Being Present versus Being Efficient

Many people can teach you systems and logistics to make your practice more efficient. But the most important result of those improvements should be that they allow you to focus completely on the patient you are with at that moment. In the psychological vernacular, you can be present for that person.

Thanks to

Thanks to

Why is that so critical?   Because we are all keenly aware when someone’s attention is completely on us.  It’s also critical because so few people are actually present with each other these days.  This cartoon is a fairly accurate indictment of our ADD behavior.

And in the practice of dentistry, where anxiety, apprehension and misinformation abound, genuine caring for the patient as an individual is even more critical.  I believe it is foundational, because most patients, in order to suspend all of their irrational beliefs and behaviors regarding their oral health, have to trust you.  Being present creates that trust.

So what does “being present” really mean?  And how exactly do you get there?  In essence, being truly present means that when you are with a patient, whether you are the dentist, hygienist, assistant, treatment coordinator or receptionist, your attention is 100% on them.  You’re not thinking about the next patient.  Or the next piece of equipment you’d like to buy. Or that sandwich in the refrigerator calling your name.  You’re listening, talking to, and focusing on that person.

And the first step to achieving this is deciding to do it.  Next, you need to eliminate distractions.  This is a practice in and of itself, almost like a meditation, where you do not let other thoughts interfere.  And you can only do this when you have effective systems in your office, where the flow is controlled and sequenced properly, and people know their roles and complete them.  It is a team effort that creates the possibility for each of you to be fully present.

It means stripping away your internal noise, or at least ignoring it, and eliminating your external noise.  Interruptions are not tolerated, (not even Facebook messages!)  Is it easy? No. What life skill is? But as I said, the result is a foundation for a deep, long term relationship of trust with your patients.

Otherwise, what happens is we flit from operatory to operatory, from exam to case presentation, phone call to email, always thinking about what we have to be doing next.  This is how most of us live our entire lives, not being in the moment, but thinking about the past or the future.

We live in a world of massive distraction, making it harder and harder to focus all the time.  And, in my mind, all the more necessary.  And when you are present, it has become so increasingly rare that people respond to it, sensing instantly that your attention is not divided.  And it’s powerful.

One of the things I like most about our training for 1-800-DENTIST call center operators is that for each call, they learn to put all their focus on that caller, forgetting about what else is going on in their lives at that moment. They forget about the annoying call they may have just finished, and don’t think about the traffic on the ride home. They are truly present for that person as an individual, with individual needs and concerns. We train this because we have learned it makes a huge difference when someone is trying to choose a dentist and has no idea how to make that decision.

Sound like a bunch of New Age nonsense? Okay, from a purely business standpoint, being present is good marketing.  In any service business, when a person feels someone’s focused attention, they are more receptive.  In your case, being more receptive means patients accepting treatment now instead of putting it off for six months, or a year, or indefinitely, which doesn’t benefit them at all.  You are helping them make a good health decision, sometimes in spite of themselves, and your being present is an integral part of that.

Of all the highly successful dentists I know, I can safely say that every single one of them has mastered this skill.  Some came to it more naturally, but each one of them, once they saw the potency of it, made it an essential part of their practice behavior. And then built a team that behaved exactly the same way.  And the systems and efficiencies they built into their practice all support this. And it has yielded the best kind of success: a thriving practice with healthy patients who appreciate the relationship they have with the dentist and the team.

They also use automation and software whenever possible to free themselves up from repetitive or unnecessary distractions.  One of the main benefits of PatientActivator or applications like it is that it allows the front desk team to focus more on the patients who need their attention.

And good practice coaches can help your team prioritize and streamline your daily activities. On the right under “Fred’s Favorites” you can see who I recommend to help you accomplish this.

Of course, you’ll always need to be highly efficient in a dental practice–each professional only has 35 hours a week to deliver care–but what will make those hours most productive, providing the highest degree of care, is your ability to capitalize on those efficiency systems by being totally present with each patient.

And who knows, you may find that once you master this at work, you’ll be more present with your partner, your children, your friends, and everyone you meet.

For more on this process of being present, I highly recommend you read this post from one of my favorite blog sites, Brain Pickings.


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