How to choose the right lab

Sept. 1, 2004
There is no question that choosing the right lab is critical. You will want to be sure the lab you select can provide the following...

Cathy Jameson, PhD

There is no question that choosing the right lab is critical. You will want to be sure the lab you select can provide the following:

1) Excellent results from any laboratory-produced procedure
2) Doctor and patient satisfaction
3) Minimal numbers of redoes and remakes
4) Appropriate time allotments for sending and receiving cases
5) Constructive and congenial communication with the laboratory team
6) Current materials and methods
7) Continuous education for your entire dental team on new and improved methods and techniques
8) Appropriate budget and overhead control

When you think of your dental team, I hope you include the members of your dental laboratory. Your laboratory relationship is one of the most important relationships you can establish and maintain. You must have a lab you trust and one that trusts you. The relationship should be reciprocal.

You must trust that you can count on your lab to provide an excellent result and that lab personnel are willing to communicate with you about the expected and intended result. Your lab must respect the time frames that have been outlined and agreed upon. You must be able to work together — no matter what it takes — to gain a superior result for your patients. You have to trust that your lab supports infection-control methodologies that protect you, your team, and your patients.

Your lab should be able to count on you to provide excellent information, including a comprehensive prescription, clear definitions of what you want and need, good photography, discussion of any special circumstances, excellent models and impressions, and timely submission of requests so the predetermined time needs of the lab can be honored. Your lab also needs to count on your infection control, and it needs to be paid in a timely manner.

Spend time talking with laboratory candidates. Make sure the type of dental treatment you are providing is compatible with your lab's areas of expertise. For example, if you are focusing on cosmetic dentistry, make sure that your lab does the same. Is the lab using the materials you like to use? Can your lab show you results of cases in which it has participated? Does the lab support continuing education in your focus area?

No matter what your individual choice of treatment mix, you want to make sure that your lab has an excellent track record in that area. Ask for photography of its results. Ask for referrals. Go to the lab (if travel allows) and see the lab at work. Submit a few cases. Communicate with the lab about the results. What did you like? What didn't you like (if anything)? How could you work more effectively together?

Speak to laboratory candidates about communication methodologies. Since you will regularly speak to the lab owner, the technicians, the ceramic specialists, the accounting department, etc., you want to ensure these conversations are congenial and that any necessary action will be taken in an expedient fashion. You want to make clear that if you have a problem, you expect the lab to be willing to work with you on a resolution. Make sure your lab is willing to address your concerns in a straightforward manner and that a mutual agreement is the goal.

If you are a general practitioner, you probably are budgeting approximately 9 to 10 percent of your overhead to lab costs. Discuss fees and methods of payments to ensure they are acceptable to the lab. If your percentage of overhead for lab expenses is higher than 10 percent, you may need to consider fee increases for laboratory-produced procedures. If you are under that percentage, you may wish to expand your practice-development program to promote more crown and bridge, cosmetic procedures, dentures, partials, and implants.

When you choose your lab, consider these suggestions. Do not compromise! Great labs are out there. They will work with you as a member of your team. Hold your laboratory partner in high regard. Treat lab personnel as you would want to be treated. They deserve your ultimate respect, and that respect will be returned to you many times over.

Dr. Cathy Jameson is president and CEO of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental practice-management consulting, lecturing, seminar, and product provider. An accomplished speaker, writer, and workshop leader, Cathy earned a doctorate in organizational psychology, focusing her studies on effective stress-controlled management. Cathy's books, Great Communication = Great Production and Collect What You Produce are top sellers for PennWell Books. You may reach her toll-free at (877) 369-5558, email her at [email protected], or visit her Web site at

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