Article Date: 9/1/2007

The Crowning Achievements of Dentists
dental tips

The Crowning Achievements of Dentists

Sink your teeth into these five tactics that have made dentists successful.

GARY GERBER, O.D., FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J.

Believe it or not, optometry and dentistry are kindred professions. Like O.D.s, dentists offer retail products in addition to clinical services. Instead of offering spectacles, frames, contact lenses and corneal reshaping, however, they offer implants, veneers and teeth whitening, among other products.

Although dentistry shares this dichotomy with optometry, the median expected salary for a U.S. dentist is $126,844, while the median expected salary for a U.S. O.D. is $100,435 — according to information from salary.com.

After spending some time observing dental practices, I believe the reason for this salary difference is that dentists use five practice-management tactics many optometrists do not.

1 They focus on emotional and/or cosmetic benefits.

Through my consulting, I've found that when discussing a product with a patient, O.D.s typically focus on the medical and/or technical benefits, as opposed to the emotional and/or cosmetic ones. Because patients don't understand or have preconceived ideas as to how these benefits personally affect them, they usually reply with: "No thanks. I'm good with what I have."

An example: When describing a high-index aspheric lens, I've found that the O.D. and/or optician typically tell the patient: "You'll like this lens because it's thinner and lighter than your current lens." The problem with this statement: The practitioner and/or optician hasn't told the patient what "thin" and "light" mean in the context of his life.

This leaves the patient to ultimately decide to stick with his current lens.

A dentist, however, would most likely say to the patient: "You'll like this lens because it'll give your eyes a more natural appearance than the ones you currently have." Yes, dentists certainly discuss the mechanics of how their products benefit vision, but they often do this after they've imparted the core emotional and cosmetic benefits Tapping into a patient's emotional need to appear attractive and feel good about him- or herself often leads to a sale.

"Tapping into a patient's emotional need to appear attractive and feel good about him- or herself often leads to a sale."

Further, I've found that dentists sell the excitement and anticipation of a new smile because they personally deliver this education with pride and passion. Contrast this with some O.D.s, who cower and become visibly embarrassed when discussing a $150 additional fee for an eyeglass enhancement.

If you show you believe in something, the patient will believe in it. If, however, you act uncomfortable about mentioning something that could benefit the patient, the patient will be uncomfortable and he will not make a purchase. It's that simple.

2 They use technicians in the exam room.

Dentistry has a discipline and area of training referred to as "four-handed dentistry." This alludes to the extensive use of technicians. You've witnessed this when the technician hands your dentist the proper tools and technology so the dentist doesn't have to break his concentration to obtain them himself.

The optometric equivalent of "four-handed dentistry": delegation — something I've found that a majority of practitioners severely underutilize in their practices. In fact, most optometric technicians are relegated to seating patients in front of diagnostic instruments and pushing the buttons on these devices.

Because "four-handed dentistry" significantly increases office efficiency, which impresses patients — leading to an increase in income — O.D.s should explore and aspire to this concept by placing technicians in the examination room, where they can set up equipment and hand the O.D. lenses, among other examination tools. By using assistants in the examination room, the O.D. frees up time to discuss treatment recommendations with the patient, which can lead to sales. The logical extension here is that the O.D. is the only one who can do what he does, so it must be important.

3 They adopt new technology early.

Dentists tend to be very early adopters of technology and new treatment modalities. As a result, many have practices with net incomes well on the positive side of the bell curve. For example, the first dentists who embraced teeth-whitening technology charged more for it than those who adopted it later. Once colleagues finally jumped on the teeth-whitening band wagon, the early adopters had, and advertised that they had, more clinical experience. So, they were able to maintain their initial higher fees while the late-comers could only compete on price.

To use two clichés to explain this phenomenon, it's not a "chicken or the egg" situation of waiting until the practice is big enough to afford the technology. Like dentists, progressive O.D.'s know that "if you build it, they [patients] will come."

4 They're logical, not emotional when choosing insurance plans.

The dentists and dental consultants with whom I've spoken take a very analytical approach when deciding whether to join a particular dental-insurance plan. They start from a numbers-based position of: "This is the minimal amount of money I'm willing to receive for procedure X because it will cost me $Y to perform it." This is the equivalent of an O.D.-chair-cost analysis.

Many O.D.s base these critical business decisions, however, on emotion rather than logic. Instead of analyzing chair cost, these O.D.s internally postulate: "If I don't join this plan and accept its lesser reimbursement, I'll lose some of my current patients." That may or may not be true, but O.D.'s often forget that the lower reimbursement stays when the patient stays.

Dentists don't cavalierly make these decisions, and they realize that if they do not accept a particular plan, that those patients can see a dentist who does. So, they have set up their practices to offer compelling reasons for patients to stay with them. Chief among these is a friendly, courteous and well-run customer-service-focused office. This is a major difference between the two professions that has a significant impact on bottom-line revenues.

5 They truly believe in, and convey the importance of, a six-month recall.

The single best way to grow a practice: Become obsessed with an effective recall philosophy and strategy. Dentists are experts of this concept.

I've found that dentists are able to recall a large portion of patients because they and their staff believe — they honestly, whole-heartedly, deep down believe — that they should see every patient at least every six months to ensure teeth and gum health, and they educate patients on the reasons for this belief. Further, to reinforce the importance of this belief, they always end every visit with, "We'll see you in six months."

I've found that when an O.D. sends postcards or e-mails to remind patients of the need for an exam without having explained the importance of following the visit schedule, a large chunk of patients return when they "have time." But, when you continually and doggedly take the time to educate every single patient on the reasons for your belief in following a visit schedule, as dentists do, the recall postcard and/or e-mail reinforces this education, and patients are more likely to make an appointment right away, which will increase your income. Something else to consider: When patients comply with your exam schedule, you'll have a great opportunity to educate them on the newest eyewear products that can benefit them. This, too, could lead to an income increase.

Now that you know the root of the success of dentistry, try implementing these five practice-management tactics in your practice, so you can fill the cavity in your income. The results will surely make you smile. OM

Dr. Gerber is the president of The Power Practice, a company with a mission to make optometrists more profitable. Learn more at www.power practice.com, or call Dr. Gerber at (800) 867-9303.


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2007