Morale boosters and more

Editor's note: Sheri Doniger's column, Dental Diaries, appears regularly on the advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

A few weeks ago I noticed it was Dental Assistants Recognition Week, and a few weeks hence we will be celebrating Administrative Professionals Week. Noble causes. Personally, I don't understand why we don't recognize our auxiliaries every day. And why aren't we celebrating our team every week? Why should there be only one specific time of the year that we recognize the people who are important in our daily lives? Aren't they the ones who help our practices thrive?

With the slow economy, there are definite morale issues in all businesses. With the decrease of patients who are willing to come into the office for a plethora of reasons, and their lack of interest in performing even the most basic dental care needs, we all have some slow points in our schedules. Some offices are letting team members go. I know a dental hygienist who worked in the same office for almost 30 years who was terminated because the dentist's accountant felt he had to decrease his team to increase his profit.

As far as I know, dental hygienists increase profit windows in the practice by performing high-value dental therapeutics that are large-margin procedures with minimal monetary expense, such as dental sealants or applying fluoride varnish. They also increase production for the dentist by spending quality time with the patient and ensuring the communication bond for the practice. In addition, they are sometimes the first "eyes" on the patient in the practice for either the initial contact or the preventive maintenance.

So why would a dentist terminate a long-standing employee when the dentist's production is down? I don't get it. Team members are valuable assets to our practice. I have said it before and I will say it again: There isn't a day that goes by that I do not need my team working with me.

Aside from the chairside support, our team members are really our cheering squad. Take my business manager, for example. She is awesome. I really try to stay away from the computer in her area, so I do not micromanage the scheduling process. But last week, in frustration after fruitless attempts to try to reschedule patients who have canceled, she exclaimed, "These people KNOW they need to come in. They know they need to have their teeth cleaned. They know they need fillings. I don't get it."

Actually, neither do I, but that is a conversation for another diary. What I do "get" is that our teams truly are our cheering squads. They are the ones helping us get through our days, both good and bad.

If you have the right team in place, they will be your advocates for dental care. When you dismiss the patient from the treatment room, the assistant takes the patient up to the business area and continues to discuss the treatment to be had or treatment just completed. Then your business manager takes over to reaffirm the patient's comfort and discuss any further treatment that is necessary. The communication and support between team members is crucial.

When patients do not feel they need the procedures you have treatment planned with care and caution, then what? Just because we believe they have a need, it is not always translated into a want when other financial obligations come into play. Patients do not always jump at the chance to sit in our treatment rooms, reminiscent of Steve Martin's hilarious scenes in "Little Shop of Horrors." We may not understand it, but the reality is patients do not always convert the recommendation of treatment into action.

I understand that the occasional business meeting or illness does call for cancellation. I do not want to see a patient who is hacking up phlegm or who does not have the time to commit to proper therapeutic scheduling. But we would all hope they reschedule for their oral care needs, and to do so in a timely manner. We don't want them to slip away. Communication between the dental team and the patient, discussing the appropriate treatment, will convert their needs into their desire to reschedule, given all possible reasons for cancellation.

On one of our slower days last week, I mentioned to my team that we will soon be looking back on these days with longing, for some extra time off to be able to enjoy a beautiful spring or summer day. Until then, we are all on the same page of delivering quality dental care to our patients when they are ready to accept treatment. Our team continues to look forward and maintain high morale with this approach.

And when we do have a change in schedule, allowing us to have some free time in our schedule that we did not anticipate, we use it to regroup, do some intrateam training, have a team meeting, or merely end the day a little early. It is all good for the patients and the practice in the long run.

Sheri Doniger, D.D.S., practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefit company, and has written for several dental publications. Most recently, she was the editor of Woman Dentist Journal and Woman Dentist eJournal. You can reach her at [email protected].

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2010

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