by Dr. John Jameson
As I sit on the Kona coast on the big island of Hawaii, I watch the sea surge and strike the jagged lava formations that create grottos along the coastline. Just as the water moves in with such power, it moves away from the shore with little or no restriction. Watching this scene from nature brings to mind how we as clinicians handle the flow of our patients and our practice. We use tremendous energy bringing the patients into our practice, but how do we keep them as long-term patients? How do we give them the most positive experience possible every time they visit the practice?
As we look at developing a leadership role within the practice, we first must form a vision statement. We must know exactly what type of practice we want. Many clinicians spend little or no time formulating a vision statement. Even in a mature practice, this is an exercise that can be very profitable - not only for the clinician, but for the entire team as well.
A statement of purpose will allow us to create goals for our practice, but I believe that every day we are in practice, we have an opportunity to create a new focus for the future of our patients and our practice. Using the vision statement as a base, we can develop the dynamics of the practice. These dynamics create a tremendous foundation and allow patients and staff to understand what the practice believes in and stands for. If a vision statement isn't formed, keeping your practice on track can be like keeping a top balanced as it spins. Even the slightest movement or problem can cause that top to fall off its point and stop its movement completely.
In addition to the vision statement, it's imperative that clinicians receive enlightenment in areas not taught in dental school, particularly communication skills. The works of Dr. Thomas Gordon and Dale Carnegie are excellent study sources for clinicians who want to communicate better with their patients and team members. Miscommunication can cause stressful situations in areas such as case presentation and daily interaction with staff members.
As the practice develops, it's also important that the organization of excellent people brought into the practice is maintained. In order to retain fabulous staff members, closely examine salary structure and benefit packages. However, studies have shown that money is not the primary motivational factor for many workers. It's important for these staff members to set goals for themselves and the practice. Reinforcement, encourage ment, and compliments drive many people. These types of positive "perks" can help prevent the trauma that is usually associated with a key staff member leaving the practice and the ensuing search for a replacement.
Your team also must decide what patient-education programs to offer. There are several tremendous third-party reinforcement systems which can help your patient base. There is a synergy between the clinical skills and systems we develop, the development of a management system, and the technological advancements in today's world of dentistry. These areas must mesh together for the practice to accomplish its goals.
We must look at the diagnostic skills of the clinician, as well as how cases are presented within the practice. The basis of these skills comes from dental-school education, but can be refined every day in the practice. When planning treatment, it's critical that every member of the team understands the key components of the case. Questions can't be left unanswered, and financing must be completely understood by the team and the patient prior to treatment. This will allow the case presentation to be as effective as possible. Case presentation is an important cog in the entire structure of the practice.
There's an area of the practice that is often overlooked, yet is so critical to the practice's success - follow-up with patients. Patients should understand that you and your team want to help them enjoy their daily, weekly, monthly, and annual activities even more.
As doctors begin to refine their leadership skills and increase their leadership role within the practice and the lives of their patients, fewer patients will be lost and less of the energy we devote to the practice will be wasted. Just as the water from the sea slams into the grotto, we can maintain the energy in our practices and take them to the highest-possible level. By doing this, our professional lives can be fulfilled for a lifetime.