Business person using tablet with financial data

How to create balance between running a successful business and focusing on patient care

Date: June 2022

Author: Dr Brian N. Feldman, DDS BA

It appears that some members of the current generation of dentists are shifting their focus from patient care to revenue generation. Depending on your perspective, here’s a short list of excuses or legitimate reasons for this trend:

  • Competition – New dentists, both domestic and foreign graduates, are flooding the market in many urban and even rural centres. There now seems to be a dental office on every corner in many cities and towns. Contrary to the traditional rules of supply and demand, fees for dental services are increasing, not decreasing. Advertising – via online websites and social media platforms – is also contributing to this pattern.

  • Costs – Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced dentists to spend money on PPE, office renovations, infection control and staff salaries, while simultaneously dealing, in many communities, with a reduced patient flow because of government-mandated and public health restrictions.

  • Corporate Management – The lure of corporate dentistry has enticed hundreds of dentists into a business model entirely different from traditional solo or small group practice. In some cases, dentists may face new pressure to produce, which may significantly alter diagnosis and treatment planning.

Dental schools and regulatory authorities still emphasize the primary duty of a dentist is to act in the patient’s best interests. Courses in ethics are a requirement for licensure in some jurisdictions – but are these lessons reaching their mark?

Let’s look at this situation from the other side. Patients seek dentists who are friendly, compassionate and warm – and put less focus on their technical skills. Patients want their dental experience to be comfortable, and they put a high premium on dentists who can deliver pain-free care.

The problem is that once trust and confidence are established, the power imbalance may tempt some dentists, struggling under severe financial pressure, to recommend more extensive treatment.

Because we cannot inject a carpule of integrity into the brain of everyday clinicians,  perhaps a return to basic principles is part of the solution. More than anything else, a patient wants to feel that a dentist truly and genuinely cares about providing optimal dental health as the number one goal. This is the key message that, if successfully communicated, will attract more new patients than any amount of advertising, special offers or discounts.

One way to achieve this goal is to give patients the advice and directions they are seeking. And be specific, by tailoring your conversation to the patient’s diagnosis. Here are some examples of this approach:

  • “Ms Smith, I’m concerned about the number of new cavities we’ve discovered. If this were me, here’s what I would do to help prevent this pattern from continuing. Starting today, use a high-concentration fluoride toothpaste like Colgate Prevident 5000 Plus. I’d also like you to read this pamphlet which explains the science behind this product and why I’ve found it to be so effective.”

  • “Mr Jones, I’m not happy about your bleeding gums – healthy gum tissue normally doesn’t bleed. In addition to the treatment you’ll be getting here, it’s important to help me manage your case, so here’s what I would do in your position. Beginning today, start using Colgate Total as your everyday toothpaste. The formula is scientifically proven to help reduce inflammation and help get gums to stop bleeding. I’ve seen its effect in many of my patients and I’d like you to give it a try. I think you will be pleased with the results.”

Showing patients how much you genuinely care about their well being is the key to both loyalty and new patient referrals. Simple, straightforward advice based on your actual clinical experience will go a long way to achieving that goal.


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