Serving (and soothing) the fearful patient
Dr. Mitchel Friedman always knew he’d end up in the health care business, but it took a meeting with the NYU dental school faculty to finally steer him on the path to becoming a dentist.
Dr. Mitchel Friedman has heard plenty of “horror stories” from his patients about past dental work. The New Jersey dentist has made it his goal to erase those fears.
by Kevin Henry, Managing Editor
Dr. Mitchel Friedman always knew he’d end up in the health care business, but it took a meeting with the NYU dental school faculty to finally steer him on the path to becoming a dentist. While attending Rutgers University as an undergraduate he studied biological sciences, and first thought about becoming a physician. However, after attending a couple of pre-med student meetings and chatting with some students preparing for a future in dentistry, his career choice became clear.
The salt-water aquarium adds to the office's tranquil atmosphere.
“What the students had to say about dentistry fascinated me,” Dr. Friedman recalled. “I couldn’t see myself living the lifestyle of a physician and dentistry seemed to have more opportunities to be creative. Math and science were my strong points; however I am also very artistic. That’s where the hands-on aspect of dentistry really appealed to me.”
He completed his professional education at the Medical College of Virginia and earned his GPR at Monmouth Medical Center where he has taught for more than 10 years. He became a Fellow of both the Academy of General Dentistry and the Dental Organization of Conscious Sedation.
He has applied his creative skills to the marketing of his practice. He is trying to reach the fearful patient and has made it one of his goals to try to erase some of the bad memories of dentistry for those in Lincroft, N.J., and the surrounding area.
“There is a high concentration of dentists in Lincroft (roughly 500 patients per dentist), so I needed to find a way to make my practice stand out,” Dr. Friedman explained. “I enjoy the challenge of conscious oral sedation and market that service through radio and television ads.”
The plan has worked thus far. Dr. Friedman invests roughly 10 percent of practice collections in marketing and has seen the benefit as he regularly draws in people from a 60-mile radius.
“We want to serve as many fearful people as possible,” he said. “After treating almost 1,000 anxious adults in this way, I have heard some horrible stories about previous dental experiences and I want to help patients get past those experiences.”
Learning about their experiences and communicating with the patient is critical to Dr. Friedman. He knows he often is not only dealing with bad dental experiences in the past, but also current conditions that can make dental treatment difficult for some.
“Very few people suffer solely from dental phobia. They often have other medical and emotional problems,” Dr. Friedman said. “We make a great effort to know our patients, and we want them to get to know us as well.”
The “getting to know you” part of the visit happens long before a patient steps foot in the practice. A DVD with testimonials from other patients is mailed out as part of a welcome packet after the first phone conversation with the New Patient Coordinator.
“Grateful patients contributed testimonials to encourage others to get the dental care they sorely need,” Dr. Friedman said. “We use Smile Reminder™ to keep in touch with our patient family. Patients can contact us through the system and let us know about their experiences in our office. We’re here to help, but we also have to be here to listen. We don’t judge anyone. We work with our patients to figure out the best approach to achieve optimum oral health. We also use Dental Fee Plan and CareCredit (Dr. Friedman has used CareCredit since 2000) to eliminate the financial issues that would be an obstacle to patients acquiring their ultimate smile.”
One of Dr. Friedman’s recent goals was to update his office from a 950-square-foot, four-operatory office into one that would help him reach more patients. After some searching, he found a dilapidated house that was zoned business professional, demolished it, and started to build his dream practice from scratch.
“During the research phase of this project, I visited a lot of other offices that were fabulous, but I didn’t want to build to satisfy my ego or build a Taj Mahal. I wanted the practice to focus more on the patient and less on the doctor,” Dr. Friedman recalled.
Dr. Friedman contracted with Dr. David Ahearn of Design Ergonomics. Now Dr. Friedman has an office that he says is inviting and barrier-free. Design Ergonomics was recommended because of their revolutionary way of focusing on high-performance design. The new office has allowed Dr. Friedman to increase production while creating an extremely relaxing spa-like environment for both staff and patients. Patients just can’t stop talking about the salt-water aquarium that can be seen from several rooms, tranquil fountain, and soothing colors and amenities such as steaming towels for freshening up after a treatment.
“Sedation patients need a calm, peaceful atmosphere. Thus it must be highly organized so as to keep our patients relaxed and our staff focused,” he explained.
It was important to Dr. Friedman to switch to an “over-the-head” delivery system (to soothe his aching back) and an instrument cassette system to save his team valuable time.
“The typical setup with cabinets as room dividers is unacceptable. It allows too much sound to pass from room to room. I knew that I needed a more secure arrangement for my patients, but at the same time I didn’t want the design to impede the staff’s performance,” Dr. Friedman said. “The new design allows patients the privacy that they need, yet remains extremely functional for staff. The layout allows the doctors to easily shift from hygiene to restorative dentistry.
“Failure simply wasn’t an option when we were building this office. It was worth every bit of the trouble we went through with our contractors and architects. Now we have an office where the dental noise has been reduced and patients feel extremely comfortable.”
It’s also a place where Dr. Friedman’s team feels comfortable - and “team” is the key word.
“We enjoy being around each other and helping others,” Dr. Friedman beamed. “I have always been successful by hiring people for their winning attitude. We can always expand their skill set through continuing education, to which we are committed. However, it’s that desire to help, to intuitively sense a need in others and to do it with enthusiasm that can’t be taught. I am proud that several team members have been with us for more than 10 years and that we have expanded our team because the practice has grown, not because of attrition.”
Dr. Friedman and his team are also proud of their efforts to give back to their community. In fact, they have adopted the motto of “Be grateful. Give back.” They have participated in “Smile For Life” for four years and collected $6,200 this year for the children’s charity. Dr. Friedman is also a health care provider for the national organization Donated Dental Services. On October 4, Newman Springs Dental Care sponsored their first annual “Dentistry From The Heart” event. Started in 2002 by Florida dentist Vince Monticciolo, this was an opportunity to help the underprivileged to free dental care. Drs. Harihar Kumar and John Frattellone, along with many dedicated volunteers, donated their time.
“It’s important to me that we offer these community services,” Dr. Friedman said. “We need to give back to a community that has been so good to us. After all, the smiles on our patient’s faces tell us how much we’ve been able to help.”