Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
Scratch that title! The term infection control is negative and we have to stop using it. Instead, begin to refer to it as patient protection. Patient protection is a positive term, which certainly sounds a whole lot better.
The question is for whom does it sound better? The patients or us? You see, patients are frightened about acquiring a disease in the dental office and believe that their dentists should make every effort to protect them. After watching "60 Minutes," " 20/20," " Hard Copy" and a host of other television shows that have bashed dentistry in recent years, patients are led to believe that it is quite easy to become infected with the HIV virus in the dental office. Dentists don`t realize how important this issue is to their patients. This is because most questions concerning AIDS are directed to the staff, not the doctor. If you doubt this, just ask a member of your staff if many patients ask him or her questions about AIDS.
Because of our patients` fears concerning AIDS in the dental practice, we are forced to spend large sums of money on something that we feel is exaggerated. However, we have to stop grudgingly spending money for patient protection and hating OSHA. We all know that dentistry is highly over-regulated. But it`s the law and we need to make the most of it.
There actually are a few benefits of patient protection. First, it is always an advantage to tell patients that you are taking measures to ensure their safety. People want to know that they are safe. A few years ago, this was not a concern because people did not perceive any danger associated with visiting their dentists. Hardly anyone knew about the possibility of contracting hepatitis in their dental office, and because only a few people died from it, there was not much concern. However, AIDS is a far more deadly disease and patients are extremely frightened about contracting the HIV virus.
As long as patients are concerned about AIDS and as long as you have to take extreme precautions to satisfy OSHA requirements, why not send a positive message about your high level of care. Begin telling patients about the various methods your practice uses to protect them. Many doctors worry about patients hearing about their new, patient-protection techniques and wondering what the practice did before to ensure their safety. However, most people don`t really care what you did before because they did not contract AIDS before. They just care about what your practice is doing for them now.
The second advantage is your ability to change your practice. I always have supported patient-protection fees or raising your fees to compensate for increased patient-protection costs. Unfortunately, the average practice spends roughly $25,000 per year on patient protection, but less than five percent of dental practices have made up the difference. It is clear that practices that choose not to compensate for patient-protection fees will lose revenue. Today`s customer service-oriented, boutique-style of practice must keep its overhead approximately 10 percent below the national average. One of the reasons that overhead has been climbing, despite increased production, is patient-protection costs. You cannot afford to add $25,000 or more of overhead without experiencing a decline in profit. What many practices do not realize is that, even as their fees increase, profit has declined because of the added financial burden of overhead. You must look for ways to decrease your overhead.
Sterile packs are great for justifying patient protection. These are prepackaged, sterilized disposable packages, which contain all of the items needed to treat a patient. Sterile packs can make a tremendous difference in a dental practice. First, assistants like using them because all of the items they need are together and they will not have to scrounge around for items. Second, patients like them because the package is opened in front of them, causing them to believe they are even more protected. Third, you will like them because they enable you to charge a patient-protection (or sterile pack) fee to raise you fees. Patients are more willing to pay for a tangible item (a sterile pack) than a concept (patient protection). Charging higher fees or having a sterile-pack fee can reduce your overhead by approximately two to three percent. If you do not think that three percent is enough, consider that a $400,000 practice could save $12,000. To me, three percent is definitely worthwhile!
Sterility. Infection control. Patient protection. It`s all the same thing. It`s required and it`s costly. However, we need to turn it into a positive aspect of our practices. The old marketing axiom still applies-you have to market your marketing! Stop viewing patient protection as just one more overhead expense and begin to use it as a benefit that can help prove how committed to your patients you are.
Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at 410-486-1089.