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a blog by Chris Barrow

How to spend more time as a master practitioner, without upsetting existing patients

There comes a time in the life of every Dental Principal when you have to admit that you simply cannot do everything any more.

Not only does that extend to running the business but also to delivering the dentistry.

We all start our careers as novices and evolve through experience and post-graduate education to become master practitioners of what we do (think of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and his “10,000 hours to become a genius” – how many clinical hours do you have under your belt?).

The challenge for many Principals is that delivering the routine dentistry gets in the way of enjoying the role of master practitioner.

For over 20 years I have seen those master practitioners drowning in a world of routine maintenance, creating queues for the delivery of more advanced treatment (to a frustrated audience of existing and potential new patients) and, most commercially damaging, triaging new patients to less experienced clinicians.

Result = low growth in profits, longer waiting lists, irritation all round.

The tipping point occurs when the Principal

  1. recognises that they have a problem and

  2. decides to do something about it

At that point, the usual concerns and fears arise:

  1. the patients are used to seeing me and will kick off if they are “transferred” to another dentist;

  2. the front desk team are unable to handle the objections from existing patients and keep on booking them in;

  3. these patients helped me to build the business in the first place and I cannot betray them.

It’s a problem that I’ve been asked to help with before and one of the early steps was to create a sales aid for the team that explains how triaging existing and new patients is good for the patients and the business.

That sales aid on “Triaging and Profitability”is attached here as a free download and as a reminder.

Moving on – there comes a point in time when you do have to inform the patients that the master practitioner is going to be spending more of his/her time putting their experience and skills to use – and that some of the more routine work is going to be handled either by therapists and/or other dentists.

Readers of this blog will know that I have a huge preference for re-skilling therapists and bringing “Apprentice Dentists” in to cover the second of the roles mentioned – we have previously talked about the likely characteristics of a successful apprentice and their contract terms.

I recently helped Neil Harris at HRS Dentalcare in Stroud to edit “that letter” – the one that announces the changes – and, with Neil’s permission, I’m reproducing the letter here. It may inspire you to take the first steps in a similar direction.

For clarity:

  1. make sure that you NEVER transfer patients but simply explain that the “three-story” model has it’s benefits for all concerned, including them;

  2. make sure that EVERY member of your team (especially front desk) are word-perfect on describing the benefits of the new system;

  3. make sure that no patients gets a SURPRISE – and issue a letter like this one to all patients, well in advance.

Dear Patient At HRS Dental Care we are always trying to improve the services that we offer. We would like to let you know about a change we are making which will result in:
  1. Shorter waiting time for routine appointments

  2. Less time to wait for important and complex dental treatment Traditionally when you attend a dental practice you are assigned a dentist that is there to deliver all of your dental care. At HRS Dental we prefer to think of you as a member of the practice, able to take advantage of all the services we offer and the clinicians who work as part of our team. In the case of a genuine dental emergency we reserve space in the appointment books every day, which ensures a dentist is always there to help if you get into trouble with pain or a broken tooth. To provide long-term healthy teeth and gums, we ask you visit with our hygienist or therapist. As my experience has grown I now find myself attending more post-graduate training courses, dealing with referrals from other dentists where patients have complex dental needs and also teaching at international conferences and courses. As the demands on my time become greater, I have recognised that I need help to provide your regular Healthy Mouth Reviews (check ups) and, with this in mind, I have asked my colleague Dr. Sadhvik “Vik” Vijay to assist. Vik started working at the practice in July and has proved very popular with patients and the staff. He is an exceptional dentist and we have received very positive comments from his patients since his arrival. It is likely that I will be at the practice when you attend and the likelihood is that I will continue to provide some parts of your care, particularly if you need my expertise with complex treatments. If you have any queries regarding this change please get in touch. Yours Sincerely,

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