There are several aspects that you should look at when considering the environment of your practice.

Patient perspective

How does the patient feel about being in your practice? Have you asked them? Do you have a waiting room or a patient lounge? Do you have cheap plastic seats or a leather sofa? How about reading material; do you have copies of the Readers Digest form 1994, or the latest in patient information literature? Why not set a Saturday morning aside and ask your top five patients round for coffee and buns. Ask them what you can do to make things better for them. Ask them their honest opinion. You will be glad you did.

Should we be in the situation that the patient has to wait, there must be something for them to do to pass the time. Patients do not like waiting. If you are running late, someone should inform them and tell them how long they can be expected to wait. Remember, most of them would rather not be there, and by making them wait you are torturing them. The receptionist is also allowed to talk to patients in the waiting room.

Putting in a fish tank is not enough, in fact that is the last thing you should do. You should be using your “Lounge” as part of your marketing tool. The majority of your patients (the ones you want to keep) are here to become dental healthy. You can discount the ones who just want the tooth out, because they will be going elsewhere. Products such as the “SMILE CHANNEL” will help educate your patients whilst they wait. The British Dental Health Foundation also does a good range of patient literature and leaflets.

Consider putting a water fountain or even a coffee machine in your “lounge”. The famous Australian dentist Paddi Lund has a bread maker from which he makes his renowned “Dental Buns”. Could you go one better. And folks, make sure you stick the heating on. Make it warm, make it comfortable.

Every member of staff must be pleasant and appear competent. They should be neat, tidy and display an air of self confidence. Remember, you are actors as well as health professionals. There are no bad hair days in your practice, no rumblings of discontent and no slagging off colleagues where patients can hear. The patients journey though the different areas of the practice should flow as the patient moves form reception to surgery and back again. If at any stage the patient doesn’t feel like the most important person in the practice, then you have failed in your task.

How should the dentist greet the patient? Well, a smile would help, and the dentist should be facing the patient as they walk in the room. Hows about introducing yourself (and your nurse) if you have never met the patient before. You could even shake their hand, it won’t kill them, or you. Be nice, and be friendly. Build rapport and get on to their level. They won’t trust you until they like you, and if they don’t like you, you are just another potential butcher to them. There may well be a reason why they left their last dentist after all. You don’t want to be slotted into the same category as “that last Sadist”.

Dentists Perspective

You have to enjoy working there. If you don’t enjoy working at the practice, what is the point? You will only damage your health, and increase your risk of being sued. A startling statement, but if you are unhappy, you will be less effective at building rapport. If you don’t build rapport, patients won’t like/trust you. And in that situation, if you make a mistake, your ass will be toast. You have to be nice, it’s that simple.

Of course we all have patients that we don’t like for one reason or another. So why are you treating them? Try this, get rid of them. Read “The Ideal Dental Practice: Patients” to give you some ideas.

What about your staff. Are they doing the job you want them to? And if you are the principle, what type are you? Are you the authoritarian type, or are you a nice person to work for? If your staff make a mistake do you jump down their throat and make their life hell, or do you realise that everyone makes mistakes, including you. How was your staff turnover the last 5 years. The nastier you are, the more staff you go through. The more staff you go through, the more disruption to your practice and the less money you make. And what is the subconscious message your patients pick up when they see a new face every time they come? If you don’t treat your staff well, they will leave and go and work for someone else. It is amazing what some people will put up with, but with the job market as favourable as it is, people are no longer afraid to change jobs, especially in the dental field. If you attract staff, you need to keep them.

And do you have any staff members that drag everyone else down. Do they back bite, do they slag people off. When you come up with a new idea do they go “oh that will never work”? You need to get rid of these people, without being sent to a tribunal for unfair dismissal. You have to be so nice and so persistent in your approach to changing your practice to how you WANT, that they soon realise it’s time for them to leave. It has to be their decision. You need to counteract their negative behaviour so that THEY feel uncomfortable coming into work. Very rarely are these people going to make a mistake that allows you to take disciplinary action, they are too clever for that. And if you can get the rest of your team behind you (so that they don’t respond to the “dragon’s” snide remarks) then all the better. After all, these people do what they do because they want to have an affect on those around them. If they aren’t having that effect, despite their best intentions, then in their minds, there’s no point them being there. Now of course I am not a psychologist, and I have no proof that any of this will work. But is it going to hurt?

Nurses/Receptionists perspective

So how is your boss? Are they a tyrant, or a softy? Do they just have to look at you for you to cringe in fear, or can you wrap them around your little finger. And what’s the pay like, the environment? If you aren’t enjoying working there, why are you working there? We all know you could walk into another job tomorrow. Dental nurses are at a premium at the moment.

Or are you taking advantage? Do you work for a dentist who is hiding out in their surgery? Do you find this amusing, being able to do what you like when at work? Pretty easy going is it? You do the bare minimum that your job demands, have plenty of sick days. If this describes you, then you have my pity. Because until you get your act together, you won’t amount to anything. You will be unfulfilled, and underpaid. Perhaps you should go and work for the government where you might be appreciated. There is a law in business that says “if you want to be paid more, you have to do more first”. If you go the extra mile for your employer, put in 110% every day, then a reasonable employer will pay you more. And if they don’t, there will be someone else who will. You need to make yourself invaluable. Do you want to make a career of your job, or are you just passing time?

But why should you do more if your employer is a soft touch? Well, if your boss isn’t happy, they aren’t going to be at their maximum earning capacity (which means your earnings will be limited). They aren’t going to be happy. Unhappy dentists fall ill, sell dental practices and retire. How would you like to be out of a job? Remember, dentists do talk to each other. How would you like to be unable to get another position because you have gained a reputation as being someone NOT to employ. How would you like your present boss to sell the practice to a modern day Hitler? If you are blatantly taking advantage of someone’s good nature, you will reap the rewards. I can guarantee it.