Seeing Your Practice Through Your Patients’ Eyes

talking to ptIn the last EXCURSIVES post, we discovered how important it is to “think like a patient”.  Making that critical shift from a self-focused to a patient-focused mindset is not easy.  However, I believe it is the most impactful way to squarely position yourself on a path to successful practice, and to get moving down that path.

So how do we apply the patient-centric philosophy to real life practice?  Here are a few practical examples of the patient-centric mindset in action.

The patient-centric business

“The Entrepreneurial Model has less to do with what’s done in a business and more to do with how it’s done… [It] does not start with a picture of the business to be created but of the customer for whom the business is to be created. It understands that without a clear picture of that customer, no business can succeed.”
Michael Gerber, The E-Myth Revisited

While good customer service is standard, few practitioners conceptualize it to the extent that the value of customer service actually shapes and defines the practice. Generally, the dentist starts by establishing the practice as she sees fit. Then, she begins tweaking her administration and management of the practice as a result of trial-and-error, good advice from colleagues, and something she learned from a CE course. Eventually, through experience enough positive changes have been implemented so that patients are satisfied. This is an ego-centric approach, in which the practice is created by the doctor for herself and retrofitted to the patients’ needs. The patient-centric mindset takes the polar opposite approach, creating the practice for the patient from the very beginning. While the two philosophies could yield similar end results, the conceptualization of the patient-centric practice is entirely different.

In his instant classic, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber contrasts the entrepreneur and technician mindsets. He describes the “Fatal Assumption” as the belief that one understands a business that does technical work because one understands the technical work itself. Dentists seem exceptionally susceptible to this line of thinking. The technician applies an ego-centric mindset, responding primarily to the needs of himself; the entrepreneur applies a patient-centric mindset, responding primarily to the needs of the customer.

The challenge for new dentists entering business is two-fold: obtain the knowledge needed to function effectively as an entrepreneur and manager, and resist the urge to abdicate away your business in order to play the comfortable role of technician.

The chair-side mindset

As a fresh face in an established practice, building my patient base relies on the relationships I establish at new patient exams. Thinking that I was winning patients over, I was actually making a mistake that many students and new grads make: my new patient exam was a miniature version of a dental school lecture. At some point in the conversation about the pros and cons of various dental materials, the eye contact from the patient fades. The patient isn’t asking questions. We’ve run out of time. I walk away thinking, “Wow, I think I really nailed it”. I totally did not nail it. I can’t thank my business manager enough for calling me out on this early—who knows how long I could have gone on like that!

When was the last time your patient asked, “How many megapascals of compressive strength will my lithium disilicate crown have?”

My new patient exams were ego-centric. I was doing that exam for me. I was more concerned with demonstrating my knowledge of dentistry than how to tailor the message to perfectly suit the patient’s wants and needs. I was processing treatment plan options out loud, probably leaving my patient feeling confused and overwhelmed. With some coaching and the adoption of a patient-centric mindset, my new patient exams now revolve around the short- and long-term benefits of treatment, rather than the properties of various ceramics.

Patient-centric conflict?

In more than one interview, I was questioned about conflict. Do you see any value in it? How do you handle it with a staff member? How do you handle it with your boss? The best answer I have is that which derives from the principle of patient-minded practice: “If we’re truly 100% patient-focused and patient-centered, I just don’t see how there can be any room for staff conflict that isn’t constructive or beneficial for the patient experience”.

This response was met with overwhelming signs of approval from the entire team. If everyone commits to making patients the central focus, internal conflict is more than just a squabble—it’s a damaging violation of the practice’s core value. A credible and consistent leader, rooted in patient-centric philosophy, has the power to swiftly diffuse conflict.

In summary, gone are the days when patients were referred to as “my denture-over-partial” rather than by name. The new challenges ahead will require a new patient-centric mindset. Make the patient experience your first concern, and your long and happy career will be off to a successful start.

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5 responses to “Seeing Your Practice Through Your Patients’ Eyes

  1. I applaud you,Ryan, for being so willing to reframe and shift perspective. I like to think of the patient experience as ‘reason to receipt’ – from the moment they come in to the moment they walk out the door (and even afterwards). To a patient, even dental jargon and acronyms can feel disrespectful and arrogant. When you’ve just spent years in training, and (as well all do) live, breathe, eat and sleep dental, it’s hard to get out of our own experience. The only way to do it is to find an analogy. What circumstance might you have found yourself in recently where people were more concerned about their own expertise and you felt neglected or invalidated? It’s not dumbing down to put yourself in the chair and understand your patient’s experience and needs. Well done on this article – a crucial point well made.

    • Thank you, Coach K! And, thanks for sharing your tremendous insight on this topic. I believe this is an important lesson for new dentists to understand and implement, myself included.

  2. Pingback: Begin With Patients In Mind « Excursives·

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