How do you want to be seen?
Family doctors of the past knew their patients well. They were in relationship over time, sometimes for generations. They cared for the whole family and understood their patients in that context: their family health history, financial considerations, challenges and aspirations.
Family doctors could piece together diverse aspects of health and disease, see patterns in behaviors and symptoms. They were aware of their patients’ hobbies, habits and health goals. Their patients were loyal and appreciative.
As our health care system has become more and more specialized, patients have felt the loss of that kind of relationship; one in which they are known for who they are, not just for their disease. The dental office has the potential to provide that place. (Click here to learn more about “Step by Step,” a workshop designed to help dental teams refine communication now to position themselves for the future.)
We have choices. We can define ourselves as procedure driven technicians; as fixers of teeth, interchangeable with all the other teeth fixers.
Alternatively, we can create systems and communication models in which we are seen as trusted advisors who guide our patients toward health, like the “family doctor” of years gone by.
A dental office has a unique place in our healthcare system today. We may be the only health professionals most of our patients see on a regular basis, even when they are not “sick.” We see them year in and year out, through progressive stages of their lives, and changes in their priorities. We have opportunities to discover with them changes in the way their bodies respond to physical and emotional stresses. We can help them work through disappointment and celebrate their successes with them. We can influence the way they think about, respond to, and plan their overall health as well as their dental health.
When we begin see ourselves differently we can begin to imagine a different future for dentistry. Without in any way diminishing the significance of our technical abilities, we can shift from a focus on procedure codes to a focus on service. A changing health care model offers possibilities to expand the way we care for people in a dental office.
- Oral Systemic Connection: Current research is proving what many of us in dentistry have known intuitively for some time. The link between oral and systemic health is significant. Without stepping outside the bounds of our dental practice act, we can report changes we observe and suggest follow up with physicians. In addition, technology today offers simple tests easily performed in a dental office that can help patients begin to see connections between various signs and symptoms. Because of our clinical knowledge, we can help our patients interpret current research and assess risk. Because of the trusting relationships we build over time, we can help them shape long-term goals, sort through options and make healthy choices. How can new learning about the oral systemic connection set your practice apart?
- Locus of Care: The locus of care has been changing for some time. I remember being appalled at the idea that patients could have their blood pressure taken at the drugstore! In those days I thought that was strictly the purview of a medical office. Today we routinely go to pharmacies not only for blood pressure testing but for vaccines. I also find it interesting that trainers at the gym where I work out advise patients on nutrition, and get paid for it! I believe many dental offices are in an excellent position to both inform and support patients in broader areas of health than we currently see. The locus of care is changing. What opportunities can you envision to expand your services in the future?
- The Insurance Model: Dental insurance as we have known it will not be the model of the future. No one can accurately predict what new models will evolve, but the procedure code based, private practice model now in place is not sustainable. Relying on dental insurance plans as a primary marketing tool will not support a model of patient centered, relationship-based practices. There are people today who see alternative and other health providers not covered by their medical insurance when they experience a distinct difference in the quality of care. I believe the distinction between insurance driven dental practices and patient centered practices will become more and more evident as policies become more restrictive. How can you begin now to help your patients prepare for the insurance model of the future?
This is an excellent time to plan for the future. A time to choose how you want to be seen. A time to plan for how your practice will distinguish itself in an emerging health care model. In dentistry we can see ourselves as technicians who fix teeth, or we can expand our vision. We can see ourselves as partners with our patients as they sort through the risks and benefits, options and consequences of the choices they make. How we see ourselves largely determines how our patients see us.
How do you want to be seen?