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Is your practice team as smart as you? Your knee-jerk reaction may be: “How could they be? I went to dental school, and they didn't!”

Over decades of practice ownership, however, I have learned that dental practice teams should be as smart as their practice owners – and in most cases, even smarter!

Everyone in a dental practice must be on the same page to be successful. For instance, it's not necessary for a hygiene team to know details about every financial arrangement available to patients - but they should know that financial options exist. Why? Because each member of a dental practice team must understand how each member of the team works together to help patients get dental care they need.

Consider what happens when a dentist leaves the treatment room:

A patient will turn to the other person in the room – usually an assistant or hygienist – and say things like:

“Do I really need all that work?”

“Wow, that costs a lot! I can't afford that.”

“What would you do?”

Since everyone in a practice is faced with these questions, everyone should be prepared to answer them appropriately. But to prepare teams to communicate with more confidence and clarity, practice owners must set aside time to help the team understand the what, why, and how of dental treatment and care.

How Team Meetings Enhance Communication in the Dental Practice

“I believe team meetings have been the key to my success.”

I have heard many doctors say, “I don't have time for team meetings – I can't afford the lost production.” In my mind, these comments are penny wise and dollar foolish.

Over my time as a practice owner, I believe team meetings have been the key to my success. Staff meetings have been a regular fixture in our practice for 30 years – and our numbers have shown consistent growth and profitability throughout that time.

My practice team gathers for a one-hour meeting twice per week, and we consider these meetings as sacred time for our dental family to get together, break bread and share ideas. While others may see only lost production, I know not having time set aside for team growth and alignment is much more costly.

The investment of time and money you put into team training will pay handsome dividends. But if you don't have this time etched into your schedule, it won't happen – and the way you conduct a team meeting is just as important as having them on the schedule.

How to Facilitate a Great Team Meeting

Figure 1. Woman showing patient a dental x-ray of their teeth

To conduct an effective team meeting, it's important to remember that not all people learn at the same rate. To conquer frustration, begin by building strengths and confidence in your team. Stay focused on the outcomes, not the obstacles.

You can use the same framework to facilitate a great team meeting regardless of the meeting topic. To help you understand how the process works, I'll use my recent team meeting as an example.

What –

A bite splint.

Why –

To explain the why of a bite splint, we began with a discussion about why we conducted a comprehensive TMD exam, what each of the questions meant and the reasoning behind each step of the clinical exam – including variations that can arise.

We then discussed why the medical model is so important to follow, especially for gathering data, developing a diagnosis and treatment based on that diagnosis. This is crucial as it allows the team to understand my thought process. Some hands-on training at this stage also allowed my team to experience the diagnostic phase care firsthand. This enabled them to speak from the heart to patients about the value treatment.

How –

With one team volunteer as our “patient”, the team worked together to make a bite splint. We discussed the type of impression we took and the quality of the result. Finally, we inserted and adjusted the bite splint together so I could explain what I was doing and why.

“The ultimate responsibility for patient care is mine, but the patient experience suffers if my team is not as smart as I am.”

Following this exercise and lots of additional practice, my team is now at a point where they can gather records, create some or all of the splint and start the delivery process before I check the patient. The ultimate responsibility for patient care is mine, but the patient experience suffers if my team is not as smart as I am.

I have used this same framework in other ways and within other parts of my practice, too. For instance, my dental assistants are often asked, “how does it look?” following an x-ray. While it is my responsibility to read the x-ray and interpret what I see, it's the patient who suffers if my team doesn't understand what the x-ray says as well. Through training, my team learned to field questions and respond confidently with phrases like, “I believe Dr. Steinberg will be pleased.”

This same approach is great for the front office team. Since many doctors don't feel comfortable discussing finances or fees with patients, it's crucial that administrative staff have the knowledge to confidently present fees and make financial arrangements. This most often begins by understanding the what, why, and how of dental procedures through team meetings.

From one practice owner to another, I'll say this – it is in your best interest to get to know your team members' individual strengths and weaknesses. Once you do, your team will be driving the bus – and you get to go along for the ride.

I hope your journey takes you where you want to be. Good luck on your journey!

Carl E. Steinberg, D.D.S., M.A.G.D., L.L.S.R. (www.DentistryinPhiladelphia.com) is a member of Spear Visiting Faculty and a contributor to Spear Digest.