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Where to Spend Your Tech Dollars

With all the new technologies appearing in dentistry, it’s challenging to sort out what brings value to the practice, both from a production standpoint and by what is most appealing to patients.  So next Wednesday, March 8 at 11am PST, I’m doing a webinar with data and insights that can point you in the direction that will work best for your practice, and maximize your technology investments.

The webinar will be based on a survey of 500 dental professionals nationwide. Here’s some of what you’ll learn:

  • Which advanced technologies should I integrate into my practice next?
  • How can I promote my investment in technology to attract quality patients?
  • How quickly can I get the return on my investment and grow my business?
  • Should I invest in new technology if I am planning to sell my practice?
  • Which advanced technologies have the greatest patient appeal?

Plus, because I love you all, everyone who attends gets a free copy of our new e-book, “Advanced Dental Technology – Perception vs. Reality.”

Register by clicking here.  And yes, it will be recorded, so as long as you register, even if you can’t attend live, we will send you a link to the recording.

Dental Plans Are Not Health Insurance

Of course, we in dentistry all know this. It’s the consumer that somehow gets confused. Understandably, because it’s presented to them as a form of health insurance. But we’re left explaining to patients why they have to pay for so much of their dentistry even with their dental plan.   I’ve made this short video on how to explain the difference between their health insurance and their dental coverage, with an analogy that I think you’ll like and find useful.

You may remember last year, when the CEO of Washington Dental Service explained on the news why they were cutting reimbursements to dentists in an economy where absolutely nothing else is dropping in cost.  He flippantly said that “dentists could work more” to make up for the slashing of their profit.  Read my blog about it here, if you like.

The premise was that WDS, a division of Delta, needed to offer lower-cost premiums in order to stay competitive–even though they control 80%+ of the state’s dental insurance business. (Can you say monopoly?)  What’s fascinating is what they’re actually doing with the money is running television advertising promoting their product.  Gotta love that non-profit approach to making a lot of money for the executives. (The CEO makes $1.2 million. Talk about biting the hand that feeds him.)

Anyway, we’re stuck teaching people the differences in their coverage, and putting them in a position where they make bad health decisions because they have this implicit trust of their health care providers.  So they say things like, “I only want to do the dentistry that my insurance will pay for,” and, “Do I really need this work done, or do you just want to make more money?”

My advice is to sit every new patient down in the first visit and explain clearly that, unlike health insurance, where the coverage is based on what is actually wrong with them, dental coverage is simply a discount plan on some range of basic services, set by their employer and totally unrelated to the condition of their mouth or their dental care needs.  And that you will do your best to treat them in a way that is most affordable, but your professional responsibility as a dentist is to make them aware of their condition and the options for getting themselves back to a healthy smile.

Most of them will understand, and the rest, well, it’s crown-a-year dentistry for them!

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If You Could Not Fail, What Would You Do This Year?

It’s that time again: New Year’s resolutions.  We join gyms, we start diets, we quit bad habits. For a while, anyway. But what if you were really looking for change at a deeper level?Cliff jumper small

There is a fantastic question that life coaches will ask, which is “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  The question attempts to dig deep enough into yourself to find out what it is you really want to do, try or become.  And it’s not easy to get there.

The framing of the question is specifically designed to free yourself from that vicious internal censor of yours, which is always there to point out the risks, the potential losses, the likelihood of failure. That voice is deliberately silenced for this exercise.

I suggest grabbing a piece of paper and see what you come up with. I’m going to prompt you with some random thoughts, some based more on your work and what might be your role in it, and others based on more personal or artistic dreams.

For example:

  • You’re a dental assistant, but you know you can do more. You understand the science of dentistry, and the delivery of it. Are you ready to become a dentist? (Censor says school expensive, hard to get in, competitive, starting a new practice is difficult.)
  • You want to bring in an associate, but you’ve heard horror stories. Yet you have a desire to pass on your knowledge. (And to let someone else do the Class III’s and IV’s.)
  • You miss music. You played guitar (or piano, or drums, or the oboe), and you realize it has totally slipped away. But you want to start playing again, ideally in front of people. (Censor says you’re too old, you’re not talented enough, there’s no money in it, nowhere to play.)
  • You think you’re funny, Standup seems scary, but in an appealing way.
  • You know you have a novel in you, or a screenplay, or a book of poems. (Censor says: what makes you think anyone would read it?)
  • You’ve been doing dentistry for 20 years, and it’s routine. You’ve heard CEREC re-invigorates the dentist and the team. (Censor says: so expensive, patients don’t really mind an extra office visit, staff will rebel.)
  • You’ve done a few implants, but wish you could do more involved cases. (Censor points out that big cases are a huge malpractice risk, and require a lot more training.)
  • Something is wrong with your team. Actually, someone.  (Censor says you can’t do without her; the practice would fall apart.)
  • A consulting firm has told you they can increase your production 20% in the first year, which would change your life. (Censor says any number of suspicious and unfounded statements.)
  • You want to teach. (Censor says so does every other dentist.) But you believe you have something special to offer–hard learned, and hard earned.
  • You’ve heard of Kilimanjaro, and even though you’re not sure where it is, you think you might want to climb it.

