CASE STUDY: One Orthodontist’s Secret to Increased ReferralsBy Benjamin Rojek on March 24, 2016 | comments
Orthodontist Dr. Donna Stenberg had long been looking for a study club that provided both relevant education and an environment to enhance referral relationships. She participated in many study clubs over the years, but it wasn’t until she started her own Spear Study Club that she found what she was looking for.
About Dr. Donna Stenberg
Stenberg works at Three Rivers Orthodontics in Stillwater, Minn. Stenberg received her D.D.S. and Master of Science degrees from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and has practiced orthodontics in the St. Croix River Valley for more than 20 years. She is board certified and also served as the 2009 President of the Minnesota Association of Orthodontists.
Finding the Right Study Club
When Stenberg started practicing orthodontics nearly 30 years ago, she decided early on that joining a study club would be a necessity. She had a private practice at the time and felt like it was the best way to get what she called “group practice benefits”: referrals, dental CE, case advice and peer interaction.
Over the years she tried various study clubs, both local and national. Unfortunately, she never quite found a study club that focused on the referral relationship as well as education. The orthodontist-specific study clubs were great for education, but not focused on enhancing referral relationships. National study clubs focused on informative orthodontic-specific topics, but offered very little in how orthodontics tied into complex treatment planning topics, such as implants and wear patients.
“There was a lot of great information, but it was never fully tied together in a collaborative and interdisciplinary way,” Stenberg said.
It wasn’t until the autumn of 2010 that she finally found the study club she was looking for.
A Study Club of Her Own
For years, Stenberg had heard about Spear. Her dental colleagues told her about all they had learned attending Spear workshops and seminars. She began to realize they were gaining an understanding of their field that she was not finding through the study clubs in which she was participating. A dentist colleague, who was also Stenberg's former classmate, eventually recommended she start a Spear Study Club of her own. He helped her get in contact with Spear, but neither person was really sure if anyone would be interested in joining.
“I called up a dentist who I didn’t know really well but thought would be interested in this, and she said ‘Fabulous, this will be great!’” Stenberg recalled. “And that’s pretty much the response I got from all of the people I invited to my Study Club. I was amazed.”
Stenberg's club was, and is, made up of a mixture of general dental practitioners and other specialists, including periodontists and oral surgeons. What she and her Study Club colleagues found almost right away was there was an immediate application for each of them from what they learned through the modules.
“Spear really built for me, within those first months of doing the modules and seeing the seminars, the rationale for interdisciplinary treatment planning,” Stenberg said. “Very early on you start realizing you have some pieces to the puzzle that you can actually start putting to work for you and helping you do a better job of diagnosing and treatment planning. That’s what makes Spear so different and so applicable to practice."
“With Spear Study Club, there always seems to be a piece that I can apply almost immediately.”
Collaborate, Refer, Repeat
Now in its fifth year, Stenberg's Spear Study Club has nearly doubled in size, growing from 8 people to 16 regular attendees. They have worked on everything from dental photography to creating treatment planning templates in PowerPoint. Besides the Study Club modules, members also bring in their own case presentations, a key factor allowing them to learn from each other.
“Learning together bonds you because of the experience together. We find we face similar problems in practice, and it helps when you’re problem solving together,” Stenberg said.
That bond has also lead to a marked increase in referrals to her practice. The trust and lines of communication that she has built with her Study Club members means they think of her first when faced with cases that require orthodontics. Because the referring dentist is in the Study Club with Stenberg, they know their treatment plans will be based on the same foundation. Also, because the relationship is stronger, they are comfortable discussing all aspects of the case.
“Instead of a competitive environment, it’s a very collaborative environment in that the relationships are what really anchors that referral pattern,” Stenberg said. “On the other side, you start to discover what’s important for your referring doctors, how you can get on the same page in terms of how cases should be finished,” she added.
While the increase in referrals and complex cases is definitely a boon, Stenberg said she hopes orthodontists and other dental specialists looking to start a Study Club understand that collaboration is the key takeaway. Through the modules and discussions, she said she has gained a better understanding of the general practitioners’ and specialists’ roles in treatment planning more and more complex cases. Interdisciplinary dental cases are becoming the norm, and a Spear Study Club provides the common language necessary to success.