Is there a god in your operatory?

July 26, 2012
Renee Knight

Issue 7

You’re good at what you do. Your staff and patients love you. You’re at the top of your game and feeling good about your career-no one can stop you.

You’re good at what you do. Your staff and patients love you. You’re at the top of your game and feeling good about your career-no one can stop you.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way, to be confident in your skills as a dentist and small business owner. But you have to be careful not to let that confidence turn into arrogance. If it does, you, your team and your patients will suffer.

So how do you stay confident without letting it all get to your head? You have to find ways to keep yourself grounded and focused on why you became a dentist in the first place. You have to remember it’s about the patient.

“As dental professionals we often lose touch with what patients really want and what their concerns are. The more we stay in touch with what our patients and community members are looking for, find ways to explain treatment to them in a way they understand, and look for avenues to make dentistry more affordable, the greater the likelihood we will stay grounded and humble,” said Penny Reed Limoli, owner of the Reed Limoli Group. “There will always be a place for full mouth restorations and cosmetic procedures.  At the same time we have to remember the building blocks of dentistry are prevention, pain relief and restoration.”

Notice how they react

Maybe you just completed a few really successful, difficult cases and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself and what you have to offer to your patients. You know what you can do, and you can’t wait to show off your skills again. But just because you’re excited about your recent successes, it doesn’t mean your patients are, too.

When you’re presenting treatment possibilities to your patients, don’t get so caught up in what you’re saying that you’re not watching the patient for reaction, said Kathleen O’Donnell, Vice President of Coaching Services for Jameson Management. You have to pay attention to their nonverbal clues, the ones telling you they have no intention of going through with treatment.

Related: How to use power listening to understand and treat your patients

What are some of these signs? They’re not looking you or your team members in the eye. Instead of looking at the before and after photos you’re presenting they’re looking away-at the floor, at the ceiling, anywhere else but at the photos. If you notice these cues, you can’t ignore them, O’Donnell said. Slow down and let these patients know you can sense they might be overwhelmed or that they seem hesitant. Take the time to find out what their concerns are and address them. Don’t just continue on with your presentation and think of course they’ll accept treatment, I’m a dental rock star. Your case acceptance will plummet and your patients won’t get the care they need.

Take a look

If you’re not used to looking for these verbal cues, you may be missing them, O’Donnell said, and that’s why it’s a good idea to video tape a few case presentations to see exactly how you interact with patients. Ask a patient if it’s OK to tape the presentation, and make it clear you’ll only use the video for internal purposes. If that’s too intrusive try audio instead, again with patient approval.

Once you have one taped, take a look at it during a team meeting and give an honest critique of how it went. The entire team should be part of the critique. Have a team discussion about how you can do better, and even do some role-playing during your team meetings to help sharpen these all important communication skills.

Ask your team

Nobody knows your demeanor, your mannerisms and your flaws better than your team members. They’re with you day after day, hour after hour, and they see how you interact with patients, and they likely have opinions on what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong.

If you really want to keep yourself grounded, ask them for their honest opinion on how they think you behave when presenting treatment plans, O’Donnell said. Create an environment where they can comfortably tell you what they think, and take their advice to heart.

 Choose your friends wisely

If you just attended a CE course and find yourself gravitating toward those dentists who most would describe as cocky, maybe think about distancing yourself from that, Limoli said. Instead, associate yourself with many different types of dental colleagues from different backgrounds, practice sizes and skill levels.

It’s also not a bad idea to get involved with some type of dental charity or government assistance program, Limoli said, or to join a study club where you can share cases and learn from other dentists’ experiences. Be well rounded, and don’t just focus on the high-end procedures you can do. Don’t isolate yourself from all the other great things in the dental community.

Always strive for improvement

The most successful dentists are those who are committed to self-improvement and life long education, O’Donnell said. It’s not just about your clinical skills. Those skills don’t even matter if you can’t get patients to accept treatment. You have to be able to communicate.

Related: Advice on preventing clinical dentistry failures

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Just because you’re good at what you do doesn’t mean you couldn’t benefit from a little help. Whether you’re talking about learning how to better run your business or how to avoid legal issues, you need to look to outside experts to make sure you’re on top of areas that fall outside your expertise.

The same rules apply when it comes to maintaining your practice and patient management skills, O’Donnell said. If you struggle in these areas, think about hiring a consultant to help you sharpen your patient communication skills. You’ll be amazed at how much following some expert advice can help your practice grow.

What can go wrong

If you run out of patience when patients ask a lot of questions during a case presentation or you get defensive when they ask questions or opt not to go forward with treatment, you may be crossing that line from confident to arrogant. Limoli said.

If patients see this type of reaction from you, they’re going to grow distant and start looking for a new practice.

“This plants a seed of discontent and they begin to over analyze everything in their dentist’s office, from customer service to fees,” Limoli said. “In most cases, the overconfident dentist has fees that are significantly higher than their local competition.  Over the course of a few years, the practice begins to see a decline in new patients and a steady stream of patients who have transferred their records to another office, or simply disappear.”

Over confident dentists also tend to over commit to patients regarding treatment results, Limoli said, and that only leads to dissatisfied patients. Your patients are paying a lot of money for this work, and you have to be honest with them and yourself about what results they can expect. And if treatment fails completely, you may even have to face legal consequences.

How it affects the team

If you’re rushing through case presentations and just assuming patients are going forward with treatment, it’s going to cause a disconnect with staff, O’Donnell said. If you often think you’ve nailed a presentation but the patient didn’t set up the appointment, don’t blame the team member.

“Some doctors can really turn off their teams,” O’Donnell said. “When they don’t schedule that patient they get annoyed, thinking that team member doesn’t have the skills when some times it very well could have been the doctor himself or herself didn’t do a very good job at addressing the patient’s concerns and just presented what the clinical treatment was. “

Stay grounded

No matter how good your dental skills are, there’s always room for improvement, new technologies to learn and new techniques that will make your practice even better and your patients even happier. There’s nothing wrong with being confident in your skills, just don’t let your successes go to your head. Stay hungry to learn and remember what really matters: your patients. Don’t risk them going without needed treatment because you didn’t take the time to learn how to communicate or learn a new skill.

”Technology changes, treatment modes advance and it keeps the mind moving,” Limoli said.  “The most dangerous professional, dental or otherwise, is the one who thinks they have nothing more to learn.”