Creating an aesthetic environment

June 1, 2002
A successful cosmetic practice requires not only excellent skills, but a commitment to marketing, team-building, technology, and vision.

By Debra Englehardt Nash

A successful cosmetic practice requires not only excellent skills, but a commitment to marketing, team-building, technology, and vision.

As the population ages, the need for dentistry - especially cosmetic dentistry - is increasing. The majority of baby boomers are around 50 years old, and most of them are interested in a more youthful appearance. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, teeth whitening has increased by more than 500 percent over the past five years. Direct bonding has increased by more than 100 percent, and veneers have increased by more than 250 percent over the same time period. For patients between the ages of 20 and 50, the most popular dental procedures are whitening, veneers, and composites. Patients age 50 and older are choosing crowns, whitening, and veneers as their dental procedures of choice. Let's face it - aesthetic dentistry has moved into the mainstream of most general dental practices.

Many dentists are eager to provide cosmetic treatment for their patients. They spend many hours - and dollars - to learn aesthetic techniques, participate in continuing education and study clubs, and implement state-of-the-art technology. The rising standards in dental treatment and the increased expectations of patients are challenging dentists and their auxiliaries to look constantly for ways to improve their practice by offering these services. Dental practices must develop the skills, systems, and teamwork to create an environment that inspires patients to choose this level of treatment.

It begins with a vision

The doctor - who has a subjective vision of the way he wants to practice, the kind of dentistry he wants to provide, and the environment in which he wants to work - should be the driving force behind all business strategies and team action. The doctor is the Leader and Chief Inspirational Officer; it is his job to create a sense of purpose for the team. The leader's actions are critical, because the team will focus on and emulate them.

Strength of conviction is likewise important. The doctor must use his own passion to inspire others. While consulting with dental offices, I watch and listen for indicators that identify who and what directs practice growth.

To my dismay, I often find doctors who suppress their efforts to create the practice environment of their dreams due to their team member's biases. The "can't do" attitudes of some staff members sabotage their plans. Too many doctors passively give up their dreams and control of their practice destiny.

Certain business decisions are not open to a team consensus. In his book, Leading With the Heart, Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski says, "If you're always striving to achieve success that is defined by someone else, you'll always be frustrated. Define your own success." It is the doctor's right and responsibility to determine the direction of the practice. The doctor conveys the message, "walks the talk," and supports the team's performance accordingly.

Self-esteem also is important. A leader with high self-esteem is more likely to inspire the best in others. If a leader does not trust his own instincts, he certainly will not inspire greatness in others. In his article, "People Make a Difference," Mark Dunn, chief executive officer of Trojan Professional Services, Inc., states, "If leaders wish to create high self-esteem and high-performance organizations, the first step is to work on themselves."

Acquire the skills

Increasing the demand for aesthetic dentistry requires a strong commitment to continuous learning and renewal. Everyone in the dental office should be attuned to what is new in the industry - from clinical techniques and materials to practice-management strategies and office trends. Motivational author and newspaper columnist Tom Peters offers this bit of advice: "Don't forget to obsess about your own renewal."

Establishing specific learning objectives is crucial to creating a progressive aesthetic care environment. Identify new materials, techniques, and technologies, and set aside time to review and add to your knowledge. Schedule a half-day staff meeting to exchange ideas about the innovations that might help you meet your practice goals. The healthiest attitude for success is one that believes change is good.

The dental health and appearance of the doctor and team should reinforce the practice's commitment to cosmetic treatment. Providing your staff with excellent care and desired aesthetic treatment creates "live models" of treatment possibilities. It creates opportunities for the team to discuss their own dental experiences and reinforce the positive results with prospective patients. The clinical experience allows each team member to speak with more authority to patients about the care the practice can provide. It further validates the practice's commitment to aesthetic treatment.

The team approach

One of the keys to building an aesthetic dental practice is an organized team approach. Each team member must understand the practice's goals and receive the support required to be successful. Team relationships are vital; those that are healthy will encourage treatment acceptance; those that are damaged can actually drive patients away.

Make a good impression

Patients make judgments based totally on nonclinical issues, and the appearance of your office directly influences their acceptance of cosmetic and aesthetic procedures. Convincing patients of the value of aesthetic services is easier in a well-appointed facility. The office environment you provide is a visual example of the doctor's commitment to quality. It is important for the office to showcase what you are committed to professionally.

What kind of image does your facility convey? Next time you walk into your office, walk in through the front door. Imagine what it feels like to your patients and ask yourself, Does this office accurately represent the quality of dentistry we provide? What kind of statement does it make to your patients? To the general public, your office is your most tangible symbol of quality.

Dental office design should allow for patient comfort and staff efficiency. A well-designed environment allows the doctor and team to focus on quality care and good practices effortlessly, free from the hindrances from an inefficient or unattractive office.

Operatory design must now include computerization. The development of an amazing array of digital devices for the treatment room has completely changed the concept of dental computer use; it has also changed the basic treatment room design requirements. Computers now have multiple users, such as the dentist and the assistants, while CPUs have various ports for cameras, X-ray sensors, imaging, and computer probes.

