Test yourself with the valuemeter

July 1, 1996
I was running on my treadmill and watching the NBA on NBC when I came to a wonderful "Ah Hah" experience. The experience that brings cause and effect together in the twinkling of an eye. The experience that manifests the profound practical knowledge we call wisdom. Marv Albert, the announcer, was talking about the popular Orlando Magic player, Penny Hardaway, and how he became a member of The Magic.

For a healthy position on the valuemeter, paint a clear picture of your value to your patients.

Barry Polansky, DMD

I was running on my treadmill and watching the NBA on NBC when I came to a wonderful "Ah Hah" experience. The experience that brings cause and effect together in the twinkling of an eye. The experience that manifests the profound practical knowledge we call wisdom. Marv Albert, the announcer, was talking about the popular Orlando Magic player, Penny Hardaway, and how he became a member of The Magic.

After doing well at his tryout, Penny drifted toward general manager John Gabriel and said, "If you don`t make me your first-round pick, that decision will haunt you for the rest of your career."

That one simple sentence, delivered with just the right amount of straightforwardness and precedence said, combined with his superb demonstration, explains why Penny Hardaway was the first-round draft pick of the Orlando Magic. Wow! What a case presentation. I nearly fell off of the treadmill. Why do we dentists make this so difficult? Penny Hardaway knew how valuable he would be to this team and he expressed this in words that painted a clear picture in the mind of Gabriel. That picture was a result; the NBA championship!

Our patients only see us as a result. A benefit!

"Doctor, if I go along with your treatment, what will the result be?"

Simple, isn`t it? Just answer that silent question and you will have answered the question that all people who need to be persuaded are asking-why?

Actually, it is not so simple. Penny Hardaway`s prime ingredient had become apparent; his very intact sense of self. Hardaway didn`t just show up. He knew his value to the team and was well prepared for his tryout. He had an accurate sense for his relevance, just enough on the valuemeter.

Most dentists score quite low on the valuemeter. Many don`t spend the time or money to educate themselves to develop the professional skills comparable to a Penny Hardaway. Some have the excellent skills necessary but do not express their worth adequately. I see this as the most significant problem in dentistry. I actually blame this for the state of the entire profession today. Many practice consultants would agree with me.

How do you know if you are low on the valuemeter? Ask your patients what they really want from you, technically. Can you do it? Are you good at it? Do you have benchmarks to compare yourself to? How are the labs that you are using? Are they the best? Can you define quality and produce it? Can you give your patients the result that you know as quality? Do you know what people really want from you? Finally, can you explain it to them in simple, illustrative ways?

Asking questions like these of yourself will lead you to a healthy position on the valuemeter. An intact, healthy sense of self is where you want to be: a realistic, healthy sense of self. The self-esteem levels of most dentists I know remind me of the Woody Allen quote, "I would never join a country club that would accept me as a member."

Arrogance is when we score too high on the valuemeter. Everyone has seen the arrogant athlete-back flipping in the end zone, demonstrating after a tackle when his team is behind 21-0. Nobody likes arrogance, when we value ourselves too much. An arrogant person makes the same mistake as someone who undervalues him/herself, only in reverse. In both cases, you are not being fair to yourself. Actually, most arrogance comes from a deep-seated lack of self confidence. The key is to consider ourselves with what Carl Rogers called "unconditional self-regard."

Nike has featured Hardaway and his tiny alter ego "Little Penny" in some of their most popular ads. Imagine Little Penny as that inner voice that acts as your friend, helper, adviser and consultant. Each of us has an inner voice that constantly informs us of our beliefs about ourselves and the value we bring to the table. Why undermine and dissipate our strength by letting our inner voices dictate our worth? Why not use our inner voices to create the foundation of strength necessary in all of our relationships.

Geri, a patient in my practice for many years, arrived for her cosmetic consultation promptly at 10 a.m. Her bonding was chipping and she felt she needed it redone. She is what many of us would consider a difficult patient, overly concerned with cost and never fully trusting. Over the years, I had discussed better treatment options. I tried educating her with before-and-after pictures and even slipped some Silux on her teeth to give her a better idea. I wasn`t looking forward to this appointment!

This time, when Geri arrived I was even more prepared. I did a diagnostic wax-up that demonstrated how a gingivoplasty and laminates would create the perfect "Golden Proportion," and improve her lip line. I remembered the Hardaway line and showed her the models, saying, "Geri, if you do this case the way I suggest, your smile will be magnificent and you will thank me every day for the rest of your life!"

"When do we start?" she said.

After all the years of trying to create scripts, show slides and present typed reviews, I realized that it was the Hardaway Phenomenon that made Geri say "yes." I examined the case, knew the patient well, created a well thought out treatment plan and then presented this to her in the form of a clear, simple result. The master key was inside me all the time. Now, every time, in every patient interaction, I carry that confidence to the table with me, like Little Penny on my shoulder. Never do I let that valuemeter drop to someone else`s level.

Cal, a chiropractor and patient, is another type. His value for health, comfort and appearance is very high. It has been years since I completely restored his mouth and he has sent me many like-minded referrals. We closed his 4 mm diastema with porcelain laminates. I still am very proud of that case. But I would not have been the dentist to do it if I did not match his position on the valuemeter. Yes, it is true that birds of a feather flock together. I have done at least 10 cases that have resulted from my relationship with Cal.

In both cases, Cal and Geri, there was only one constant-me! Knowing where I stood on the valuemeter enabled my inner voice to guide me to bring Geri up to my position or to keep pace with Cal. Knowing that I held the master key in the form of how much value I could bring to my patients was the essence of the cause and effect that the Hardaway story told. Influenc- ing our patients has less to do with fancy case presentations, incredible before-and-after pictures, CD ROMs, intraoral cameras or even a dynamic personality. It has to do with understanding and respecting the importance of what we do as dentists for our patients and clearly explaining it to them in vivid word pictures. All of those other tools can help but they won`t do a thing without the master key. In the end, you will realize a complex simplicity. What does that oxymoron mean? It means that you will not have to deal with the complexities of presentations when you understand this simple idea.

There is irony reflected by helping difficult patients climb to your position on the valuemeter. These people usually get results that they did not think were possible and they actually will become your best missionaries. Clearly define the quality of dentistry that you will commit to and then focus yourself on producing that quality and you will create the vision.

The author, who resides in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, has been practicing cosmetic and restorative dentistry since 1973.

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