The saying “You are only as strong as your weakest link” suggests that for those in dental practices careful analysis of each aspect of a well-functioning office is required. In addition to the reputation of a competent dentist and professional staff, potential patients evaluate the facility including several factors that contribute to a welcoming atmosphere before they commit to their affiliation such as an inviting environment, efficient office protocols, fulfillment of personal needs, and a staff which reflects the patient base.
After designing the physical layout and supplying the comforts of the office to create a welcoming ambiance, staffing the team requires thought. A recent survey of patients revealed that their priorities in establishing criteria for support staff to contribute positively to the success of the practice. Some of these factors included an affordable environment, the assumption of having current equipment, and affordable in-house payment plans. Affordability is high on the list especially when television reports that 23% of people do not get oral healthcare because of cost. Prospective patients also want to believe the team promotes the increased effectiveness of moving dentistry forward to facilitate cost-effective treatment.
Most importantly, patients expect a clean environment. Although cleanliness has always been a priority, COVID-19 exacerbated this important practice and extra steps are, now, necessary to give patients confidence they are being cared for in a safe environment. Offices have only one opportunity to create a first impression upon entering the welcoming area; therefore, the visual should reflect a well-organized, neat, and clean space. Continuing the practice of the past two years, hand sanitizers placed in strategic locations for patients and staff promote ongoing patient safety.
Offering a complimentary visit to the office before any examination is scheduled welcomes and assures potential patients that the marketing interface and external operation correlate and reflect the office’s attempt at fulfilling their oral healthcare needs.
Today, patients survey the internet for practitioners before seriously considering their potential office of choice. For that reason, the website, signage, and physical office space need to reflect the practice philosophy, the attitude of the office, as well as the team.
Potential patients want to know who is going to oversee their care. As a comfort to them, a visual of support staff names along with a photograph will help introduce them. Potential patients also want to know owner/operator’s values with whom they can identify. Should the office have outside exposure, a sign in the window should advertise the facility’s practice philosophy. The website, signage, and physical office should correlate. One popular concern patients expressed in the survey was they want to choose an office where they were confident that their needs are paramount and do not just “fit in” with office routine.
Another important facet of potential patients’ initial visit is demonstrating a friendly, confident, experienced, and organized team who communicates with prospective patients and understands their needs. Potential patients want to see the support team’s importance to the dentist’s function and reputation as well as the integral role the team will play in their own commitment to the office. Candidates for available positions need to understand the responsibilities of the work; therefore, detailed written job descriptions is a priority. At times, a candidate may bring a fresh perspective or new idea to enhance the office’s
Potential patients want to see the support team's importance to the dentist's function and reputation.
current protocols. Listening to candidates’ skill set opens opportunities to augment the job description which benefits the office.
Keeping in mind that establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with patients is a priority, the practice of assigning a team member with effective communication skills to follow up on patients’ well-being after invasive procedures has a positive effect on patients. When staff can use all their skills to enhance the job description, they enjoy growth; thus, it creates a positive working environment for them. It is more beneficial to retain existing staff than to acquire new ones.
Finally, in areas of a dominant cultural immigrant population, wisdom prevails when hiring staff who speak the cultural language to lessen barriers and open doors to referrals.
Once a team is formed, communicating to each member of the team that their contribution to the areas’ profitability will result in professional and financial benefits is essential. This benefit may mean receiving a percentage of the increased profitability in terms of a bonus and as working as a team. Another incentive for the team is offering professional development on role enhancement or Ontario Dental Association seminars. One team member in each department may be asked to set up a system where he/she is the direct contact with the office decision-maker. In initiating incentives for the team, the owner shares his/her professional values and profits with staff without giving up actual equity.
Addressing Support Staff Challenges
Recently, dealing with the availability of competent support staff has become a challenge because COVID-19 has resulted in a shortage of available personnel. Many clients are experiencing the lack of trained and experienced candidates to fill openings.
From dental professionals’ perspective, candidates for openings lack work ethic that has some making interview appointments but neither showing up nor calling to cancel. The two-year pandemic has played a large role in the population of dental staff and has changed many interfaces. One thing has become apparent: it has stimulated a listing of practices of middle aged 55-65 years old dentists to sell their practices frequently to possibly one of the three major dental corporations with the motive of cashing out without the hassle of making necessary changes for profitability and sustainability as an ongoing enterprise. This allows many more practices to have the marketing clout that a larger entity
can bring to bear.
In summary, reflecting on the importance of factors potential patients use when choosing a new practice, dentists should consider which patient wishes could be showcased and fulfilled in the practice that would maintain new patient flow. Most importantly, prevention of disease is the goal rather than costly invasive repairs. From a budget perspective, emphasizing prevention instead of remediation, leads more people to access necessary office exposure.
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Ron Weintraub is a founding partner with the Bayview Village & Downtown Dental Associates and brings over thirty-five years of knowledge and experience in the practice of general dentistry to The Professional Advisory. Large companies such as Patterson Dental, Ash Temple Ltd, Henry Schein Arcona, & the former Canadian Dental Co. have benefited from his insight. As owner of Innovative Practice Solutions, Ron advises dentists on practice enhancement, practice purchases, sales, location evaluations, associate buy-ins, and business mergers. Dr. Weintraub can be contacted at 416-473-9358 or email@example.com.