General dentists and dental specialists have always had an interesting relationship. Some have described it as a love-hate relationship, but it is much deeper than that. And, like all other relationships, a successful team of general dentists and their dental specialists needs to develop and nurture their relationship for the ultimate benefit of the patient.
It all starts with successful communication. The specialists we have worked very well with over the years have been excellent communicators. The endodontist knows how to do the endo well, the orthodontist creates an absolutely beautiful, straight smile, and the oral surgeon places implants in perfect alignment, not sticking 180 degrees outside the patient’s cheek.
What really defines a great dental specialist to me, though, is how he or she treats my patients. Will the specialist see my patients as soon as possible, especially if they are in pain or it is an emergency? Will the patient have to wait very long in their reception area? In other words, we want our patients to be treated the way we treat them in our office. They have come to expect that level of service from our office, and we expect to see that same kind of commitment to service from our specialists.
Many years ago, I started using an endodontics specialty group in my area. My wife ended up needing endo on her upper right central incisor. For some reason, I felt the endodontist would do a better job than I would. My wife was on time for her scheduled visit, but she sat in the waiting room for one full hour after her appointed time! Not a single member of the office staff came out to explain why she was kept waiting. She finally just walked out of the office, called me (and she was not happy), and came straight to my office, where I did the endo myself. I’m happy to say that was 20 years ago and that tooth is doing fine!
The endodontist I sent her to called me and let me know that he was insulted that my wife had left the office. I explained to him that people don’t like to be kept waiting, and I don’t keep patients waiting in my office. It was obvious to me if that was the way he was going to treat my wife, that was the way he would treat other patients I referred to him, and I did not want my patients to be treated that way. That endodontist’s office never saw another referral from me again.
When referring a patient to a specialist, I take the time to really build up the specialist in the patient’s eyes. I want the patient to know that I work with a lot of different people and I refer them to the dental specialist who I feel will be best for the patient’s needs and will do the best job possible. I expect the same courtesy from the specialist to whom I refer my patients.
I want to single out one specialist in particular, Dr. Tom DiMassa. Tom was a classmate of mine and is a terrific orthodontist. He is great with patients, a very effective communicator, and I think he has a secret weapon - his staff and my staff. His staff speaks very highly of him to my staff. He also knows how to take care of my staff.
You see, Tom is a very smart guy. He knows that if he takes care of other dentists’ staff members - whether it is attending to their children’s orthodontic needs, sending staff members small gifts every so often, or inviting them to his referral parties - they will be a huge referral source. When my assistant, Hollie, needed to take her kids for braces, there was no question that she was going to go to Dr. DiMassa.
Another thing that Tom does on a regular basis is to send out news bulletins about what’s new in orthodontics and new opportunities for treatment we both may want to learn and do. I know my patients will be well taken care of in his office and that he will consult with me and refer back to me. Both of our offices benefit from our relationship, but it is the patient who benefits the most by receiving the best treatment possible.
This lesson is something I teach to specialty societies whenever I lecture to them. The more the general dentist knows about a particular specialty, the more we are able to treat our own cases more successfully. We also will become more adept at recognizing what procedures need to be referred to a specialist and we will refer more. Who wins? Your office, the specialist’s office, and most importantly, our patients!
Dr. Louis Malcmacher is an international lecturer and author known for his comprehensive and entertaining style. An evaluator for Clinical Research Associates, Dr. Malcmacher is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. For close to two decades, Dr. Malcmacher has inspired his audiences to enjoy practicing dentistry by providing the knowledge necessary for excellent clinical and practice-management skills. His group dental practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead since 1988. For details about his speaking schedule, Dr. Malcmacher can be reached at (440) 892-1810, or via e-mail at [email protected].