Practice Management

The Relationship Practice: The Successful Type Of Dental Endeavor


Ron Weintraub


June 18, 2020

June 18, 2020

Defining “success” as an owner-operator or team member of a functioning dental practice is very difficult. Building a practice relies on personal decisions based on individual differences and experiences. For some, access to patients with sufficient clinical needs might be the most important criterion allowing the practitioner to have a decent return on his/her financial and emotional investments in the practice. For this practitioner, such a practice is desirable to meet his/her needs and definition of success.

What Are Other Criteria For A Successful Practice?

In addition to a sufficient patient base to provide financial and emotional satisfaction, many other practitioners desire a satisfying interpersonal connection to the patient base as well as their teams. With the growth of unprecedented numbers of dental practices, particularly in large urban and suburban locations, there has been a seismic change in how they present their service offerings to the public. In media presentations, for example, some dental providers offer to “straightening the teeth while the patient is asleep”, without indicating the input of either an orthodontist or general dentist. A television advertisement in the United States offers qualifying Veterans free exams, x-rays, and diagnosis. Using the two examples above, how are dental practitioners distinguishing themselves as true “healthcare professionals” as opposed to simply offering a necessary commodity?

What Is A True Relationship Practice?

A true relationship practice encompasses our professional and interpersonal skills. Looking retrospectively over 25 years at the offices with whom we have worked, we are encouraged about those we can characterize as true relationship entities. Some of the positive characteristics of a relationship practice are those offices having stable team groups; for example:
   a. Office management
   b. Clinical assistant
   c. Treatment coordinator (where applicable)
   d. Familiar hygiene providers
   e. Stable associate participation
   f. Consistent leadership of the principal dentist (clinical and administrative)
This is often the most elusive building block with which to work.

How Is A Relationship Practice Built?

For this type of practice to be effective, it is essential that all team members be dedicated to and perceived as focused on the patient’s personal and dental health needs. This begins with the new patient phone inquiry to an in-person formal introduction to the office and team members. At this first welcoming appointment, a physical tour of the premises is a powerful tool that points out the physical attributes of the office such as the comfortable reception area, available phone charging outlets, beverage centre, and location of washrooms. Furthermore, an introduction of new patients to the various team members in their actual treatment environments promotes a friendly atmosphere and helps familiarize patients with the physical layout as well as the professional staff. It is often worthwhile to start in the sterilizing area to point out the length the office goes to ensure the patient’s safety

What Are The Benefits Of The Tour And Personal Interview?

After the tour, it is a good opportunity for a team member to accompany the prospective new patient to a private office and take a careful, thorough medical history with follow-up questions. A personal meeting replaces simply handing out a pen and clipboard questionnaire. After an introduction, the clinical assistant moves the patient to an appropriate treatment area to explain the complex equipment that often dominates a patient’s line of sight. Knowing the staff, understanding the procedures, and gaining familiarity with the technical equipment reduces anxiety and helps new patients feel less intimidated by the myriad of high tech machines featured in contemporary offices.

When Does The Patient Meet The Clinical Professionals?

After the tour and the interview, the dentist joins the team member and new patient, introduces him/herself and asks some “getting to know you” questions before reviewing the dental concerns that prompted the patient to make this appointment. During the thorough clinical examination, the use of the intra-oral care camera is crucial to explain the findings visually to increase the patient’s understanding of the problem and, most importantly, to develop trust necessary in a professional relationship.
In addition to spending time with the dentist, the Dental Hygienist needs to examine and take radiographs as prescribed by the dentist. Their relationship also requires nurturing to strengthen the personal aspect of the office/clinical communication. Keeping in mind, we want to treat the “whole” person, personal data of life events such as a child about to be married or an approaching birth should be noted for future reference and follow up at the approximately 4 to 9 months re-care appointment.

How Is The Appointment Wrapped Up?

The treatment coordinator’s case presentation at the end of the appointment should emphasize the treatment priorities which will assist in obtaining the patient’s commitment to treatment and the associated fees. Additionally, discussion about the payment of fees and payments plans will help patients feel potentially less overwhelmed. After treatment, patients also appreciate a follow-up phone call to make sure they are comfortable. From the time the patient walks in the door, it is important to relay the feeling that everything is geared for his/her knowledge and comfort to promote a relationship practice which will result in long-term retention with new patient referrals. Success? Success is significantly influenced by the dentist/owner’s approach to building a practice and relationships with patients.