Spousal rights ... and wrongs

Case Profile: Within walking distance of Rodeo Drive, this thriving Beverly Hills general practice reminds me of "Masterpiece Theatre." But behind the scenes it`s more like theatre of the absurd.

Sally McKenzie, CMC

Case Profile: Within walking distance of Rodeo Drive, this thriving Beverly Hills general practice reminds me of "Masterpiece Theatre." But behind the scenes it`s more like theatre of the absurd.

Symptoms: Unlike most practices that call me in for a quick fix or a massive overhaul, this one is not in dire straits in the areas of productivity, recall, or collection. Staffing, though, is a problem.

Observations: Over the last year, my consultants and I have been called into this same practice three times to provide training to new hires. On each occasion, we were given a limited view of the revolving door that was consuming the staff. Back then, I had my suspicions. Finally, after being asked to come in and perform a practice analysis, my suspicions were confirmed. There is a phantom menace who shows up in the office periodically and makes a mess of things - the doctor`s wife.

Discussion: The doctor`s Mrs. - we`ll call her Misery, for short - enjoys coming to the office on occasion and sitting behind the front desk as if she belongs there. She usually chooses early evening for such visits. That`s when the stars come out. Not the ones in the sky, mind you, but the celebrity kind. For Misery, making an appearance at her husband`s practice is a social outlet, much like being at opening night in Movieland. And just imagine the name-dropping she can indulge in back on her home turf in "The Valley."

Through my conversations with staff, the doctor, and Misery herself, I discovered that she has an even darker side. It seems that she makes a habit of going into the office on a Sunday, holiday, or late at night, telling her husband that she wants to put in a little work while things are quiet. What she actually does at those times is snoop. Stopping at nothing, she noses through everyone`s desks - through practice information and personal mementos - leaving little Post-It notes like: "What`s a nice girl like you doing with so many pencils in your desk? Are you planning on taking some home to your kids?" and "Maybe you should cool it with these candy bars. We`ve already paid for enough uniforms of increasing size." It`s no wonder that the revolving door has been in perpetual motion since Misery entered the picture.

Treatment: Although Misery`s shenanigans are excessive, such "in-your-face" actions are not all that atypical of some dentists` spouses. Here, then, are specific recommendations that are being applied to the Beverly Hills practice in question, but have universal application to most any practice in which there is spousal participation.

If a spouse is going to participate in any practice matters, she must have an explicit job description. Like all other employees, she must meet her job responsibilities consistently and "tough it out" when it comes to accountability. The staff must be informed of the scope of her responsibilities and must be able to count on her. Finally, she must be made aware, tactfully, that the less respect one individual shows for another, the more that person calls attention to his or her own dishonor.

Sally Says: Like it or not, your spouse holds the power to impact your practice - for better or for worse. If "better" can`t be accomplished, your spouse should stop by for nothing more than lunch.

Sally McKenzie is a Certified Management Consultant, nationally known lecturer, and author with more than 32 years in the dental profession. Her sole proprietorship, McKenzie Management and Associates, provides in-office systems` analysis of the business, clinical, and hygiene department; staff training; and offers a full line of educational-management books, audiotapes, and videos. McKenzie`s dental clients span 40 states over 20 years. She is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. Call her at (877) 777-6151, e-mail her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com, or visit her Web site at www.mckenziemgmt.com.

More in Practice