Dental Practice Report
Lee Ann Brady DMD
The first decade of my career often found me commiserating with fellow dentists about how frustrating patients could be. We wanted to do comprehensive cases on patients who understood the importance of comprehensive oral health care and appreciated what we did for them. Where were these patients?
I was frustrated. My time in the office wasn’t what I wanted or needed, and it was time for a change. So, sitting down someplace quiet, I wistfully imagined my perfect day and asked myself what was block- ing me from achieving it. Then I recalled a quote from Dr. L.D. Pankey: “Teeth don’t walk into your office. People do.” It was so simple, yet so profound. I was treating teeth when I should have been treating people. So I set out to learn how to get to know my patients and build relationships that would allow me to have the practice of my dreams.
Each of us is a unique individual — an amalgamation of temperament, behaviors, past experiences, current circumstances and objectives. To build a trusting relationship with a patient we must get to know the total person. If we build a bridge of communication and listen carefully, patients will share with us all we need to know to offer appropriate treatment and have it accepted. So, where were the patients I wanted? They were right in front of me. But during all those early, frustrating years, I didn’t understand that effective communication begins with knowing myself, recognizing the behavior of others and understanding how the two fit. Reading the books of Robert Bolton on social styles helped me enormously. Mr. Bolton’s book, Social Style/Management Style, (available at Amazon.com) teaches how to recognize people’s personality styles and successfully relate to any individual based on that knowledge. The approach is easy to learn and implement for the entire team.
Mr. Bolton says there are four basic personality styles. When we are around people whose style compliments ours, we are at ease and communication seems fluid. The challenge comes when we interact with people whose styles are different. This explains why conversations with some patients seemed to just click, while with others, every sentence was a challenge. If we know our own social style and can objectively assess the other person’s, we can know what we need to do to make the other person comfortable. This creates trust.
Our team received training in the social-styles approach. Then, from the very first phone call with a new patient, we implemented tools to help assess each patient’s style and engage it. This allowed us to create an optimal experience for our patients individually, and it worked wonders for the flow of the office. Every morning in the huddle, along with the relevant clinical information, we discussed getting to know our patients.
John was a patient for a few months before we implemented the “social styles” approach. I used to wonder why he kept coming back, because it seemed he was upset with me and the office. Using our new-found knowledge, we discerned John is a “driver,” meaning he needs to keep moving. His time is important. Once we understood this, we made sure the assistant was at the reception door to bring him back before he was through greeting the receptionist. I made sure I was in the room before the patient napkin was placed, and our appointments were efficient and undisturbed. As a result, John became one of my favorite patients.
Theresa is another great example. We hit it off from the very beginning, and I love hearing her stories. But 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,” meaning she likes to talk and share. So am I. It’s a great combination, but it can be counter- productive to a busy office. But once the team identified the way Theresa’s style and mine clicked, we simply scheduled extra time into Theresa’s appointments just so we could chat. Now Theresa enjoys being at our office and is one of our best referral sources.
Building the foundation for building caring, trust-based relationships with your patients is one of the most important skills we can learn. The result can be the practice of your dreams.