Sometimes it's the little things

By Sheri Doniger, DDS, contributing writer

June 18, 2009 -- Editor's note: Sheri Doniger's column, Dental Diaries, appears regularly on the advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

Maybe it's because I'm a woman, or maybe because I came from a dental assisting background, but I like my office to be like a home. Well, not exactly my home, which is highly cluttered and has two cats roaming free, but a home to my team and my patients. Women tend to practice a little differently than men. Oh, yes, we use similar instruments and techniques, as we were all trained with the same high professional standards, but I think the small touches are more evident in a female-run office.

When you look at the economy and the potential effect it has on your practice, it always helps to have "something extra" that makes your office stand out. There is no shortage of patients in need. But there could be a shortage of patients in your office.

“We need to look at options and details that can set our offices apart from the competition.”

Our goal is to be productive. We need to make the patients who are braving this economy happy to be in our offices, knowing that they are someone special as well as integral to our success. A wise dental consultant once said, "Your best patients are those who show up and pay." Our patients have reasons for coming to us for oral healthcare, but we would like to have them want to come in and also refer potential new clients.

So what kinds of things can you do to aid in your office's internal marketing strategies that don't cost an arm and a leg?

In my office, we have fresh flowers every day. Patients are greeted by the sensory experience of sight and smell when they arrive. My mother worked at the front desk for years, and she always had flowers and fresh green plants, which she tended to, on the desk. After she passed away, we continued the tradition of fresh flowers, even during the brutal winter months in Chicago. It is something that makes both the patients and the team enjoy walking into the office on even the gloomiest of days.

And what about keeping community counters clean? One of the tasks my business manager has when she arrives is to disinfect the reception counters. She does this frequently during the business day as well. There are several reasons for disinfecting a nonoperatory counter. First of all, with all the bacteria floating around and the number of times people come in and touch our counters, why aren't we disinfecting them? We aren't the first stop for many of our patients. They may head to the grocery store, fill their car up with gas, or work out at the gym before coming to our offices. Veritable cesspools of bacteria are on their hands that will be transferred to our counters, then on to the next patient. Regularly disinfecting the counter decreases the bacterial load present.

Health reasons aside, another great rationale for disinfecting is that it looks better. How many times have you walked by your reception area only to see a bunch of fingerprints that a CSI agent would be thrilled to explore? If we are trying to generate a clean, healthy, inviting environment for our patients, why not do a quick wipe down of the counters periodically during the day?

Speaking of the reception area, do you use Febreze? If you have fabric covering the chairs or couches in your reception area, why not spray a little Febreze in the morning? It will generate a welcoming scent (better than eugenol!), and it doesn't take much time or money to accomplish. I also have colleagues who scent their offices with candles and aromatic essential oils. This is another great option if you don't want to go the total "spa" route but want to have a more welcoming atmosphere.

And when was the last time you looked at the art on your walls? Do you have the same posters up that have been around since the new millennium? Maybe it's time for a change. The good news is that changing the art in your office can be a minor thing. You don't have to spend tons of money to create an interesting visual landscape in your office. Heading to a local art fair or flea market can offer a treasure trove of choices. And if you have a digital camera, take photos of your family and interesting sites around your city. Frames are so reasonable at places such as Michaels, Target, or IKEA that do-it-yourself art on the walls is easily interchangeable. Even mixing up your current art offerings or repositioning them on the wall can provide a different visual stimulus to the brain and give the appearance of remodeling without the cost.

In this economy, when we are trying to retain our current patients (who form the basis of our internal marketing referrals), we need to look at options and details that can set our offices apart from the competition. If being the cleanest, freshest, most flower-filled practice on the block does it for you, then go for it -- even if it is only to make you feel better every time you walk into the space. More reason to consider the many other "little things" we can do to enhance our working environment and increase morale and productivity.

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

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 © 2009


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