interdisciplinary dental care“Pick a card, any card.”

That’s a fine way for a magician to start a trick, but it’s not what a patient should be hearing when they are committing to extensive (and expensive) treatment. And yet this is something I know happens in many dental practices.  The dentist tells the patient that they need to see an oral surgeon, for instance, and as the patient is on the way out, the front desk person presents them with a few business cards of oral surgeons the practice refers to. Not having anything else to go on, the patient usually picks the one that is geographically closest to them.

I think practices who use this approach are missing a huge opportunity to strengthen and grow that patient relationship.

This is why I think every dentist needs to master the art of referring with value. Many patients are understandably anxious, or even just uncertain, about going to a new person for more complex treatment. So instead of just being told they have to see a specialist, imagine the difference it makes to hear something like: “I want you to see Dr. Smith about this. He and I have worked together on many cases like this and he is the perfect person for this kind of procedure. Let me explain why ...” You’d be surprised how much just that kind of simple assurance from you can mean to a patient.

I would even go a step further. Those patients who are asked to pick a card have a high drop-out rate – they simply don’t follow through and can easily fall off the radar. So I recommend having the front desk staff call and make the appointment for them. Yes, it’s a little extra work. But it ensures that things are on track and it demonstrates to the patient how much you are committed to seeing things through with their treatment plan.

Just taking a few moments to refer with value like this can have great benefits – for everyone. The patient benefits by feeling reassured and confident about proceeding with treatment with a new doctor. The specialist benefits by getting a patient who arrives mind-ready for great care. And the GP dentist benefits by having the patient see how they are “quarterbacking” the interdisciplinary process and how involved they remain in that patient’s care.

And if you’re a specialist, you should be asking yourself, “How easy am I making it for my referring GPs to have this conversation with patients?” Obviously, all specialists try to develop good relationships with their referrers. But to be truly meaningful, it has to go beyond the occasional lunch or golf game. You have to really invest in developing a trusting teamwork approach, where you are aligned on objectives and “speaking the same language” on patient care, agreeing on a treatment framework and making sure the patient is appointed back with the referring doctor.

I know this works, because I have seen it happen. For instance, so many specialists who lead a Spear Study Club report that the quantity and quality of referrals they get from the GPs in their group increases dramatically.

This kind of collaboration is only going to get more important as dentistry continues to become more complex and to offer more treatment opportunities. The dental practitioners – both GPs and specialists – who thrive in this environment are the ones who are committed to an interdisciplinary model, who spend the time to get really aligned and who realize that they are all in this together.