Identify Your Soft Spots as a Practice Leader


Simple remedies to help you turn some weaknesses into strengths.

Small business owners—as many dentists are—face challenges that many other professionals do not. If you own a bait and tackle shop, you have to know how to fish, but you also have to know how to run a business. The same is true for a dentist. Being a solid professional at caring for teeth isn’t enough; you have to know your way around budget spreadsheets, staffing, and equipment depreciation as well.

Related: Handling Stress in Dentistry

It’s the rare dentist who has a perfect skill set for both of those roles. Luckily, you don’t need to be perfect at either to carve out a successful career. But you do have to be willing to learn as you go. One of the best ways to do that is to find your vulnerabilities and address them head on. This involves a period of self-reflection, and possibly some feedback from colleagues or staff. Let’s look at some areas in between dental care and running a business in which dentists often find challenges. For each, we’ll suggest a remedy.

Common vulnerability: You aren’t a great recordkeeper.

Well-kept charts work better than your memory, and generally work better in court as well. Obvious, right? But what may be less obvious is that the responsibility for keeping great records is not just your own. As the leader of your practice, it’s important that you stress with your entire staff the need to keep impeccable records.

Remedy: Pay particular attention to potential problem patients who have constant complaints about current or past care, have shifted from provider to provider, or fail to pay for services in a timely manner. But even for patients who seem like friends, or for patient encounters that seemed to go well, all care provided should be carefully noted and kept with a patient’s chart. Each entry should be timed, dated, and signed by the person adding the note. Outstanding recordkeeping isn’t a cure-all when it comes to facing litigation, but good records can be crucial to a successful defense of you, your practice, and your staff.

Common vulnerability: Lack of focus on the patient experience.

Unhappy patients are much more likely to pursue litigation than patients who like and trust you and your team. Patients who are unhappy with the overall experience of visiting your dental office may already have anger and resentment building up over a seemingly trivial matter such as an extended wait time.

Remedy: Take every opportunity to engage your patients about their entire experience—not just the level of care they received in the dental chair. Encourage both direct and anonymous feedback through survey cards or your website. Take any complaints seriously and address them directly with the patient if possible, whether it was a problem with the care delivered or even something that may seem trivial. This will not only circumvent some patients’ desire to pursue legal action, it will also make them more likely to return to your practice.

Common vulnerability: Failure to properly discharge a patient.

In running any dental practice, it’s pretty standard that some patients who were once regulars may suddenly miss appointments, switch their practice of choice, or otherwise disappear from regular care.

Remedy: For patients who may be difficult or who may have needed ongoing care, it’s important to follow up with the patient and pursue an official discharge of care, if necessary. This has the dual impact of starting the statute of limitations on any future legal action and creating some formal documentation that you are no longer responsible for the patient’s care.

Common vulnerability: Failure to refer a patient for a procedure.

We all like to think of ourselves as experts in many fields, and you may have extensive training in many aspects of dentistry. But you have a comfort zone, too, and only you and perhaps your partners know what it is. Performing procedures outside that comfort zone might open you up to poorer outcomes, patient dissatisfaction, and potential claims.

Remedy: Make sure you’re completely comfortable and confident before undertaking any procedure. If you have any hesitation at all, no matter how potentially profitable the work might be, consider referring to a specialist.

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