Last week I recorded a second episode of The Thriving Dentist Show with my good friend Gary Takacs on inviting patients to have comprehensive care. This recent podcast is a follow-up to one we did earlier this year so we could continue our conversation. I love doing these programs with Gary, as we see things in so many similar ways, and yet we have very unique perspectives on the practice of dentistry, and different ways we express ourselves. In recording both programs I have learned as much as I have shared, from the exponential way our ideas start to grow. In this recent session out of our conversation I came to a realization. I could finally put in words the feeling I experience when meeting and working with a new patient.
Many years ago in a lecture by Dr. Frank Spear I learned about the six photos he takes on every hygiene patient and it transformed my practice. Over the years I have come to depend on the power of being able to see what I am describing as a way to engage my patients. Photography is the most powerful communication tool to allow people to see their teeth as we see them. It creates awareness, and all action begins with awareness. I no longer take the six I started with, but have it down to the magic four photos.
Women Dentist Journal
Lee Ann Brady DMD
When I reflect on my perspective on patient relationships it has been a long journey with many course changes over the twenty years I have been in practice. I have always valued my patients, but sometimes for many different reasons and in a variety of ways. As my belief about the role I play in the lives of my patients has changed so has the way in which I view the relationships we develop. For many years I came to work thinking accomplishing something meant fixing teeth. As a result my focus was on teeth, not people, and more specifically what was broken not where health was present. These days I know my role is to help people choose health. The result has been incredible, I enjoy what I do far more and I am far more successful at creating the opportunity to “fix teeth”.
Picture an incredible technical success you have had in practice. A time when everything went exactly as you had hoped, the preps were perfect, the materials worked, the margins were exquisite, and you sat back and felt so good about what you had just accomplished. It feels great! How long does it last? My answer is until the very next procedure doesn’t go according to plan. The moments that last, the ones we can each recall, are about relationships and making a difference to another person.
Pat called my office for a new patient appointment on the recommendation of her oncologist. Five years earlier she had battled cancer, recent tests confirmed the cancer was back, and he wanted her to make sure
her dental health was stable prior to beginning chemotherapy and radiation. Pat was very diligent about her dental health, following her examination I recommended a hygiene visit and we decided to replace a few discolored composite restorations. Most of the time together we discussed ideas to maintain Pat’s dental health and comfort during her medical treatment. Months later I received a card that I still keep with me in a special place in my desk. It read
“Dr. Brady, thank you for believing I would be here to need my teeth.”
Becoming intentional about building great relationships with our patients is the key to improving our experience of practicing dentistry, and helping a greater percentage of people choose health for them selves. It begins with recognition that each of us is a very distinct, unique individual –, an amalgamation of our temperament, behavioral style, life experiences, current circumstances and objectives. Truly building a trusting relationship with a patient is about getting to know and understand all five aspects of who the patient is. If we build a bridge of communication and then LISTEN carefully, people will share with us all we need to know. During all
Understanding a patient’s behavioral style allows the office to create an experience where they feel most at home, laying the foundation for true relationship to grow. A behavioral assessment tool that works well in dentistry is Social Styles. The key to the Social Styles (1) approach is that it is based on two observable patterns of behavior making it easy to learn and implement for the entire team. The two behavior patterns observed are, “assertiveness” and “responsiveness”. Together they define four distinct styles “driver”, “amiable”, “expressive” and “analytical”.
When we interact with people whose style compliments our style we are immediately at ease and communication seems fluid. The challenge is people whose Social Style is different than ours. So if we know our own Social Style and can objectively assess the other person’s style we have the opportunity to flex and make the other person feel more comfortable. In my office the team was trained in understanding social styles and from the very first phone call we implemented tools to help objectively assess our patient’s style. This allows the office to create an optimal experience for our patients individually, and also works wonders for the flow of the office. Every morning in the huddle along with the relevant clinical information we discuss how we can best work with each person we will be seeing.
John was a patient at my office for a few months before we implemented using Social Styles. I used to wonder why he kept coming back because it seemed he was always upset with the office. John is a “driver”, he prefers to be on time, direct and decisive. Once we understood this he was scheduled so that the assistant was at the reception door to bring him back before he was through greeting the receptionist. Then I made sure I was in the room before the patient napkin was placed and our appointments were efficient and undisturbed. Once we started creating an optimal experience for John’s style he became one of my favorite patients because we were able to openly communicate. We even created a system where he didn’t have to stop at the desk on the way out so he could get right back to work by prearranging how payment and future appointments were handled.
Theresa is one of my favorite patients. She and I hit it off from the very beginning; and I love hearing her stories. On the other hand; every time she comes in the rest of the team gets agitated because I run behind the rest of the day. Theresa is an expressive (and so am I), we are both high energy, spontaneous and engaged in communication. Once the team identified this we started scheduling extra time into Theresa’s appointments just so she and I can talk. It worked great! I really enjoy spending time with her; and now I’m not worried about the rest of the team or the next patient when I do. Theresa has become a truly valued patient because now the rest of the staff also has the time to spend with her and she really enjoys being at our office. So much so that she is one of our best referral sources.
Creating the experience of your office on an individual basis for each patient is easy and extremely rewarding for everyone involved. Now the foundation is in place for building caring, trust based relationships with your patients.