Oral Health Group

Taking Your Practice From Good to Great (March 01, 2004)

March 1, 2004
by Lisa Philp RDH

Spring is a time for renewal. A time to reflect on the goals set for your practice as the new-year began–and a time to reaffirm your commitment to ensuring that those goals are met. In part one of this two-part article you will discover practical tips and techniques that you can immediately implement that will take your practice from “good” to “great.” We will explore three areas that impact practice success including hiring a high performing team, developing your customer relationships skills, and learning effective case presentation strategies. But before we begin, the first step is to filter what is pertinent to you and your practice. Taking a practice from good to great involves reflection, goal setting and planning based upon your individual strengths and weaknesses. Before any change is implemented, it is wise to use Transitions elementary rules to create your plan of moving forward.

RULE 1:If something is working, do more of it.


RULE 2:If something is not working, do something different.

RULE 3:If you don’t know if something is working, find out!

Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Let these rules guide you as you determine which of your procedures and processes require enhancement to take your practice from good–to great.

Hiring a high-performing team

Creating a high-performing team begins with developing a culture and climate in your dental practice where your team connects with the vision and understands what is expected of them in their individual role and contribution. A performing team has the right people on the bus, in the right seats contributing to the service of the patients. The steps to creating or building a strong team are achieved with organization in recruiting, interviewing and hiring.

STEP 1. When looking to fill a position, take time to truly understand and determine what behavioral type of individual would be the best fit with the overall dynamics, so you have a balance. Leaders tend to hire in their own image and that does not always meet the needs of your team. Don’t base your hiring decision solely on a candidate’s experience; dental experience is whatever the last practice did. You want to find the right match and someone who will make a positive contribution to your team–that’s the key to recruiting.

STEP 2. Develop detailed, written job descriptions for all of the positions in your practice. Use these descriptions during the hiring process to ensure candidates have the skill set or personal attributes to be successful in the position. Include all tasks and expectations. Define the individual’s role within the team and the practice. By communicating how each team member fits into the overall vision for the practice, you can develop role specific responsibilities and help promote accountability. Having clearly defined roles will foster individual accountability and set team members up as experts of that particular area or system in your practice

STEP 3. Schedule a working interview. Let the candidate come in and work in the role for which they are being considered for a day or two. This will allow you to witness the candidate’s ability to multitask and perform other job related functions, and give you a chance to observe them with your team in the actual work environment.

STEP 4. Involve your current team in the hiring process, once the leader has narrowed the screening down to three candidates, and then have the core members of your team or the entire team to take part in a question and answer interview. Let them share in the decision making process as the integration will be much smoother and more successful if the team was involved in the choice.

STEP 5. Once you have selected your new team member, design a 90-day training program based on their job description and accountabilities. So, many times a new dental hire is expected to learn by osmosis or magically learn how things work. Assign a mentor to support them and help ensure success of measurable results. The mentor should check-in daily to see what went well, what challenges the new hire may have experienced, and to offer guidance and feedback. Then follow-up with a ninety-day performance discussion and determine if both parties are fulfilled with the achievements and set goals for growth.

Customer relations–developing your people skills

A practice relies as much on communication–between team members and with patients–as it does on the science of dentistry for its success. We’re in a people business, dealing with anywhere from twenty five to fifty human beings a day. So developing effective communication skills is a necessity for customer service that leads to success. Develop the ability to read people. Take the time to stop, look, and listen to people attentively. Be objective and don’t pre-judge. Give patients the opportunity to be who they are–with their values, their beliefs, and their dental I.Q. Here are three simple ways to adapt your people skills

Build instant rapport and relationship. We have four minutes to make a good impression and it all starts with your greeting. An effective greeting includes:

Attentiveness using the patient’s name, eye contact, a smile and some form of touch i.e. handshake. Dare to be unique with erasing the most overused greeting question in the English language, “How are you?” Replace this question with a statement like “Nice to see you, thanks for choosing our practice,” or “What’s new since the last time you were here?” Most patients love to talk about themselves and the more we can get them to open up the better we can understand and adapt to their needs. Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says it all in Habit number Five–“Seek first to understand, and then be understood”.

Relationships are formed and connection enhanced by getting another person to share about themselves as opposed to you telling them all about yourself or the practice. An effective tool that we teach dental professionals to help them build relationship instantly is F.O.R.M:

Family–Ask them about their family, where they grew up, children, etc.

