Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
As leaders in dental practices, dentists must actively work to form a vision for their business. Merely showing up every day, filling holes in the appointment book and practicing quality dentistry is not enough to ensure a successful dental practice. Long-term success depends on looking for new opportunities and ways to enhance the practice.
This especially is true in today`s evolving dental field. There is so much more to dentistry than just clinical care. Patients judge the modern dental practice mainly by its services, technology and staff. However, a growing criteria that patients are using is which specialists the practice uses for referrals. Patients who are referred to specialists for special treatment and have favorable experiences also will view the referring dentist favorably.
While there has been a dramatic rise in the number of patients receiving orthodontic care during the last 20 years, general dentists still are hesitant to refer an adult patient to an orthodontist to enhance reconstructive and occlusal dentistry. Despite orthodontic techniques greatly enhancing the quality of these cases, general dentists do not believe that patients will accept orthodontic treatment because of the extra time involved.
Many dentists feel that their adult patients will not accept a referral to an orthodontist because they are unwilling to spend the necessary time to complete the orthodontic case before beginning the reconstructive or cosmetic treatment. (To a large degree, time also is a problem with implant dentistry.) However, as part of our commitment to providing the highest quality of care to patients, orthodontics always should be considered as an option. Remember, today`s successful practice must offer an exceptional overall dental experience. Recommending orthodontics to adult patients will improve your clinical care as well as your customer service. Whether they accept orthodontic treatment or not, patients will appreciate you for giving them more choices.
With managed care growing, dentistry`s future will revolve around elective, or "want" procedures. Because of this, we have to be able to treat patients on a psychological level to appeal to their desires. We have to be able to convey why accepting orthodontics or implant surgery is desirable in the long run.
Time and Medicine
I began to understand this better when my wife recently broke her ankle in three places. Because of the breaks` severity, we were told that her ankle would take 16 weeks to heal instead of the normal six. At no point did we ask the orthopedic surgeon to speed up the process. We knew that it would take time to heal properly and that it could not be done in two weeks.
Our experience is not uncommon. People do not generally question the time involved in medical procedures. They may not like that it takes 16 weeks for a bone to heal, but they accept it.
Dentistry needs to be viewed in the same manner. If we begin educating our patients about the benefits of orthodontic treatment, endorsing the orthodontist to whom we were referring and assuring them that we will help them through the process, we will experience an increased level of case acceptance. By presenting orthodontics as a highly beneficial procedure, patients will begin to accept it in the same way they accept medical treatment.
Most prosthodontists are familiar with the time involved in completing reconstructive cases. Often, patients visit the prosthodontist to have their basic restorations completed, then see a periodontist for extensive therapy, and eventually return to the prosthodontist to undergo long-term prosthetics. This is a normal fact of life for a prosthodontist and they do not think twice about advising lengthy procedures.
Promote Quality-Not Time
Similarly, general dentists should begin to accept lengthy treatment plans as legitimate options for their patients. If dentists do not accept orthodontics as an option, how can we expect the same from patients? I believe dentistry will advance quickly in this area if more dentists adapt Dr. Michael Cohen`s philosophy of comprehensive case planning. It makes sense for patients to visit specialists to fulfill specific needs as part of the case-planning process. And in implant dentistry, it is essential for patients to visit a surgeon before receiving a prosthetic treatment plan. Dr. Cohen`s study clubs highlight interspecialty/general practice case-planning.
Comprehensive dentistry enables us to offer the finest care at all times. Patients are more satisfied when they recognize that you are doing everything possible to provide them with the best dental care. This approach to customer service is the key to increasing referrals and case acceptance and only can occur when patients understand the treatment that they have received and believe that they had optimal care. Most patients who have long-term procedures are committed tremendously to the treatment. In the end, it is your dental practice that they will appreciate for their enhanced quality of life.
Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at 410-486-1089.