So write some things. No one is going to look at them but you, so get as wild and irrelevant and as fanciful as you wish.

This doesn’t mean you ought to immediately quit your job and start pursuing this new dream.  What it means is that this is something that will add meaning, purpose and happiness to your life, and you need to find a way to start including it, in whatever way you can manage, and not ignore it anymore.

(By the way, if you write down that you want to retire in 5 years, my question will be: and do what?  Retirement isn’t a goal, it’s just an end to one type of activity. You may want to stop working, but you’re not going to want to stop living.  Find a new dream.)

Here are some suggestions based on those dreams:

You want to learn CEREC or other CAD/CAM?  Buy one–then you’ll have to figure out how to pay for it.  (Do it before the 31st and take advantage of Section 179, which allows you to deduct the whole thing this year–talk about a New Year’s resolution commitment!)

Same goes for implants. Buy a Galileos or other 3D cone beam scanner, and take your implant cases to the next level.

Enroll in courses:  Implant classes; CEREC training; Hygienist school; Take a business management class, or a software training class. Or finance class. Local colleges or your dental product distributor can help you with these.

Take expanded skills training, if you’re an assistant. Or apply to dental school.

Find a dental practice where you’re treated with respect, where people have fun taking care of patients.

Join a band. Or an orchestra. Or a choir. Start local, start small. But start.

Write one page towards a novel every day. Don’t go to sleep until you do.

Open a separate bank account and start saving for that trip to Africa, and put $20 a week in it.  Kilimanjaro is waiting.

If you’re an office manager, pursue a fellowship with AADOM.

If you want to teach, enroll in the Faculty Club at Spear Education.

Bring a consultant in. Successful people know they need coaches. There are many good ones, some of which are listed in my favorites on the right.

Fire that pain-in-the-ass employee.

In other words, do something different!  Stop expecting more happiness from the same course of action.

Also, be mindful that sometimes our job isn’t the dream, but it supports the dream. In fact, that’s what happens for most of us. At 1-800-DENTIST, a number of our operators in the call center do their job, and do it well, so that they can pursue acting, or music or art.  And they know it’s unlikely that they will be able to feed themselves pursuing their passion, but they don’t abandon it. And it makes doing the day job worthwhile.

The brilliant and inspiring speaker, Gary Zelesky, reminded me this year that he is not passionate about airports, or hotel rooms, or lousy food on the road, or negotiating his fees. He is passionate about speaking, about motivating people, and he endures all those other things so that he can do what he is passionate about.  We all have to pay our dues, no matter how closely we are pursuing are passion. The aging rock star misses his family, but still fills stadiums with raving fans, so he keeps touring.  The famous author sits in bookstores, endlessly signing copies his latest novel. The filmmaker negotiates relentlessly with the studio to produce the film he envisions.  The dentist sacrifices weekends to refine his skills, to offer the best care to his patients.

I’ll say it again: stop expecting more happiness from the same course of action. To put your change in motion, make a real commitment.  One that’s hard, if not impossible, to back out of.  You can make it to yourself, but I’ve observed there is something powerful to declaring your goal publicly. It gives you that little extra motivation when you’re falling behind on that dream.  In fact, if you want to declare it as a comment on this post, I welcome that. (I might check in on you next year, though!)

So, why not make this your leap year? Because the only real failure is failing to try.

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Culture Attracts Quality

Dentists often ask me how they can build a great dental team, and my answer always is this: make your practice a great place to work. Not just how well you pay, but what the environment is like. That means creating an exceptional business culture. A culture is defined by how you treat each other, how you treat customers, and more importantly, what you will and you won’t do for money.  But it starts with knowing the purpose of your business.Dental team pair

There are two wrong ways to go with regard to purpose: one, not having one, and two, having your purpose be about making money.  If you don’t have a purpose, then no one really knows why they are there, so they just fulfill their basic functions and go home.  And making money should be a by-product of running your business well and fulfilling your purpose, not the purpose itself. If it’s all about the Benjamins, then patients will know, and your team will project that as well.

I think your purpose should be clearly defined for everyone, and presumably be about helping people understand and accept treatment in order to be healthier.  You can define it specifically for yourself, but do define it and make sure everyone knows it. And then work on your culture, which is everyone’s responsibility.

A culture that attracts great employees has some key elements:

  1. People are encouraged to learn and grow
  2. People are supportive of each other
  3. People are honest with each other, including management
  4. People hold each other accountable
  5. Appreciation is expressed often, in many forms
  6. People have a sense of accomplishment (the purpose is being fulfilled)
  7. It’s fun to be there

This doesn’t mean people don’t work hard. Part of a great culture is having people who really want to accomplish something every day, and leave satisfied.

