The Times They Are A-Changin’
— Bob Dylan
No one will ever accuse me of being a Bob Dylan fan. However, I've always loved that line. That line is especially applicable to dentistry — it is a-changin’. That is probably not news to anyone who is reading this. Some changes are good; others, not so good. The challenge is to use these changes to your advantage.
Much has been written about corporate-style dental practices. However, for all their perceived faults, they have gotten one thing right: convenience. Believe me, your patients love convenience. Corporate dentistry does one thing that most practices do not: Specialists work inside their practices, not across town.
I became acutely aware of this when a friend suggested I hire an oral surgeon to work in my office. He was having great success with this concept and thought it also would work in my office.
Admittedly, I was hesitant at first. Would this actually work in my office, or would it turn out to be a costly mistake? My staff also had reservations about bringing someone new into the practice. To be honest, I have been amazed at the results. Thanks to this one decision, last year was the best ever for my practice.
In my case, I hired an oral surgeon. Depending on the needs of your particular office, you may hire a different specialist. For example, I would never hire an orthodontist since I have a great one practicing next door. Some of your practices are located in medical buildings. You may have several specialists down the hall. However, in my case, I am in a freestanding building that is home to three dental practices. I’m the general dentist, while one neighbor is an orthodontist and the other is a prosthodontist. However, any other specialist whom I may wish to refer to is a drive away.
Here is where the convenience factor comes into play: Your patients have no qualms about walking down the hall to see the specialist whom you recommend. But ask them to drive to an oral surgeon’s office across town, and that is another story. If you are like me, you keep seeing your recall patients every six months, and you keep asking them when they’ll be getting those impacted wisdom teeth taken out. After telling you they’ve lost the referral slip, they ask you for a new one. Six months later, you repeat this same scenario.
But once the patient learns the procedure can be done at your office, he or she is eager to schedule an appointment. You will be amazed by how quickly your specialist’s schedule fills up. Since our oral surgeon is usually with us once a month, he is always scheduled two to three months ahead of time.
A result of offering in-house specialty services is that our treatment case-acceptance rate has gone up dramatically. The number of implants I restore greatly increased. Why? Again, patients want everything done in one place. If you are like me, you do not place implants. Previously, I’d refer the placement to my local oral surgeon. Most implants were never placed. Now, as soon as the patient learns that everything can be done in my office, he or she schedules and completes treatment.
Another benefit that patients love: They don’t have to get to know a new staff. The same assistants whom they’ve gotten to know will be with them during treatment. Patients love knowing that when they recover from the IV sedation, they will wake up to a familiar face. Also, all financial arrangements are made with the same staff members with whom they are accustomed to discussing money and insurance.
My wife brought up an unexpected benefit for the staff members that I had never considered. She told them that I was giving them the gift of a lifetime. Should anything ever happen to me, they would not only be able to work in a general dentistry practice, but also in an oral surgeon’s office. I am making my staff twice as employable. During an interview, if they were to be asked, “Have you ever assisted in a sinus lift?”, they will be able to answer, “Yes.” Your motivated staff members will see this as a gift.
Once the decision is made to hire a specialist, where does a practice find one willing to travel to its office? In my case, I went through a referral agency that places specialists in dental offices. I have heard, though, that some of your existing specialists are now joining the mobile office trend. They, too, see that the world is changing and are attempting to keep up. An orthodontist friend of mine who has been in practice for more than 25 years has begun traveling to dental practices in addition to keeping his existing office.
In Part 2 on this topic, we’ll discuss some other things to consider when bringing a specialist into your office, including challenges that have come up.
Andy Alas, DDS