Success in general practice for dentists

Please take note. In this article, I’m going to share the best piece of advice that I have ever received. You really don’t want to miss this. However, before we get there, you’re going to have to indulge me and let me witter on for a few lines about myself.

As a new dentist in my first role as an associate, you couldn’t have found a harder, more diligent worker. I gave every second I could to my patients. I bent over backwards, gave up my breaks and caused myself endless stress to accommodate and serve the people who required my care.

The problem was that I still couldn’t deliver what was required of me. I was working flat out, as hard as I could but I wasn’t hitting targets. In short, I was busy going nowhere.

After a few weeks of struggling along, I sat down with my principal. It was the end of a long, hard day where I had worked my socks off but again had failed to achieve my targets. In fact, that afternoon, even being rushed off my feet, I had only achieved the grand total of 2 UDAs.

I didn’t know what more I could do. There was no more time in the day and I couldn’t go any faster. My principal and I took a look at my day and talked it through. I was lucky that he had been extremely supportive and so I felt that I was able to be honest when expressing my concerns. This is when he passed on that nugget of wisdom that completely changed how I work.

Very simply, he said to me “Don’t work harder. Work smarter.”

The intelligent associate

You will, I’m sure, be able to think up plenty of ways that you can adapt how you work to not only make your life easier but to also improve the quality of care that you provide to your patients. You need to be looking for those win-win situations where everybody benefits. To start you off, I’m going to give you three principles that will stand you in good stead.

They are the following. Give yourself time to talk to patients. Provide high quality, simple treatments to patients that need it. Refer when appropriate to colleagues with more expertise than you.

Let’s consider each of those.

You must allow yourself time to talk to your patients, build rapport and discuss appropriate treatment options. Some dentists make the excuse that they don’t have time. However, if you’re a busy dentist, this is the one thing that you must have time for. If you give yourself time to discuss treatments, you will find that patients make better decisions and you get to provide more high value work. If your patients always go for the cheapest option, it’s probably because your not explaining things well enough. Give yourself a bit more time.

The next thing you should do is make sure that you are offering patients the simple treatment plans that they need. The UDA system is all swings and roundabouts. You will see plenty of patients that need one thousand fillings for a single charge of £60. This can mean that when you see a patient who only needs something simple such as the replacement of a small fractured filling or repair of a buccal abrasion cavity, you ignore it. You feel like you’re short changing that patient because they have to pay the same as the patient who received 12 fillings and two extractions.

You must not do this. If you consider that it would be in the patient’s best interests to undergo a simple treatment, make sure that you provide it. This means that you treat problems early and you make your life easier. There are plenty of downsides to the UDA system. Make sure that you take the upsides as well.

Finally, make sure that you are referring to more skilled colleagues when necessary. The example I’ll give is root canal treatments. As a newly qualified dentist, it can be hard to say ‘no’ to patients. This often leads to younger colleagues attempting root canals that are never going to work. The tooth might be unrestorable or heavily infected but you agree to give it a try and feel like you’re doing the patient a favour.

In reality, if you are treating inappropriate cases, it will fail and the patient may still blame you for the eventual loss of their tooth. Don’t waste hours on cases that are going to fail in your hands. If appropriate, refer to experienced colleagues. If not, be honest with the patient at the outset and save everyone’s time.

Working ‘smarter’

I hope that provokes you into considering the way that you currently work. If you’re feeling at sea, struggling to meet targets no matter how hard you work, try the following approach. Slow down a bit. Consider whether you’re wasting time on treatments that are likely to have a poor outcome. Are you ignoring the simple treatment plans in your rush to get through more high-needs cases? Make sure that you’re giving yourself time to talk to patients. Time spent communicating with patients is never wasted. Conversations with your patients lead to your patients picking the best option rather than just the cheapest. This makes your life easier and means that your patients receive a better standard of care. Everyone’s a winner.

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