Picture yourself communicating better

March 21, 2012

I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Twenty-five years ago I started my career as an in-house dental technician. That environment provided feedback and instant communication between the patient, doctor and myself. While operating in that arena I realized at some point I would have to unhook from the personalized situation and would be thrust into using remote, conventional forms of communication used in the standard fabrication of removable prosthetics. I also realized I would have to find ways to protect myself from shouldering clinical liabilities while providing myself a way to track case procedures, fabrication steps, and insulate myself from the pitfalls of verbal communication.

I had heard horror stories from contemporaries who were owner technicians whom had never had a direct contact between the dentist or patient and relied almost exclusively on written prescriptions and very limited verbal communication. Unfortunately, most communication involved which party had better debating skills and how close each could get to the point of argumentation before the technician acquiesced short of jeopardizing an account.

Picture this

Luckily while operating in-house I started using conventional photography to track my growth and skill progression as a technician. I say luckily because eventually photographs would provide me with the perfect, exacting tool to communicate clear, defined and unemotionally with my clients.

One day, not long after I opened my new, independently owned laboratory, I got a call concerning a full fee I had charged to reset a case. The client complained that I had set the plane on a downward angle and the arch form much too wide. I explained that this case, like all in my lab, was set on an occlusal plane jig using the trimmed rim and I had followed what he had supplied. During that discussion, it dawned on me that I had a better way to communicate what I had been sent to work on without getting argumentative with the client. I asked if I could get back to him later and once off the phone headed for the many files I had been keeping on my case work.

After a few minutes I found the photos I had taken of the mounting procedure for that case. Dialling up the Internet-yes it was during the dial-up days-I composed a short explanation concerning how the plane width and angle was determined on this and all cases arriving at my lab. I also attached a scanned photo (Fig. A) confirming my actions. I received a phone call from the client later that morning to let me know the case was coming back with corrections indicated for reset. When the case arrived the teeth had been removed and the rim had been narrowed, trimmed, and a new registration had been provided. The case was remounted, reset and completed without a hitch. The reset was charged as a full fee, and nothing was ever said about that particular case again. It was at that pivotal moment that I realized the power of visual communication over verbal.

Put the technology to work

Since that epiphany years ago, I have honed my digital photography communication into two stages: laboratory tracking and techno-clinical communication. For the first part of this two-part article I address the laboratory tracking stage. The second article will cover the techno-clinical stage and communication protocols I suggest for removable prosthetics.

The laboratory tracking stage fits very nicely into the GMP (good manufacturing practices) mentality of today’s modern dental laboratory by tracking what drives the action of fabrication and the outcomes derived by what is clinically provided. It also is a communication modality that caters to the largest segment of learners-visual learners-by offering a visual supplement to verbal communication. It also provides a verifiable tracking of laboratory procedures and confirmation of clinical tools provided to the laboratory by the clinician.

No longer hindered by lack of good verbal communication skills, laboratories that implement digital tracking of suspect situations can illustrate deficiencies in a non-confrontational, non-verbal fashion by simply e-mailing their clinical partners the photo illustrating a specific situation. A side benefit of in-lab tracking and documentation is in many situations it now affords the laboratory the option/justification for charging for those reset and remake services once written off as the price of doing business because the lab couldn’t verify specifics of a case.

Small investment

The cost of a good digital SLR camera and accessories for photographic tracking is less than most fully adjustable articulators with face bow accessories, yet can pay big dividends by providing a succinct and emotion free communication zone when illustrating specific case anomalies. I suggest dedicating a specific photo area in the laboratory just for tracking. A monopod, adjustable lighting, and a color background selection are optional accessories (Fig. B) to allow the process to flow quickly through the photo stage and on to the fabrication (Staging accessories are available from sharpics.com). It generally takes about 2 minutes to get the shot if your area is always staged.

Some examples are provided to illustrate specific situations found in most removable dental laboratories that lend themselves nicely to being tracked and documented in-house. How you handle the situation with documented proof- and not your debating skills-now balances your policy concerning resets and remakes (Figs. C-K). 

About the author

Tom Zaleske is Benchtop Editor for Dental Lab Products. The owner of Matrix Dental Laboratory in Crown Point, Ind., he has more than 25 years of experience in removable prosthodontics and regularly lectures on providing high quality service to dentists and most importantly to their patients. He can be reached at matrixdental@comcast.net.