The most important team member

March 1, 2006
Most dental practice-management articles you read today talk about building and creating a great team.

Most dental practice-management articles you read today talk about building and creating a great team. Dentists, you are the leader of the team, but nothing gets done in your office unless you have a team ... which includes your dental hygienists, dental assistants, and front office staff. Your dental laboratory technician is an invaluable part of your team as well. You need to take care of your team! Take them with you to continuing education courses so that they are as knowledgeable as you are in the services you provide to patients. Your hygiene staff is very important, your dental assistants are crucial to your success, and your front office people are the gatekeepers, an obviously vital part of the team.

But wait! There is another important member of the dental team. When practice-management gurus talk about team, they often leave out the person whom I consider to be the most important. We must add this person immediately to the team and treat this person with the respect and honor deserved. One of the best things about this team member is that you don’t pay him/her; this person pays you. The most important person on your dental office team is the patient!

Some dentists are so worried about their own in-office team that they almost forget about the patient. In dental practice management, we almost get the feeling that there is an “us vs. them” mentality. It’s the doctor and dental staff on one side and the patient on the other. We believe we must manipulate the patient to do what we want. It is then that our team wins. If patients don’t do what we want, then they win. Some practice-management articles attempt to train dentists to use sales techniques to force the patient into a corner to get treatment done. I have news for you - you can’t force people to do anything they don’t want to do. And if somehow you are able to force them to do it, it will always come back to bite you. This method almost never works out well for your team or the patient.

Start thinking of the patient as your most important team member. In my practice, we let the patient team members tell us where they want to go, what kind of treatment they want, and how they want to be treated. We work with the patient as a valuable member of our dental team. Patients want the treatment, we want to provide the treatment, and then we all work together to make it happen. That’s what teamwork really is. It’s not us against them; it’s us and them together so that everyone wins.

It’s not just in the treatment-planning arena where the team approach with the patient works well; it is also in financial planning. Our team - all of us together - wants to make whatever treatment we suggest for our new team member affordable. Using patient financing plans, such as CareCredit, is one way we have been able to forge this bond with patients and make them valued team members. By helping patients work through the financial aspect, we get paid and they are able to finance their dental treatment with affordable payments. Everybody wins. Working with patients in terms of their financing and treatment plans is crucial. If they get a little less financing, we can break up the treatment plan until they can afford the rest. In many cases, a finance company will give us more financing than we asked for if the patient has a good credit history, and suddenly the treatment plan can grow beyond our initial discussions.

Yes, there are unreasonable patients with ridiculous demands: “Pull out all of my teeth and give me dentures.” When the patient as a team member is unreasonable, we vote that person off the island and off the team. Let that patient join a new team. The truth is that most patients are reasonable, wonderful people whom we are proud to have as members of our dental team.

People come to us because they are looking for changes in their lives, whether big or small. Like any good team, we all make suggestions, work through alternatives if possible, and come up with the best action plan. But that happens with the most important team members (the patients), not without them.

When you start treating patients as an integral part of your dental team, amazing things can happen. There is an excitement in the ability to work together and get the job done for the patient. Start treating patients as key members and watch your practice grow.

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 truly enjoy practicing dentistry by providing the knowledge necessary for excellent clinical and practice-management skills. Since 1988, his group dental practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead. For details about his speaking schedule, Dr. Malcmacher can be reached at (440) 892-1810, or via e-mail at [email protected].

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