Creating Productive Laboratory Relationships
Dental practices that regard their dental laboratory merely as a place to ship cases are missing out on a valuable resource. Building and maintaining a strong working relationship with the lab results in a number of distinct advantages in both clinical care and practice productivity.
Benefits of Partnering with the Dental Lab
Unfortunately, many dental practices take their laboratories for granted, viewing them only as vendors who provide an important service but have little else to offer. Communication is often “one-way,” consisting of instructions from the practice to the lab. The main criterion for selecting a laboratory is that it consistently produces excellent results, and many practices never move beyond this very limited, though critically important, expectation.
A far better approach is to think of the dental lab as a valuable partner—one that can make an immediate and significant contribution to the quality of care, patient satisfaction, and practice success. The key is to establish effective two-way communication between the practice and the lab. Some of the critical ways in which labs can serve as a reliable source of technical information and guidance are outlined in the following sections.
Learn from the Lab’s Experience
Over time, established dental laboratories work with many different practices. They deal with numerous cases, and therefore see many more successes and failures than any single dental practice. This experience can be invaluable. As is taught in top business schools, more is learned from failure than success. Dental laboratories have typically learned a great deal from what they have observed, and they can often suggest treatment options based on their experience. Needless to say, it is far better for practices to avoid treatment failures by seeking advice from their lab. However, in order to accomplish this, the burden is on the dental practice to establish two-way communications with the lab so that such advice can be given before a potential failure occurs.
An area where practices can benefit greatly from open communications with dental labs is when dealing with larger and/or non-routine cases. Achieving better outcomes is highly dependent on a timely exchange of information. Practices should develop the habit of initiating a dialog with the lab to provide the lab an avenue to ask questions, propose potential treatment options, and discuss the pitfalls that may be encountered in certain types of cases.
Knowing I was involved in dentistry, a friend once called me to discuss his wife’s dental problem. She had recently had six maxillary anterior crowns replaced, but after treatment was performed she was unhappy with their appearance. She had told the dentist that she wanted the new crowns to look like the old ones, but they didn’t. Regardless of why this situation had occurred, the fact was that the patient was very dissatisfied. It is quite possible that a better relationship between the practice and the lab could have helped avoid the problem. The dentist could have communicated the patient’s wishes to the lab, and the lab could have drawn on its experience to offer guidance as to how to achieve results that would have been more appealing to the patient.
Meet Regularly with the Dental Lab Representative
Dentists speak often with members of the practice team. If the dental laboratory is to function as part of the practice team, the lab representative should be included in the ongoing communications. The simplest way to do this is to schedule regular meetings between the lab rep and the practice. This should occur at least once every quarter and include a general overview of the cases performed during the previous 3 months. Rather than a specific, case-by-case review, this meeting should be a broader discussion of such subjects as:
• how the relationship is evolving
• what the dental lab can do to enhance its value to the dentist, practice, and patients
• what changes can be made by the practice to facilitate a better relationship and improved performance
An important point to bear in mind is that, unless specifically asked, the dental lab will typically not critique dental practice performance. After all, the practice is a customer and it is unwise to risk offending customers. However, with some coaxing from the practice team along with specific requests for input on how quality can be improved, lab representatives will feel more comfortable making constructive comments about practice performance.
After a number of meetings have been held, most of the areas for improvement on both sides will have been addressed. Nonetheless, practices should resist the temptation to discontinue such meetings. The value of maintaining a strong relationship makes it well worth the time to keep convening regularly.
Rely on the Dental Lab for Technical Education
Digital technologies are progressing at an exponential rate in dentistry. So many new products, services, and types of treatment are emerging, it can be very difficult to stay abreast of developments and integrate the best of them into the practice. This, too, is an area where the dental laboratory can be quite helpful. Due to the nature of their work, labs must study new technologies and learn to use them effectively. This enables dental labs to serve as a valuable educational resource for dental practices.
Rather than taking time away from dentistry to review numerous new product options, practices can “shortcut” the process by seeking guidance from their dental laboratories. Most labs will welcome this role, because, by working together, they and their customers (dental practices) can master new technologies and use them efficiently so that costly remakes and failures can be avoided.
The dental laboratory should be viewed as a critical partner of the dental practice. With extensive experience and a clear understanding of what works and what does not, dental labs can help enhance case design, avoid failures, pinpoint the most successful techniques, and provide continuing education.
By encouraging open, two-way communication between practice and lab, meeting with lab representatives regularly, and seeking guidance from labs about emerging technologies, dental practices—and their patients—can reap substantial benefits.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roger P. Levin, DDS
Chief Executive Officer, Levin Group, Owings Mills, Maryland
To learn how to run a more profitable, efficient, and satisfying practice, visit the Levin Group Resource Center at www.levingroup.com/gp —a free online resource with tips, videos, and other valuable information. You can also connect with Levin Group on Facebook and Twitter (@Levin_Group) to learn strategies and share ideas.