Barriers — Part 1

April 1, 2003
Three common barriers exist that block dentists from a five-star start. Overcome them, and your practice will see an annual increase of as much as $24,000.

Tom Orent, DMD

Three common barriers exist that block dentists from a five-star start. Overcome them, and your practice will see an annual increase of as much as $24,000. These changes are simple, but you may find them uncomfortable. This is the first of a three-part article challenging a few of your "single-ended pot roasts!"

You've proabably heard the story about the single-ended pot roast: A man tells his new bride, Mary, how much he adores her spectacular pot roast. However, he asks her why she always cuts one end off prior to cooking it. She tells him that her mom always taught her to do it that way ... but she has no idea why. So, Mary calls her mom and asks why she prepares her roasts this way. Her mom tells her that she's always cut off the end because that's the way her mom always cooked a roast. She wasn't sure why either. So, Mary's mom calls Grandma and poses the question of the century: "Why do we always cut off the end of the pot roast?" Grandma's answer: "Because when your grandpa and I first married, we didn't have two nickels. The only pan I had was too short to accomodate the whole roast!"

There are many "single-ended pot roasts" in every business. So many processes remain unchanged simply because we've always done them that way. Let's look at the first of three common barriers to a "Five-Star Start" in your practice. These three barriers may not only demolish any chance of a positive start, but they often are the reasons why potential new patients choose not to visit your practice.

Barrier No. 1 — What we like to do on the first visit. If potential patients call to request anything other than a comprehensive exam on their first visit, it's common to try to educate them about why we must refuse their request. With the exception of emergency patients or those in acute pain, most offices today require an examination and X-rays first. After all, it's malpractice (and just plain bad dentistry) to commence treatment without a proper health and dental history, radiographs, periodontal screening, TMJ screening, oral cancer screening, as well as a complete restorative examination. Depending on your personal preferences, you could add to this list models, mounting, scans, and photographs. Regardless of where your office is on the continuum, there are a lot of things we need to do to care for our new patients properly. No argument here.

So, how is it possible to meet ethical and professional obligations to patients while satisfying requests to start with something other than an exam? Remember this rule: "The answer is yes — what's your question?"

Patients have reasons for their requests and would like them to be honored. They don't want to be talked into your version of the proper first visit to your practice. Sure, many will understand when you explain why you believe it's in their best interest to begin with a comprehensive, new-patient examination. But others will not. Here's where the rubber meets the road. Listen carefully to your callers responses when you suggest beginning with an exam. If they cheerfully accept the notion, then fine! An examination is the most appropriate entry for this patient.

However, if your prospect (and that's what patients are until they agree to a visit) repeats why he or she prefers to start with something other than the exam, then see if there is any way you can oblige. Is there a way to meet their needs without compromising excellent dental care? Often the answer is yes!

Dr. Tom Orent, the GEMS GUY, is a management consultant and practicing dentist. He is a founding member and past president of the New England Chapter of the AACD. He has presented his "1,000 Gems SeminarsTM" in four countries and at state and national meetings in 46 states. He has lectured at numerous dental schools and is the author of four books and numerous articles on aesthetic dentistry, practice management, TMJ, and "Extreme Customer Service." Dr. Orent may be reached by phone at (888) 880-4367, by fax at (508) 879-4811, by email at [email protected], or visit

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