The reception room is an often-overlooked venue for introducing the types of services you offer. New technologies offer exceptional alternatives for patient education in the reception room. For example, dentists can utilize Compact Disc Interactive Systems (CDIS), which can run informative oral health care films continuously while patients are in the reception area.

Dental consumer literature is abundantly available in general publications and can be used to introduce aesthetic treatment possibilities to patients. Magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, Elle, and Better Homes and Gardens usually carry articles about the latest trends in dentistry. For example, the March issue of Ladies Home Journal contained an excellent article about tooth whitening. Articles like this one can be laminated and placed in a binder in the reception area as a patient reference tool.

Think of the reception area as a place that encourages patients to learn about dentistry, rather than distracting them with outside influences such as regular television or nondental publications. Patients are a captive audience. Use this opportunity to communicate the type of treatment you can deliver.

Focus on aesthetics

Doctors and their teams must focus on cosmetic treatment options as soon as they establish patient contact. This means the initial phone call, the appointment interview, and patient welcome packet must include detailed information about aesthetic and cosmetic services. This helps patients develop the correct perception of the practice when they initially telephone the office.

The in-office introduction also should emphasize aesthetic care. The patient coordinator or receptionist can begin educating the prospective patient about the uniqueness of the practice. The team member should learn as much as possible about the patient's concerns and direct the conversation accordingly. Avoid launching into an explanation of "office policies" or insurance coverage questions. The auxiliary responsible for gathering new-patient information should first listen to the patient, emphasize the practice's commitment to customer service, and then explain how the office will structure the patient's experience to achieve optimum results. In the aesthetic care environment, the emphasis is on hospitality first, office protocol second.

The new-patient experience - even if the patient's initial concern is for standard general care - should be comprehensive and include an aesthetic consultation. If you don't explain the full scope of your practice to your patients, they will never know all that you can do for them. In order to develop a cosmetically focused practice, the doctor must take the time to evaluate the patient and determine their dental needs and aesthetic desires.

In our work with clients, the brevity of the consultation and evaluation is probably the number one reason why offices fail to achieve their cosmetic and aesthetic treatment acceptance goals. These offices include elective treatment options as a short addendum to a standard exam, or only nonchalantly touch upon cosmetic alternatives.

Doctors must spend time with patients to help them fully comprehend the level of competence and quality of care their practices can provide. Therefore, patient introductions and education should be delegated to a staff member to free up the doctor's time.

Current patients are your best source

Practices striving to increase the number aesthetic cases should first focus their efforts on active patients of record. To "revitalize" existing patients and educate them on the new standards of care you offer, it may be time to renew the exam process during their recall visit. More in-depth reviews of existing patient records may be necessary, as well as more time devoted to the exam process for patients who have been in your practice for five years or more. Consult with these patients as though they were new to the practice - objectively, comprehensively, and more aesthetically focused.

The hygienist should initiate the renewal process. A staff member can conduct an intraoral camera tour and utilize multimedia education where appropriate. Then, update radiographs and baseline health information. During the prophylaxis, the hygienist can discuss the type of work the doctor has been doing, and the increased interest other patients have expressed in cosmetic treatment choices.

If the patient doesn't need anything, the doctor or hygienist can say, "Working together, we have done an excellent job of improving and maintaining your dental health. You are a perfect candidate to consider another level of care. Because of your excellent dental health, we can explore other options that can significantly enhance your smile!"

If building a more aesthetically focused practice is a desired goal, begin by renewing relationships with existing patients. Objectively review patients of record and give them the same time and attention that you normally devote to new patients. This focus will renew and revitalize existing patients. Provide the information they need to choose the treatment you want them to have.

Technology and aesthetics

Innovative technological resources that educate and motivate patients illustrates your commitment to state-of-the-art care. The intraoral camera has proven to be an important tool in today's dental practice. It has facilitated co-diagnosis and better visualization for both the patients and the dental team. It provides excellent communication support and increases patients' awareness of their dental needs.

Computer imaging has proven to be an exceptional tool for increasing patient case acceptance. When patients see a simulation of finished treatment on their own image, it increases the desire for treatment.

Digital radiography is becoming more common in innovative treatment delivery. Integration with chairside software has increased in popularity. This technology has increased efficiency and enhanced patient services.

Implementing innovative technological resources to educate and motivate patients demonstrates your attitude about providing state-of-the art care. Investing in technology can improve patient comfort greatly, as well as treatment acceptance and understanding.

Constant renewal

Increasing the demand for cosmetic dentistry in your practice requires a strong commitment to constant learning and renewal. What worked 10 years ago, five years ago, or even two years ago may no longer suffice for you and your patients. Examine your processes to ensure that your office meets the needs of today's dental consumer. Create an innovative environment and strive to be constantly on the cutting edge of service and technology.

Building an aesthetic care environment requires doctors to have a vision; it also requires team understanding and support. It requires office systems that emphasize customer service, rather than rigid policies. The office atmosphere must be one that enhances and promotes the aesthetic focus of the practice, and one where time is carefully respected to present aesthetic treatment alternatives comprehensively.

Today's techniques and materials, coupled with a doctor's professional passion and clinical expertise and a dental team's ability and eagerness to communicate, effectively provide a solid foundation for an aesthetic care environment.

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