I often think the three dimensional chess set in Star Trek represents a perfect metaphor for dentistry. Mr. Spock ponders the logical horizontal planes – representing the concrete and largely known. Simultaneously, Dr. McCoy views the vertical planes containing the subjective, particularly the emotional aspects of practice…let’s call it the emotional dimension. This is the area where most of us received no formal training, and consequently must rely on our life experiences, memories, general advice from others, and intuition to navigate.
Those of us who practice health-centered, relationship-driven dentistry know that it is our emotional competencies which influence almost everything else. In this emotional dimension, if we are too anxious or distracted to carefully listen, observe, measure, accurately interpret, and effectively communicate what we are sensing, then we are immediately starting off from the wrong place.
Prospering in relationship-driven practice today is much like regularly winning at three dimensional chess, except our version requires two winners. Together, both patient and dentist must exit each treatment experience feeling like the time, energy, and resources expended were justified and that the outcome was truly “win-win”. When this is not the case, we may have an interest… a hobby…a pastime…a business or a profession at which we are technically masterful…. but we have failed to create a viable relationship-driven business model.
We can approach the challenge of succeeding at health-centered, relationship-driven dentistry in only one way. This is accomplished by employing a “top-down” developmental strategy. The dentist must first envision what the practice must look, feel, and function like. From there, decisions are made aligned with these principle-centered future memories. This process creates progressive movement toward the vision… learning, adapting, and refining along the way.
Steve Jobs used this approach during the creation of Apple products. He repeatedly combined his intuition with vision and then relentlessly pursued perfecting ideas…both functionally and emotionally. To Steve, how a phone felt and looked in the hand was as important as how it operated. He was even concerned about how technicians would feel when they serviced the inside of his products. I was reminded of this while changing the batteries in my Magic Mouse. Behind the sleek silver anodized aluminum back is a design-engineered “mini-experience” encased in high compression flat black acrylic polymer. Steve didn’t like the confusion associated with correctly orienting AA batteries up or down. His solution: Point them both up and have the negative electrodes fabricated out of beautifully polished steel instead of cheap flimsy springs. The outcome? Steve transformed changing batteries into an enjoyable and esthetically pleasing ritual – one that reminds his customer why Apple products are superior.
Now, let’s step back and look at your dental practice. Which aspects of your patient’s experience with your Care Team and facility consistently elicit positive feelings? I believe that the relentless pursuit of that question directly influences success in the relationship-driven dentistry game, as these “wow” moments are what set you apart.
Most other dentists use a bottom-up approach and possess only a vague idea of what they would like to create physically –and almost never – emotionally. Consequently, as opportunities and options present, they have difficulty discerning what best fits in, and they easily fall prey to the latest gizmo, and alleged game-changing technique. New pieces are force-fit with an end-result much like the 1956-1972 Cadillac Johnny Cash assembled in his song about stealing car parts while working at an automobile factory.
This later approach is also the one taken by large impersonal group practices. They represent your current and future competition, and they have deep pockets, huge marketing budgets, and extensive “horizontal plane” capabilities.
Today more than ever, the health-centered, relationship-driven practice represents a valuable and discernible alternative to the high-volume, low-cost options currently flooding the market. Many patients have needs which far exceed the capabilities of traditional practice models; and the knowledge, safety, and predictability created through truly helping relationships is the only pathway which establishes enough trust that the individual chooses to proceed with more complex appropriate care.
But it is only the emotionally mature dentist – comfortably operating in the emotional dimension -who can connect with these individuals and move them toward “yes”. L.D. Pankey referenced this truth when he said: “Know yourself, Know your patient, Know your work, and then Apply your knowledge”. He understood this disciplined approach would facilitate the development of a helping relationship; And that truly helping relationships are win-win almost every single time.