likely need to have several teeth removed, bone grafting of some type, and eventually implants placed. He recommended that she make an appointment with a periodontist right away.
Needless to say, my friend was shocked and upset. While she suspected that she may have suffered some bone loss over the years, she had no idea that her situation was such an emergency. She wanted to know what she should do.
First I asked if she knew what her periodontal probing depths had been over the years and had she ever had scaling and root planing. Then I questioned her about radiographs, any recession or bleeding, and had she noticed any teeth that seemed mobile. She wasn’t sure about any of these, and called her dentist back for answers. He offered to send copies of her records concerning these issues. As it turned out, full mouth probing and recording had not been accomplished in four years, and none were recorded at her last appointment. There were no notations concerning recession or bleeding. Her last radiographs were two bitewings taken last year, and prior to that there were two bitewings taken three years previous. There was no full mouth survey or even a panograph. My friend did say that #2 felt slightly mobile to her.
My advice was to seek out a second opinion immediately. She did this, and her new dentist recommended removal of #2 as bone loss was occurring that might affect #3. A bone graft was placed with a future thought to a possible implant. No other treatment was recommended as her perio readings were 3 and 4 mm with generalized 2mm recession and no bleeding. He recommended she increase her recall intervals to four times a year to be sure that no deeper probing depths were missed going forward.
While it might be easy to just write off my friend’s first dentist as not being a thorough diagnostician or adequate record keeper, there is more to discuss here. Presenting necessary treatment to a patient is not simply a matter of announcing what needs to be done. Information, data collection and detailed communication are key. Case acceptance is also predicated on basic trust. It is the most important element in helping your patients agree to the treatment they need.
• Information is often best presented in a “Show, Tell, Do, Re-Tell” format. For example: Current thinking on periodontal probing is that a full mouth recording should be performed at least annually. Show the patient the periodontal probe with an explanation of how it is used. Tell the patient what the readings might be and what they mean. Do a probing and recording, and either call out the depths during or show the results at the conclusion. Re-tell what the depths mean and what you recommend, if anything (home care changes, frequency of recalls, scaling and root planing, etc.).
• Further data collection in the form of radiographs and photos is also very helpful. When a patient can see what you are describing, it makes all the difference.
• Communicating what your recommendations are is the last piece of the puzzle. One good method is to set aside enough time for the dentist to present a treatment plan, or delegate this activity to a knowledgeable auxiliary. In fact, using a Treatment Coordinator or assistant might be the best choice. It may be easier for the patient to accept recommendations from an individual who will not be receiving direct monetary benefits from the decision. The following format can be used:
• A written copy of the recommendations can be given to the patient, along with any documents concerning payment arrangements. This way everything has been discussed, questions have been answered, and treatment can proceed.
While this format is conducive to treatment acceptance, trust is the key. A patient has to believe that the dentist, hygienist, assistant, front desk staff and everyone connected with their treatment has their best interests at heart. This does not happen overnight. Trust is built day-by-day and appointment-by-appointment over a period of time. It is connected to patients seeing documentation, understanding what the data means, and having their conditions communicated at each office visit. It is being shown that recommendations are based on facts. It is also fostered by the patient seeing that the dentist and staff’s actions match their words…all the time.
If my friend’s dentist had built up trust with her over the years with actions and documentation, she would not have been alarmed by what she was told. It would have made sense and she would have been inclined to go ahead with treatment. But having serious issues thrust upon her all at once with no back-up documentation completely eroded her trust – and the dentist not only missed out on having his treatment recommendations accepted, he lost a patient.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coach Your Staff the Way You Coach Your Patients
I recently went to see my dentist for a crown replacement. To put this into some context, it was a bit unusual for me. I am fortunate to have had good dental care throughout my life. Except for semi-annual hygiene visits, I haven’t needed any dental work in several years. And because I’ve been coaching lots of dentists, I was more curious about what the experience would reveal.
The Clinical Assistant took me into the operatory and gave me an overview of the procedure. My doctor came in and we reviewed the details. He carefully explained any dental terminology to be sure I understood. Both of them asked me, “Are you okay, Nancy?” intermittently through the entire process. They gave me encouragement – “We’re almost done”. Each of them presented options – “Do you want to sit up while we wait for the anesthetic to take effect?” They praised me when the temporary was put in place – “Good job! You’re a trooper.”
What was most interesting was their manner. Professional and smooth. Each step of the way they were concerned about my comfort and safety. They wanted me to be relaxed and cooperative, to allow them to accomplish what needed to be done.
I suspect that my scenario is similar to what your patients experience in your office. Knowing the importance of good chairside manner, you take care when talking with your patients. You listen. You ask questions. You inform and you confirm understanding. You coach your patients to cooperate with you.
This plethora of communication is a stark contrast to the insufficient communication often found between dentists and their employees. What’s amazing to me is how frequently dentists fail to show their staff the good communication skills they show their patients.
Think about it. When you treat patients, you use communication to influence the outcome and maximize success. Your words, facial expression, and tone of voice have a big impact on patients’ attitudes and reactions. Well, it works the same way with your employees. If you want a productive and efficient dental team, you need to communicate effectively with them.
Coaching employees does not need to take a lot of time, especially if it becomes part of the normal day-to-day functioning in the office. It starts with clear job expectations. Be sure that each employee knows exactly what their job entails. Then follow that up with clear feedback.
Make it a habit to tell employees when they do things right. Not just once a year at the annual performance review, but every day. Verbal appreciation and recognition is far more valuable than bonuses and tangible rewards.
When employees error, remind them in private of what you want them to do, or how you want them to do it. Behavioral feedback is essential. Use specific examples to explain the negative impact of the incorrect action. Guide them to an alternative option. Be brief and objective. Stick to the matter at hand. Ask them what kind of help they might need to perform better. Voice confidence in their ability to succeed. Give them encouragement, and remember to praise them. It’s very important to notice even the smallest efforts they make toward their identified goal.
By communicating this way with employees, you’ll coach them to achieve the results you want!
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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