10 Reasons Why My Patients Love Me

by Barry Polansky on December 10, 2011 · 14 comments

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Does he hate the dentist?

Does he hate the dentist?

A few weeks ago a blog post ran wild on the Internet.  It was written by a young dentist who had recently left the field and wrote about 10 of her frustrations with patients.  The post went viral because there was a lot of truth in what she wrote.  Check out the post.

I laughed along with most patients and dentists.  For years we have been the brunt of comedians and the media who portray us as dullards who just inflict pain.  Some of the comments on the blog post were actually nasty.  There is no doubt that the image of dentists could use a facelift.  But what really interested me about the post was a comment I read on Frank Spear’s blog, by the author herself.

In the comment she claimed that she never really liked dentistry, and that was the reason why she left.  For that, I commend her courageous decision.  Later in the comment  she said she even took Pankey courses,  “which I loved, to try to help myself. In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

I will admit that having a successful career in any profession requires at least liking what you do.  I remember being thirty six years old and wanting to walk away from dentistry because of some of the same frustrations listed in the blog post.  Instead, maybe because I come from a different generation, I didn’t.  But I certainly can identify with the frustrations.

So many dentists try to cope with the issues by applying practice management principles…learning communication and language skills as well.  What I really feel helped me the most was developing a philosophy…no, more of a mindset, or if you can handle the word…an attitude toward life and work.  From that mindset, a culture developed, and I felt as if I had more control.  And when I stopped blaming the profession and patients…things changed.

I owe a lot of that change to the Pankey Institute and Dr. Peter Dawson.  I studied and applied the principles…the behavioral and philosophic ones were the ones that changed everything.  And today…my patients love me.

I know because they tell me.  Yep…they say it right out loud…to my face, to my staff, to their friends, online and offline.

Sure, there are those who don’t like me…but they are not in my practice anymore.

So here is my list of 10 reasons my patients love me:

  1. Do you know what TAO of dentistry stands for?  Trust, Appreciation and Ownership.  I spend a lot of time getting to know my patients.  By spending time up front we both get to know if we are a match.  Is there mutual trust?  Trust is a 2 way street.  Some of Laura’s frustrations concerned patients who cancelled at the last second or came in with plaque all over their teeth.  Does that happen?  Sure.  It used to really piss me off too.  These days our patients show a higher degree of respect because of the trust that is built early on in the relationship.
  2. My patients really appreciate what we do for them.  Not only do they appreciate the effort to provide the best quality we are able to do, but they appreciate us as human beings who care about us as we care about them.  We know them all…just like in the TV show Cheers…our practice is a place where everyone knows your name.  Our patients really are family.
  3. My patients own their problems.  We don’t deal in supervised neglect (it’s part of our culture).  When we tell a patient they need treatment it usually gets done.  It may not be the exact treatment we recommend but at least they don’t ignore our  suggestion.  They believe us because their is trust.
  4. We are totally committed to their well-being.  We are other-focused, and we preach that at staff meetings.  The other day day a patient came in with a fractured root.  It looked like an implant would be necessary.  Later on that day, I was thinking out of the box and called the specialist to see if he could perform an alternate procedure to remove the root tip (apical third), and save the tooth.  I called the patient, made no promises, but she was so thankful that I heard her say…I love you.
  5. My patients understand the cost of dentistry.  We address financial issues up front.  We agree that dentistry can be expensive and we do our best to hold their costs down.  We work with patients and use time and sequencing to appropriately treat our patients.  Money is the elephant in the room…expose it and address the issues early.  We also like to remind our patients years after restoring their teeth how much benefit they have received.  Gladys, our 98 year patient who I restored while she was in her eighties constantly reminds us what a great decision it was for her to fix her teeth.  All of her friends wear dentures (probably hate their dentist too).  We love Gladys and she loves us.
  6. I mentioned earlier that we are other focused.  In other words the only agenda we have is the welfare of our patients.  We understand dentistry is a business but we also understand that if we put our patients first, the business takes care of itself.  Ins tudy after study on the quality of service, people mention dependability, reliability, assuredness and empathy way before the glitz and glamour of the physical office.  Our patients love us because they can depend on us.
  7. Our patients love us because we respect their time.  We  never over-schedule or double book.  We know how to schedule productively without worrying about cancellations.  Do we get cancellations?  Sure, but it’s not a problem because it’s not common.  The Law of Reciprocity always works.  If you respect their time they will respect your time.  By the was reciprocity comes into play when you take the time to listen to your patients…they will listen to you.
  8. Our patients love us because they know we are painless.  In this day and age there is no reason why a patient should feel pain.  Once they know they are safe (and they trust), they will become much more cooperative.  There is a physical response to fear…tight muscles, enlarged tongue and ropy saliva are just a few, not to mention fidgeting.  The blog post suggested patients don’t cooperate…they will if they trust you won’t hurt them.
  9. They love us because they can be assured of our quality.  They know we only use the best…specialists, labs, products.  They know we stay on the cutting edge of dentistry with the best in continuing education.
  10. Last but not least and maybe the most important is that our practice is run with an attitude of optimism.  To me this is what I find so wrong with the blog post.  Although it was written with tongue in cheek…I find way too much pessimism and cynicism in dentistry today.  Optimism fills the practice with hope for the future.  Our patients feel hopeful about their health…secure that they will keep their teeth.  “No worries.”  as they say these days.  What surprises me is that the post’s author claims she took courses at the Pankey Institute but it wasn’t enough.  When I went to the Institute…what I saw there from the faculty was optimism.  I saw that and brought it back to my practice to replace the burnout, cynicism and depression.  I used to hear the same, “I hate the dentist” comments, but I ignore them.  I stopped taking things personally and looked at some of those “patients who hate the dentist” as temporary inconveniences…until it all passed.

Chris Peterson, a psychologist from the University of Michigan and one of the founders of positive psychology says that positive institutions facilitate the development and display of positive traits, which in turn facilitate positive subjective experiences.

In the end that positive culture and the optimistic attitudes that go along with it may be the biggest reason why my patients love our practice.

I welcome your comments on this very important topic—maybe we can help patients to understand that it is much better to love than to hate.


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