Most of the time, your dentist is honest with you and the rest of your team. That’s the best way to build trust and respect, and both are vital to a successful practice. But there are times when your boss may believe that being dishonest has fewer short-term consequences than telling the truth, said Penny Reed Limoli, of Limoli and Associates. There are also times when a lie may be part of a much bigger issue and is something you simply can’t ignore.
Most of the time, your dentist is honest with you and the rest of your team. That’s the best way to build trust and respect, and both are vital to a successful practice.
But there are times when your boss may believe that being dishonest has fewer short-term consequences than telling the truth, said Penny Reed Limoli, of Limoli and Associates. There are also times when a lie may be part of a much bigger issue and is something you simply can’t ignore.
We recently talked to Limoli and experts from Jameson Management about the most common lies a dentist tells his or her staff and how you should respond. Here’s what they had to say.
1. You’re doing great. If a dentist isn’t satisfied with an employee’s performance, all too often he avoids speaking directly to the team member about the problem, Limoli said. Instead, he talks to other team members about the issue, but sugar coats it when he’s face to face with the team member he’d like to see make improvements.
It’s best for the dentist to be honest with you and your team members about performance, so everyone can set goals and work to make those necessary improvements. Make sure you receive regular performance reviews and ask for an honest critique of your work, along with specific goals you can work toward.
2. We can’t afford that. You know you need a new instrument, or that new product you just read about and researched that will improve patient care in your practice. But you also know your dentist will likely tell you, “Sorry, we just can’t afford any upgrades right now.”
In most cases, that’s just the dentist’s natural response, Jameson Management Advisor and Speaker Nancy Miller said. When you approach your dentist about purchasing a new product, make sure you come prepared with the reasons this product makes a good fit for your practice and will enhance patient care and improve efficiencies.
If he still insists your practice simply can’t afford it, Miller recommends asking the doctor to share the practice’s financials with you. Many dentists are reluctant to do this, but it’s information you and your team members need to know. How else will you truly know what your practice can or can’t afford.
3. You didn’t meet bonus this month. Whether the dentist tells you the team didn’t meet bonus or decides not to give team members exactly what they earned, this is an ethical problem that Jameson Management Advisor Kimberly Brozovich has seen come up in practices. For whatever reason the doctor decides it’s best to give team members less than what they really earned.
How can you spot this? Make sure all the team members know the formula the bonus is based on. All team members should be aware of the practice’s profit and loss, and everyone should be held accountable when it comes to meeting monthly goals.
“Everybody should take ownership of the practice and be aware of what goes in and out,” Brozovich said. “Have a monthly or bimonthly meeting and keep on the pulse of where the practice is at in production and collections. Keep each other accountable.”
4. Of course I can perform this procedure. Sometimes, dentists lie to their teams-and themselves-about what dentistry they’re actually capable of performing, Brozovich said. This is tricky, but isn’t something you can ignore. Brozovich knows a dentist who was performing sub par root canals, and because of that, many of his patients had to return for retreats.
If this is happening in your practice, have someone the dentist trusts talk with him about it. Bring out the radiographs. Show him the retreats and how much money, time and even patients these retreats have cost the practice. Suggest taking some more CE courses and fine-tuning the necessary skills before scheduling another root canal in the practice, or whatever the procedure might be.
“You need to think about how you bring something like this up without ruffling feathers,” Miller said. “This usually would fall on the hygienist. Together with a business team member she can show what retreats are doing to the practice as far as wasting time. You need proof. You have to show the dentistry is harming people’s gums and teeth to motivate to change.”
5. We need to order more drugs. Sadly, there are dentists out there who are addicted to prescription medication, and use their position as a dentist to get it, Jameson Management Advisor Leslie Neveu said. This isn’t something you or any other team members wants to be part of, but it can be difficult to confront your boss about such a serious problem. This may be a situation where it’s best to seek help from a third party, such as the dentist’s spouse, a trusted mentor or colleague or a dental consultant.
6. Yes, that’s the right code. Every dentist wants to increase profits in their practice, but committing coding fraud isn’t the way to do it. If your dentist tells you to use a code you know isn’t right just to increase the reimbursement, or tells you it’s OK to fudge the dates or to go ahead and to forgive all those co-pays, it may be time for you to find a new practice, Neveu said. Not only is this unethical, it puts your job and reputation at risk.
7. The indirect lie. We know it happens. Dentists and their team members work very closely together, and sometimes that leads to a relationship that goes beyond professional. This line gets crossed even when the dentist is married. And it’s not just team members-sometimes dentists make a connection with their patients and decide to pursue it, no matter the consequences.
This is another sticky situation. If the relationship isn’t hurting the practice or effecting patient care, it may be best to let it go. But chances are it is hurting the practice, leading to gossiping team members and even anger and jealousy-all things your patients will pick up on.
Whether dealing with a dentist with a substance abuse problem or one who is engaging in inappropriate behavior, Limoli recommends talking to the dentist directly about the situation, letting him know you’re concerned and why this is a problem in the practice. Depending on the situation and the dynamic, you may even want to get the entire team involved.
“The team can try to band together to form some sort of intervention,” Limoli said. “Usually, when it gets to that point, the practice is either on the verge of a break-through and gets their issues out on the table, or a complete break-down with massive turnover.”
Getting another party involved
No matter the situation, the thought of telling your boss you think he’s being dishonest can be a little intimidating. You know someone has to talk to him about his behavior, but you’re just not sure how to approach it.
That’s where companies like Limoli and Associations and Jameson Management come in. They can help guide you and your team members so you can have a productive conversation with your dentist that leads to change. They can help you problem solve to reach a solution, whether they’re in the room with you during the non-confrontational conversation or give you advice before the talk. You may feel isolated and unsure of what to do, but consultants help you get through that initial talk and get your practice headed toward positive change.
Know when it’s time to go
Some of these white lies are forgivable and can be worked out. But for the others, if the dentist refuses to change, these scenarios can put you and your team members in a horrible spot.
If the situation is having a negative effect on your work and you don’t see it changing after you’ve talked to the dentist about how you feel and even staged a team intervention, it may be time to part ways with that dentist. If the situation is beyond just an annoyance and may affect your license or calls your ethics into question, you simply can’t stay in that environment. It may be a difficult decision to make, but you’ll be happier in the long run.
Most dentists are great people who truly care for their patients and their team members. They’re honest, hard working men and women who want to make a difference. Even they can tell a little white lie now and then, and you have to decide what to do when that happens. But other situations are more serious and you really do need to take a stand, whether that means confronting a dentist or finding a new practice that’s more in line with your ethics and philosophies of care.