The right culture attracts top performers, and keeps them.  The best employees don’t just care about money (just like the best businesses), they care about where they work, what they achieve, and who they achieve it with. Dentistry is a clean, purposeful industry.  Capitalize on it. Why have an office where everyone is moaning and complaining like they work at the DMV? Culture is the gravitational pull of great employees. And it is has that same effect on patients. And of course, this is what patients are going to talk about online. (For more on what people write about, read this previous blog.)

I’ve noticed something very unusual about dentistry: no one ever has buyer’s remorse.  People have it all the time with many of the things they spend money on: clothes, cars, electronic equipment, even houses, but when it comes to dentistry, they never say, “Man, I wish I hadn’t spent that money on my teeth.”  So what does that tell you? It clearly shows that we have something very unusual that we do.  We get people to do something that they are often very reluctant to do, but are always glad that they did in the end.

So in the dental field there is a bonus for everyone, which is you’re making people’s lives better.  What a wonderful thing to get to do every day!  Why not do it for as many people as possible? Which means you have to be selective in hiring.  Not just someone who has a good skill set, but is also fits your culture.

Another reason why culture is important is that there isn’t a lot of room for advancement in a dental practice, unlike most other businesses. When you take promotions out of the equation, it makes a strong culture all the more critical to attract and keep the best employees.

Oh, and one last thing. A great culture is not afraid to fire people.  The CEO of Zappos, the online clothing business, is a friend of mine. His company has a phenomenal culture–one of the best I’ve ever seen. And I asked him once what he would have done differently on his way to $2 billion in annual revenue. And he said, “I would have fired people more quickly and hired people more slowly.”  This from a man who has averaged over $100 million dollars of growth every year he’s been in business.  (For more thoughts on letting people go, check out my blog on why firing someone is actually an act of kindness and generosity.)

The cornerstone of your practice success–and your practice marketing–is the quality of your team. Another quote, from HubSpot, another company with a phenomenal corporate culture, is “compromising on culture is mortgaging your future. The interest on culture debt is crushingly high.”

Words of warning, best heeded in the age of online reviews, increased competition, and dental insurance uncertainty.


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Love the Dentist? Depends Where You Live

We do a lot of consumer research at 1-800-DENTIST, and recently we did a nationwide survey on attitudes towards dentists and dentistry. This wasn’t done just with people who called our service, but was a random sampling across the country.  We learned some interesting things.

First, more than 65% of Californians have a regular dentist.  This is higher than the national average, and almost the reverse of certain southern states, namely Mississippi and Alabama, where nearly 70% of the population do not have a regular dentist, and only seek one in an emergency situation.Girl at dds shtrstck

On another note, more than half of dental patients in New York that we surveyed were unhappy with their dentist. Are people just crankier in New York?  Because over 65% were happy with their current dentists in California.  It’s not like they don’t have a choice to change dentists in New York.  They certainly don’t have to go all the way to California to find a dentist they like.

There are wide variations in dental behavior all across the country, and we have learned from answering millions of calls from people looking for a dentist that their expectations are also quite varied.  In some parts of the country the majority of people expect someone else to pay for their dental care, and in other cities and neighborhoods the primary concern is the level of care and expertise of the dentist and practice, regardless of cost.

How can there be so much variation around the country?  We all watch the same TV shows and movies, with actors with great smiles, why is it so acceptable in so many places to neglect yourself until it’s an emergency, and even then an extraction is the requested treatment?

My only conclusion is that it’s cultural, and that culture can be very localized. And I do see the consciousness shifting in the consumer mindset, but it’s gradual, and was certainly set back in 2008 when many people in the middle and lower classes lost a good portion of their discretionary income, and paying for their dental care became a financial impossibility.

It seems unlikely that the Affordable Care Act, which is already a Frankenstein of various conflicting solutions, as it mutates and is either gutted, revised or replaced, will ever encompass much in terms of dental care.  It does currently require that most children be covered by 2018 (after another presidential election).

And therein lies the solution, I believe. It starts with children, as most cultural shifts do.  We need as an industry, as a nation, to do our level best to help children to, first, not be afraid of seeing a dentist (that usually means keeping the parent out of the operatory) and to be much more concerned about neglecting and damaging their teeth.  We are making valiant stabs at this, by eliminating sugared drinks in schools, and in California, for example, a child cannot begin the first grade without having seen a dentist, but much more needs to be done.

Our goal should be a complete shift within a generation, so that 99% of American children brush, floss and see a dentist regularly, and like the dentist they go to.  And that they know what damages their teeth, and what protects them.  It’s probably going to be done practice by practice, since I don’t expect there will be a national awareness campaign anytime soon. (Maybe the next First Lady will take it on!)

Our company is going to keep promoting dentistry, and expanding our ad budget, but I think it will take an increased focus by individual practices all across the country to make this tectonic shift occur.  I hope you’re with me, and I welcome your thoughts and comments on this.


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