Secrets of Successful Family-Run Dental Practices
It’s pretty common for dentists to turn to family members for help with running their practices. These are people they trust, who will do their part to help meet practice goals. That sounds great in theory, but there are a lot of challenges and complications that come with family businesses. If not approached properly, hiring relatives can lead to problems and frustrations that hold your practice back.
Of course, there are plenty of family-run dental practices that do it right. They find it easy to work together and put their family issues aside for the sake of the practice. They’re focused and efficient, and it shows in the practice’s productivity numbers and bottom line.
What’s their secret to success? Read on to find out.
Family members are only hired for roles that fit their temperament and skillset. I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into a family-run practice to find the dentist’s brother or niece handling Office Manager duties when they clearly shouldn’t be. As tempting as it is, you can’t just hire family members for jobs because you like them or it’s easy. You have to make sure they’re actually qualified for the role. If they’re not, it will only lead to extra stress and tension for your other team members, and it certainly won’t do anything to spur practice growth.
There are clear guidelines. When you have family members on your payroll, it’s easy for them to take advantage of the situation without even meaning to. That brother of yours may think it’s perfectly OK for him to leave early every day or take extra vacation just because, well, he’s family. He might even think it’s not a problem to offer discounts to family, neighbors and friends. Make sure he understands he isn’t entitled to special treatment simply because he’s your brother, and it’s not his place to hand out discounts. Set guidelines that all team members are expected to follow, relatives or not.
Everyone has a job description. This is important for all employees, but especially family members. If family members aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do, it makes it easier for them to do as they please. Clear job descriptions spell out who’s responsible for what and make your expectations clear. There’s no confusion, reducing the likelihood of resentment and conflict among team members. Everyone knows what systems they’re accountable for and what duties they’re expected to perform, providing the direction they need to excel.
There is a system for raises. This can be a tricky subject, especially when relatives are involved. To avoid problems, owners of successful family-run practices make it very clear how performance will be measured and under what circumstances raises will be given. That way, you’re never put in a situation where your brother comes to you insisting he’s earned a bump in pay, when you know he hasn’t.
They bring in outside help. This goes back to hiring family members for the right position. For example, you might think your wife is perfect to take on collections. She loves talking on the phone and is great with people. Unfortunately, she also hates conflict and asking for money, making this a role she should avoid at all costs.
When you’re dealing with family, it can be difficult to see weaknesses that might keep them from excelling in a specific job. A dental consultant can look at your team from an outside perspective and help you identify who fits best in which roles. The consultant can also help you craft those all-important job descriptions, which can serve as guides during the hiring process and lead to a more efficient team.
They get everyone on the same page. Did you ever think about why your family members want to be part of your business? No matter the reason, it’s important to get everyone working toward common goals. Here are a few questions I suggest you ask both yourself and your team members to make that happen:
• Do you want the practice to grow or do you want it to stay where it is?
The answers to these questions will help make it clear where everyone sees the practice going, helping you avoid friction down the road. It also opens up communication, which is critical for any family-operated business.
They put the business first. Family dynamics can be complex, and it’s easy to let emotions and family arguments get in the way of success. Profitable family practices understand the business is the priority. Every decision they make is designed to move the practice forward.
Working with family members can be a wonderful and profitable experience, but only if you handle it properly. Successful family practices stay focused and know what it takes to meet their goals. Implementing these strategies will help you do the same.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Taking Care of Kids
Many practices contain an age mix of patients. While the basics of treatment remain the same, the care of patients of different ages can vary dramatically. The treatment of older patients includes fluorides, bacteria resisting restorations, more frequent prophylaxis, and special attention to possible medical or medicine related conditions. The care of older patients includes respectful interactions (calling patients by their names, not “honey” or “dear”), an atmosphere of calm in the treatment room, and detailed and perhaps lengthy explanations of treatment recommendations to be sure their situation is understood.
Should a parent be “allowed” in the treatment room? Some pediatric practices make it a rule that no parent is allowed in the operatory. The theory is that children will “act worse” when a parent is around. While it is true that kids will sometimes respond in an overt way due to a parent being present, the opposite reaction can also be true.
Each practice will have a philosophy to support their decision, but I base my philosophy on being a parent and grandparent, as well as a clinical hygienist for over 30 years. I think that in most cases, a parent should be allowed to accompany a child for dental treatment. Kids rely on their parents for support and protection. Taking away this support during a stressful situation may result in a fear and behavior response that can go from mild to severe.
A short conversation with the parent prior to seating the child can be helpful. Staff can provide suggestions as to what the parent might say to help the child relax, as well as what the treatment will entail. Here’s an example:
Mr. Parent, when we go back to the treatment room it will be a good idea not to say, ‘This won’t hurt’ or ‘Don’t be afraid’. Your child picks up on everything you say and do. Instead you might say ‘I remember when I had my teeth cleaned, they felt great!’ or ‘Lots of kids like this big chair, it’s like being an astronaut.’
During the actual treatment, it is fine if the parent holds the child’s hand or simply remains in the child’s line of sight. If the patient starts to act out, the parent can say: “Please be still and calm. I know that Dr. Dentist has a treasure box and you may pick out a treasure when we are finished. If you wiggle it takes longer to finish, and I know you would like to pick out a treasure.”
If the child ends up being very upset and unruly, it makes sense to terminate the appointment as soon as possible. Perhaps using nitrous oxide next time will help, or just the fact that the child will be a little older can make a difference.
As far as “allowing” parents in the room; barring parents can open up a practice for possible malpractice problems. If a child has a bad outcome and a parent was not allowed to be present, it is easy to see where a case might be made. A practice that doesn’t want parents should consult an attorney for a proper informed consent form indicating parents are okay with not being in the room.
The old method of “tell-show-do” is essential in making children feel safer. Make sure appointment times are long enough to do this correctly. Rushing through a child appointment is not going to end well. Show children how the chair goes up and down, how the air-water syringe works, how the light works, how the suction works, how the prophy cup works – even placing the cup on the child’s fingernail and running it to demonstrate the sound and the fact that it causes very little sensation. Allow the child to pick out the prophy paste flavor.
For radiographs, show the lead shield and call it a “heavy blanket”. Let children hold something while x-rays are being taken – a toy they brought in, a stuffed animal you keep on hand, or even an x-ray holder which you tell them to “keep ready for you”. This will focus the child’s attention on something else.
I once had a little boy who asked if he could cover his eyes with his hands while I took the x-rays. There was obviously no bright light involved, but his perception was he wanted to cover his eyes. I showed him how he could cover his eyes without interfering with the process, and he did fine.
Safety and “crutches” at the chair are important for children. Like the little boy in the previous example, many children seem to want to cover their eyes during treatment. Most will be satisfied with a pair of dark glasses, which is advantageous since patients should be wearing protective glasses anyway. Some will want a toy to hold. Some may want headphones and music. Anything that doesn’t interfere with the treatment should be allowed. If the child has a good experience, it will make for even better experiences in the future.
Taking special care of children in a practice is not only the right thing to do, it is a sure practice builder. When the kids are happy and have had successful treatment, the parents are happy and will want to keep coming to the office, and will refer their family and friends.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.
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