Inside Dentistry
April 2013
Volume 9, Issue 4

Making Dentistry Personal Again

Relationship building takes your practice to the next level

By Richard I. Ashton II, DMD

Personalization is one of the keys to success in business. People respond when they feel that the options available fit their unique circumstances. Whether a practice is brand new or long established, providing customized care and avoiding a “cookie-cutter” approach will yield more satisfied, engaged patients.

I learned the difference between these two approaches at a young age. When I was 4 years old, I reluctantly started piano lessons. I went to several teachers, and all of them had the same message: “Do this, play that, hands here, back there.” In other words, the advice was repetitive, impersonal, and boring. It wasn’t until I turned 14 that I met a teacher who made music personal. She transformed a previously miserable music experience into something enjoyable that remains a great blessing to this day.

People come to their dentists to learn about oral health and take care of their dental needs. Due to the ever-increasing commoditization of the profession, however, many patients are having experiences very similar to my early years in music. Free exams and cleanings, whitening for life, discount dentures, and two-for-one crowns may get patients in the door. However, if these “services” are patients’ only experiences, I guarantee that patients deciding to seek care and, more importantly, patients continuing to receive care are certain to be constant challenges. If someone else can provide it cheaper or if the service is not delivered perfectly, the patient will be gone.

Again, the most important element here is personalization. If dental practitioners consistently provide a differentiated experience for patients, much like that inspiring music teacher, could patients’ perceptions of dentistry be changed for the better? This is absolutely possible. It simply requires that clinicians stop focusing on the services provided and start mastering the art of relationship building. With the proper relationship in place, it is very easy to personalize dental services to fit each unique individual’s circumstances.

One must be committed to providing this experience for each and every patient. The process our practice has in place has three key components: connection, choice, and commitment. It starts much like a normal exam, with a proper set of x-rays, documentation of the patient’s periodontal condition, and a diagnosis and treatment plan. The difference lies in how the patient perceives the experience.

Making a connection is the most crucial element. One can start by personally greeting patients and escorting them to the operatory. Once there, take 5 minutes to find out what brought them in and, most importantly, how it is affecting their life. In learning about their personal circumstances, one can understand how family, work, hobbies, travel, and other factors affect their dental decision-making.

With an understanding of patients’ dental needs from their perspective, it is easy to express confidence in the team’s ability to provide choices and solutions that fit their life. Patients are asked whether they want treatment only for their immediate needs or if they want the team to provide a comprehensive look into their oral health. Depending upon what patients choose, one can order the proper diagnostics and make sure that everything involved (eg, radiographs, probings, screening) is explained in a way they understand. Once diagnostics are completed, it is time to sit down with patients again to discuss their immediate concerns and any other relevant issues. They are asked what they are concerned about and given treatment choices that meet their expectations and reflect their unique life situations.

Once services have been decided upon, a commitment is needed. This is not a commitment to the services; those have already been chosen. It is a commitment to their dentist. Whether they want to start treatment immediately, schedule the next available appointment, or hold off for a while, the commitment means that they have a dentist when they are ready. After starting this process, patients in our practice immediately started deciding to make a commitment to us and have continued to do so.

I will forever be grateful for the leadership and ability of my last music teacher. I challenge everyone reading this to be more like her. Practitioners should master the skills necessary to build proper relationships with their patients. Rather than trying to get them to choose practice services, it is important for them to choose the practitioner. Together, we can make dentistry personal again.

About the Author

Richard I. Ashton II, DMD | Dr. Richard I. Ashton II, DMD, is a 2007 graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine. He practices in Phoenix, Arizona, as a multi-practice owner supported by Pacific Dental Services. His passion lies in coaching and mentoring associate practitioners on their path to practice ownership as well as in patient leadership/acceptance methodology. Ashton currently lectures in Arizona, Oregon, California, and Texas in subjects such as case presentation, patient relationships, practice management, associate development, and mentorship. He can be contacted at ashtonr@pacden.com.

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