Create discovery!

June 1, 2003
"Your dental office should look more like a learning organization than a purveyor of goods and services.

Richard A. Green, DDS, MBA

"Your dental office should look more like a learning organization than a purveyor of goods and services. Go study people and the way they learn!" These were the penetrating comments Dr. Bob Barkley made to me in the late 1960s, and I have been routinely thinking about them ever since.

Learning is both an individual experience and a collective experience with patients, staff, and doctor. A dental office functions best when all the people in the relationship experience learning.

Learning is a given. It happens, just as change happens. What is not a given is whether you will adopt learning as a part of your organization's way of doing business. In other words, the real question is whether you will intentionally drive learning and create change ... or just let change happen.

After decades of experience, it is clear to me that the best learning occurs when we make discoveries for ourselves and help others make discoveries. Opening ourselves to discovery and facilitating it for others are intentional acts. Before you can harness the discovery process and make it work for your organization, learning needs to be a strategic goal of your organization. You and your team have to decide whether learning is strategically connected to "doing" dentistry.

We frequently have heard that the Latin word for doctor means "teacher." Too often, we have thought that being a teacher means to teach and tell others, as in "Oral Hygiene 101." I am sure you have heard yourself and/or your dental hygienist or assistant speak very eloquently on the subject. But does this represent education — i.e., true learning?

Just what do good teachers do? They educate. The Greek understanding of the word educate is the ability to move someone else to another point of view (in other words, to influence behavior) through an experience. It follows that, as doctor/teacher/influencer, our role is to uniquely create discovery experiences for patients, staff, and ourselves.

As a dentist, I am a facilitator of health. I am a leader who is willing and able to influence behavior — my own and others. I am a leader who creates individualized discovery or learning moments to facilitate growth. Such learning moments can be as simple as getting someone's attention, cleverly arousing curiosity, gently developing ownership of a present condition, tactfully refocusing attention to the pertinent subject, courageously inviting a response, and skillfully negotiating an action plan.

Think about how you can change your operations so the patient doesn't just receive a diagnosis and treatment recommendation, but rather collaboratively becomes involved in codiscovering his/her oral condition, taking responsibility for it, and then owning the process of evaluating options for achieving optimal and appropriate care.

I encourage you to be patient-centered. You probably haven't had an opportunity to learn much about your new patient when the first comprehensive oral evaluation begins. Do you know his or her personality, history, and circumstances? Do you know what he or she needs to learn? Creating a learning experience will keep you on your toes!

Once you've developed an understanding of this unique patient, ask yourself, "What's a good way to help this new patient discover, then care to inquire and better understand?" Check yourself as you go along. What is the patient experiencing (learning)? What are you experiencing (learning)? Are you being patient-centered or doctor- centered? Are you sure?

You may have to change and readjust your game plan as you proceed. Don't be too hard on yourself if this doesn't come easy. Just keep trying.

As a small boy, I was hesitant to swing a bat. I kept waiting and watching for the right ball. My father pushed me into the batter's box with encouraging words, saying it doesn't matter if you miss; you have to step in and swing. By swinging, you get the feel of it, and after a lot of swings, you experience the right moves to hit the ball.

How many of you are hesitant to step into the batter's box? Taking swings without contact isn't exactly what you may have in mind, but unless you are unusual, that's exactly what you need to do. So, you experience a failure or two or three...what of it? We make discoveries (learn) from it.

Richard A. Green, DDS, FAGD, MBA, is the director of business systems development of The Pankey Institute and is responsible for developing the business systems and financial management portion of the Institute's curriculum. You may contact Dr. Green by phone at (305) 428-5547 or by email at [email protected].

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