Enable Unprecedented Patient Experiences
Gerald Bittner Jr., DDS
Strategy can mean a lot of things, but it usually aligns with the general idea that looking ahead and making an actionable plan for the future is a very smart thing to do.
So if we observe an average dental office, what types of strategies are we likely to find being championed? You’ve probably heard some of these before:
“Technology is the future! If you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind.”
“Staff training and specialization is what’s really important.”
“If you’re not focused on the patient’s experience, you’re planning to lose patients.”
“Clinical expertise is how you serve patients. Focus there first.”
These are all true statements in their own way, but none of them alone provide a great strategy for getting you from here (how you practice today) to there (how you’d like to practice tomorrow).
As the owner of your practice, you need to understand that the above statements are all connected. Your practice is a living, breathing, and complex thing, affected by factors both inside and outside of your office. Like a cake, your practice has many layers. Exploring them can give you more insight into what makes your practice tick. Patients sit at the top of your practice, like icing–the sweet reward for your hard work. They see the culmination of all of your other layers (eg technology, business and clinical processes, you, your staff) and use them to form their opinions and impressions about your practice. This is their patient experience.
The next layer of the cake is you and your staff. From the front office greeting to your clinical expertise, interactions with the people in your office, good or bad, can have the greatest effect on how patients view your practice. Frustrated or undertrained staff can have a serious impact on the health of your practice if they are not properly supported. But how do you create support for you and your staff?
The next layer represents your clinical and business processes. Overwhelmingly, I hear from dental office staff that they already have too much to do. When the doctor adds extra processes or steps to their work or asks them to get to know a new piece of equipment or software, they get frustrated and push back on the amount of knowledge, training, and expertise they are expected to posses.
The key to solving the problems in this particular layer of your practice doesn’t involve the purchasing of more and more technology or the over-hiring of staff to help in the office. The key is how much you are thinking about your processes and how to automate them. Automating your business and clinical processes as much as possible will cut down on the amount of repetitive and specialized tasks that you are asking your staff to do. So, how do you automate these processes?
The last and foundational layer of the cake is technology. Whether you realize it or not, this last layer of your practice is also your first layer of defense from many outside forces. It is also the layer that enables all of the layers above it to function smoothly. Without a great technology platform and a well-planned vision of where you want it to go and what you want it to do, your technology will accentuate every break in process, every frustrated staff member, and every bad patient impression.
But if we use technology to plan out how we want to serve our patients and work backward from there, we can take some of the frustrating and repetitive tasks from our staff and let our software handle them. We can take those extra clicks and build them into the system. However, if you think that the extent of well-integrated technology is fixing what’s broken, you’re only using it for half its worth. A connected fabric of communications solutions can enable unprecedented patient experiences, but only if you have the vision to take it there. It can allow your staff to focus more on the experience that they provide rather than the work that must be done.
So when you hear all of the conflicting clamor regarding what you need to be doing to be successful, know that the best place to start is to gain an understanding of what your problems look like today and what layer they might be in. After that, the solutions can be managed technologically as long as you can determine where you want to go. Who knows, maybe one day soon, you can have your cake and eat it too.
About the Author
Gerald Bittner Jr., DDS, maintains a private practice in San Jose, California, which emphasizes leading edge cosmetic and restorative dentistry.