Occupation–Ask them what they do for a living.

Recreation–Ask them what they like to do for fun or on their hobbies.

Memorable–while listening, remember one thing that is memorable about the person that can be documented and transferred to all members of the dental team.

Learn to be a great interviewer with great questions. The success of your patient relationships is directly related to the team’s ability to ask thought provoking and relevant questions and take the time to listen to the answers. Good questions include open-ended questions that don’t require a simple yes or no answer. Learn to remove “have you,” “could you,” “do you,” or “are you” and replace them with what, why, where, when, and how. You cannot learn to read people if you don’t encourage patients to think about their responses and share more of themselves.

Examples of some questions to use are:

“What are your expectations of your dental care?”

“Describe for me the ideal experience you would like to have at this practice.”

“What are your dental health goals?”

“What have you heard about optimal dentistry?”

Ask instead of telling them all the things you know, find out first where they are coming from before you begin educating. Telling an adult does not achieve the same result as asking.

Develop the skill of listening and the ability to retain what you have heard. Being a good listener is two-fold and includes passive and active abilities. Passive listening communicates to the sender that you’ve received their message without judgment with acknowledgments and door openers. An acknowledgement tells the speaker that you have received their message and want to know more; examples are “really,” “hum,” “wow.” A door opener encourages the patient to continue without your interruption, “go on,” “continue,” “and then what?”

For example, a patient says, “I hate the dentist.” You respond with a simple passive listening tool like “go on
,” “why?” or “continue.” Our first instinct is to answer the statement with defense or justification.

Active listening is the ability to retain and relate what you heard back to the listener to verify that you understand their meaning. The goal is not to simply repeat or “parrot” back information, but to feedback your level of understanding. Use phrases like “so what you’re saying is…”What I heard you say was…” or “if I understand you clearly…” followed by your summation of what the speaker shared with you.

Learning case presentation strategies

Case presentation strategies are vast and begin with a diagnostic philosophy of creating lifetime strategies for oral health. If the dentistry is not diagnosed it cannot be planned, it cannot be presented, it cannot be made affordable, and it cannot be accepted. If you believe that all patients deserve the right to know everything dentistry has to offer them and have the systems to encourage them to make good choices, then you can set the stage for revolutionary strategies to increase your case acceptance.

There are five steps to effective case presentation.

STEP 1. The first step is to know and document the patients individual dental IQ, their perceived problems, dental goals and expectations so you can customize your presentation style.

STEP 2. Present the patient’s existing dental conditions based on the results of their complete examination in the area’s of: the health of their gums, health of their teeth and occlusion, and the health of their smile. Lay out the findings in a simple format with pictures and lay terms.

STEP 3. What treatment solutions will help them reach their goals and expectations? Be sure to relate recommendations back to the findings of their examination one area at a time while discussing the benefits of treatment. Benefits are what is in it for them in relationship to what they want.

STEP 4. Provide consequences of delaying or declining treatment. Be aware scare tactics don’t work. Telling a patient they are going to suffer digestive tract disorder or facial disfigurement do not increase acceptance.

STEP 5. The final step, which we call closure or asking for a decision, is often the hardest for dental professionals. Clarify what other questions you need to answer for them to proceed. There are two types of closure in the dental practice. There’s the clinical closure chairside and there’s the financial closure by the administrative team. Clinical closure should address any questions or concerns the patient may have in regards to the clinical aspect of treatment before transferring to the financial coordinator. For example, “Mrs. Smith, what specific clinical questions can I answer for you before you meet to discuss the financial aspect of your investment?”

Financial closure overcomes any monetary, scheduling issues or insurance objections to treatment. For example: “What financial questions do I need to answer for you before we find a way to fit this into your financial budget and schedule?” A closure question to determine acceptance does not include offering to send a pre determination to see if it is “covered” by their insurance.

Dental practices that are thriving enjoy financial rewards and personal fulfillment including enhanced patient education levels, increased revenue and case acceptance, and a highly motivated, high performing team. By enhancing what makes your practice successful, changing what doesn’t work and taking the time to plan will take you from good to great.

In Part Two we will discuss the three final areas where you can affect significant and positive change in your practice; overcoming objections, scheduling and how to make dentistry affordable by presenting all financial options available to the patient including the opportunity to pay over time with a third-party patient financing program.

Lisa Philp RDH, CMC, is president, Transitions Group.

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