Dr. John Meis on habits of highly successful dentists
Updated: Jan 4
How can you elevate your dental practice to become attractive to not just new patients, but also to retain your existing patients? What decisions can you make to improve your professional skills, bedside manner, and marketing your services?
To help answer those questions, we spoke to Dr. John Meis, a retired dentist of 26 years in the industry who practiced in Sioux City, Iowa, and now lives outside Scottsdale, Arizona. He’s the author of the 2011 book Why Are We Working Harder and Making Less Money? 11 Habits of Highly Successful Dentists which outlines some of the advice Muzeum Dental Refining is sharing with you in this post.
Muzeum Dental: So what’s the different between a good and great dentist? And what can dentists do to try to reach that level of success?
Dr. John Meis: It’s all about the dental health of patients. The best practices do the best jobs to improve the dental health of those they serve. After all, that’s what patients come to dentists for.
You want to look at your numbers. Productivity is great, but look at the ratio of comprehensive to limited exams. The greater number of comprehensive exams leads to a higher level of care.
Some practices fall into the bad habit to see patients on an emergency basis with limited exams and relying on medications, while practices trying to drive the dental health of patients forward are doing comprehensive exams and talking about everything that needs to be taken care of and moving patients closer to understanding what they need to do to ensure their mouth is healthy, stable and attractive.
MD: Can you share some examples from your book on the habits of highly successful dentists?
Dr. John Meis: So very frequently, dentists get focused on the wrong number. Many dentists complain they don’t have enough new patients, but the truth is they don’t have time to work with these new patients. They have a capacity problem. They can’t take care of the all the patients they have. We end up seeing this merry-go-round where new patients come on and that many are leaving at same rate because the dentist aren’t taking care of ones they have. Dentists make it harder on themselves when they chase new patients instead of working more, and earning more, on the patients they already are dealing with now.
Another example is fighting a major issue: many dentists suffer from micromanagement and feel the need to have their fingers in everything and feel pressured to to make all decisions in the office. Being a good delegator and teacher is a whole lot easier than trying to manage everything about a practice. Dentists need to employ office managers who can help run the business and make those nitpicky decisions that steal a lot of mental energy from dentists, who should just be focusing on dentistry.
MD: What about professional development? Should dentists be looking for ways to improve their on-the-job skills?
Dr. John Meis: Yes, that’s necessary. Dentistry can get routine and repetitive after some time which can make some dentists lose the passion and drive once they slip into a comfortable rhythm. If that happens, they should pick a procedure they don’t do, that they refer out to someone else, and bring that procedure into the office, such as oral surgery or cosmetic dentistry. Patients don’t like referrals because they have to add another relationship to their medical journey, and they prefer to stick with someone who they know and trust.
Also, all dentists should be working on their leadership skills. How can you lead and create a great vision and become a stronger leader to better lead your team and better improve the dental health of your patients?
MD: What are some ways dentists can work on their bedside manner and how they treat patients in the chair?
Dr. John Meis: This is something every dentist needs to do. We often go through compassion fatigue over time, and also some people are more empathetic than others. But it’s something you can get work to improve by asking patients for ways you can get better in this area. That can be through surveys and open-ended questions on how to they can feel more comfortable at your practice.
Another way is to solicit feedback from your staff. Tell them ‘I give you permission to let me know, not in front of the patient though, when I’m not coming across as compassionate.’ If you ask for that feedback, you might get some comments that sting, but the only appropriate response to your staff, in any case, is to reply with, ‘Thank you for letting me know about that.’
The third strategy to improve bedside manner is to set up audio or video recordings of patient visits and look back at the treatments yourself. How did you come into the room? What was your body language like? Were you hurried or stressed or distracted? Did you take time to connect with the patient on the way in and on the way out?
MD: Finally, the pandemic has undoubtedly affected all areas of health care, so what advice do you have for dental practices seeking ways to reassure patients about their safety measures?
Dr. John Meis: First, let’s look at the facts: At this point, I’m not aware of a single COVID-19 cluster that originated from a dental office. But what we’re seeing across the US and Canada now are spiking case numbers which may provoke more shutdowns. Some offices may need to close, but it’s important for offices to reassure patients that this isn’t forever, and to send a message of calm confidence.
The best practices I’ve seen have been managing patient communications effectively by creating a video of the new policies in their office, such as signage and waiting room protocol and new PPE worn by everyone at the office. Then they put that video on their Facebook Page and website and send out a mass email to alert patients to that short video so they can see how the practice is looking out for the safety of their patients.
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