How To Improve Communication In Your Practice
Effective communication in a dental or dental specialist's practice can reduce stress, increase treatment effectiveness and help others develop confidence in you and your practice. In fact, when communication in the following three areas is targeted your practice will ultimately grow and patient care will improve.
Communication with other professionals in your field
In my community, there are roughly 30 dentists. As an orthodontist, I communicate frequently with all of them about our mutual patients. Some of these providers are very busy and want to quickly discuss the necessary aspects of the case and move on. Others want to visit in my office with models, photos, films, etc. and discuss the case in great detail. What matters most is being sensitive to what needs to be communicated to allow the patient to be treated in the best possible manner. It is also important to do this in a way that meets the scheduling needs of your colleagues. These conversations can take place over the phone, through texting, email, or through a brief chat face to face. However, from time to time there needs to be a lengthier and thorough evaluation of diagnostic information with all providers involved in treatment meeting together.
Appropriately, the restorative dentist will “quarterback” the case, but they often lean heavily on the specialist for input on what can be done and how that will affect the outcome. In that communication, a specialist can help build trust and confidence in his/her ability by providing a range of options, reducing the work load on the dentist, and putting together a plan that will meet the needs and schedule of the dentist. The dentist, on the other hand, can help by making sure his/her restorative plan and needs are clearly understood by the specialist. There may be times when a treatment plan hasn’t been decided on prior to the specialist’s initial examination of a patient. If all involved are aware of this, it helps the specialist dialogue with the patient in a way that is investigative, yet instills confidence in the patient.
Communication with patients
In orthodontics, parents are also included in this category. I have found effective communication with patients to be one of the critical factors in reducing emergencies and yielding overall patient satisfaction. In an orthodontic practice, patient (and parent) communication topics include the length of treatment, how to insert elastics and how often to wear them, how to effectively clean teeth, how sore they will be, how to reduce discomfort, etc. In a dental practice, the dentist may discuss how long a particular filling or crown will be sensitive, what this procedure will cost, how sore they may be after a cleaning, etc. Incidentally, this simple message can be a determining factor in keeping patients in your practice. For example: “Mrs. Jones, there was quite a bit of build up around your lower incisors and we really cleaned things up nicely. However, you may find your teeth are a little more sensitive these next few days than with other cleanings at our office or with your last provider. The good news is we expect ____ (fill in the blank emphasizing the benefits they will see from what was done.)” In the end, patients and parents greatly appreciate clearly understanding what treatment is being done, why it is necessary, and what to expect. These simple, but important conversations can be easily overlooked by us, but having them consistently will go a long way in developing patient confidence in you and building your practice
Communicating effectively with employees
If there isn’t an office manager (which is often the case), dentists and dental specialists can find themselves responsible for all important communication with their staff. Being concerned primarily with patient care, employee communication often gets placed on the back burner and we can find ourselves hoping that they “just figure it out,” or that they will eventually ask other employees what and how to do things. We then may evaluate their usefulness based on their ability to see and fumble around in the darkness we have created for them. Most employees don’t thrive in this type of environment. In my office, we have had the same team for 10 years, adding one staff member a year for the past four years. I believe effective communication with our employees, including training and helping them understand expectations, has helped the good employees in our office become better and the better ones become fantastic.
In the end, much more could be written about each of these topics. However, I have learned over time that focusing on these three areas of communication has yielded happier patients, an uptick in referrals, less emergencies and continued practice growth, with the ultimate goal of patient care improving consistently. All this with my sanity remaining intact!