By Cyndee Johnson, RDH
Is corporate dentistry bringing about change that’s causing a lot of stress among dental professionals? This “disruption” cannot be ignored. It must be actively addressed for private practices to survive and thrive. No longer is sitting on their laurels a good option for dental professionals.
I am saddened and intrigued by the number of my dental colleagues who suffer through situations that cause them extreme stress. The sources of this stress vary greatly, but all boil down to one simple word—disruption.
Disruption has become an entrepreneurial buzzword, and it’s found its way into the likes of ride sharing, banking, and customer relations management. Here I’ll reference both uses of the word—its new entrepreneurial use, as in Andy Rachleff’s “What Disrupt Really Means” on Crunch Network, and its Miriam Webster definition, “To throw into confusion or disorder.”
In Rachleff’s article, Clay Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, defined “disruption” in “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” “In short, a disruptive product addresses a market that previously couldn’t be served. A new-market disruption offers a simpler, cheaper, or more convenient alternative to an existing product, a low-end disruption.” He states that business models, not products, are disruptive.
So why then is there so much ado about corporate competition in dentistry, and why are so many dental practices struggling to compete with these corporations? After all, a low-end disrupter is designed to attend to the unserved. What services are being provided in the corporate setting that differ from private practice? Are the unserved searching for affordability, great service, or convenience?
For those who fear this behemoth, are we too quick to dismiss the micro-level disruptions we perpetuate in our own practices, or our short-sighted view of our unprofitable, insurance-driven patients? If we were to hone our communication skills to a level that could reach our patients so their treatment recommendations would resonate as mandatory, would we be able to build sustained success for our dental business and actually become the competition?
Let’s look at the basic definition of disruption—to throw into confusion or disorder. The corporate model of dentistry has simply brought to light an industry of which a large swathe has been resting on its laurels. “To throw into confusion and disorder” is exactly what this entrepreneurial movement, or disruption, has done. In effect, it is forcing the dental profession to wake up, rub its eyes, and take note of the phenomenon occurring right under our noses, a change that involves a word dental professionals have resisted for decades—change.
How do those of us who believe in the private practice business model maintain solid footing and sustainable growth? The answer is, we must disrupt our own disruptions! So I bring you back to my first question—why are so many dental professionals willing to live with stress and frustration in our practices? Why are we willing to struggle with disruptive schedules, systems, employees, and patients? The answer is simple: We don’t know how to fix it, and moving outside of our comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable.
Those of us who feed off change and professional growth find ourselves in a constant state of frustration when we work with those who are comfortable with status quo, and when we’re employed by those who stick their heads in a deep dark hole in the sand.
When I hear comments such as, “I’ve told my patients every six months that they need to floss. It’s not my fault they have periodontal disease,” or “She’s a difficult and disruptive patient. I’m going to dismiss her,” or “He hasn’t been in for three years so I deactivated him,” or, the most shocking of all, “I know she’s difficult, but she’s been with me forever” it becomes crystal clear to me why we need to embrace greater accountability for our roles as health-care providers. Tenure is not a synonym for talent, yet so many in our profession allow tenure to supersede talent, creating devastating impotence to our business success.
The new, successful dental environment requires focus, continued education, and coaching. It requires business and technology savvy, proper hiring skills, and a culture where the team is equipped with high emotional intelligence. This dental environment is excited to implement efficiencies, and requires good clinical and communication skills in an effort to provide the highest level of care. These practices have “elitehygienists©” who drive practice profits by using models designed for today’s dental environment. These teams understand the importance of excellent telephone skills. They know what it means to provide Five-Star customer service.
This new model requires hygienists to step outside of our comfort zone and provide an experience that creates value in the minds of our patients. These leads to a dental practice with sustainable profits. That’s right. These investments are not only a professional obligation, but they pay dividends in the form of dedicated patients who want quality care and overall health. Patients want service, they want what they value, and it’s up to us as dental professionals to give patients value in the services we provide. If there is a lack of value, cost becomes the driving factor.
Do you want your patients heading down the street for the $800 crown? Or do you want them sending all of their family and friends to your office for the $1,500 crown? The beauty is that you get to decide. Your competition and disruptor is not the corporate practice down the street. It is you, your office, and your team. The only disruptions you face are the those that dentists continue to support within the walls of their practices. Do not hide behind the excuse, “Corporate dentistry is here to destroy us” while you continue to accept the status quo. Remember what Will Rogers said: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Irish Dental Trade Association.