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Time to get serious about dentistry in your veterinary practice?

Posted in Festival of All Things Dental @ Jan 30th 2014 - By Dr Gary Turnbull, East Port Veterinary Hospital
Dr Gary Turnbull Blog 1

Ok, so you’ve decided it’s time to get serious about dentistry in your veterinary practice.

It's time to start a dental “program”. Before you let loose on the general public (your clientele) there are a few important boxes that need to be ticked. This holds true for any program that you care to consider, and in fact for every single change you wish to make within your practice.

Wisdom from learning the hard way

To help illustrate the salient points I’ll share with you some wisdom from learning the hard way.

My first attempt to initiate a new approach to dentistry took shape in 2008. As I reflect on my own experience, I realise that I broke every fundamental rule in the Leadership playbook. At the time I thought it was pretty straight forward and it looked something like this:

  1. We’re going to start a new dental program because there is a significant financial opportunity and let’s not forget this is a business. At the end of the day our purpose is to make a profit.
  2. This is how we will do it....a blow by blow account of all aspects presented to the team by yours truly.
  3. The equipment and skills we have will do for now, we’re starting next week.
  4. Every month we exceed 40 dentals, the team gets taken out to dinner at a restaurant of their choice. A little incentive just to make sure they’re motivated.

Over the past 4 years I have significantly refined the program. Only through the implementation of sound Leadership principles has it become a success. So successful in fact I was invited to present “Goldmine Dentistry” to Banfield Petcare in Portland Oregon November last year. And to put some numbers to it, we now perform 600 dental cases per year, accounting for approximately 8% of our total turnover.

Looking back, there were two critical errors in judgement and execution on my part; a failure to recognise and articulate the true purpose of the program and a system of motivation that was inherently flawed.

So let’s examine my failings in a little more detail.

At the inception of any new program, a logical starting point is to motivate the team. Let’s face it, whether you’re the practice owner, manager, gun practitioner or head nurse, you can’t do it on your own.  As tempting as it may be to offer a reward, provide an incentive for great measurable results (as I did)....don’t do it! Research has demonstrated many times over that apart from the most basic non-cognitive functions, financial incentives do not enhance performance. To the contrary, they actually worsen results.

If you want to motivate your team into action, the first step is to focus on the ‘why’.

This concept pops up time and again and it’s all about inspiring people. We are inherently adept at articulating what we want done and how to do it. We put our logical, analytical brain (neocortex) into gear and provide all facts and figures, features and benefits. Our team members digest this information which is great but unfortunately it just doesn’t move them. Why not? We’re talking to the wrong part of their brain. You see, we actually make decisions with our limbic brain, the part that controls emotions and is responsible for decision making and in fact all human behaviour.  The way to tap into people emotionally is to start not with what we are doing but rather why we are doing it.

Now when it comes to dentistry this is a no-brainer. Speaking with veterinary professionals all over the country about their mission, invariably I hear people committed to promoting and practising ‘Gold Standards’. When it comes to companion animal dentistry, those standards are developed and published by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). AAHA guidelines provide us with comprehensive recommendations for dental care including the need for annual oral examinations for all patients performed under general anaesthesia (the only way a thorough examination can be performed!). So the “why” box is ticked for us. The only way to uphold Gold Standards is to rethink our dentistry and start giving it a lot more attention from a preventative perspective.

I should add at this point, the why is never about money. Profit is a result of what we do, but never the reason why we do it.

The second secret to successful team motivation is autonomy.

I know I’ve been guilty in the past of telling my team what I want done, and then proceeded to tell them exactly how to do it. There’s a few flaws with this approach. First of all, I’m not the smartest and definitely not the most creative person in the room when our team gets together. In fact, the more I take a back seat and keep my mouth shut, the faster the magic happens. Secondly, I’m not a receptionist, or a nurse, or a manager, so who am I to tell them how to do their job? Doesn’t mean I don’t have control. Autonomy is all about clearly defining the outcome you desire and then letting the team decide how they will get there. It gives them ownership of the situation and immediately starts to create accountability as well.

Finally, to be able to hold our team accountable for executing and maintaining a dental program, we must first ensure they are adequately resourced by way of education, training, equipment and time. I recall my undergraduate dental training consisted of 2 lectures given by the head of surgery!! Although things have improved considerably, I find many practitioners don’t like dentistry simply because they are not confident in what they are doing. The AVA conference dental wet labs are a great place to start if this is an issue. Personally I have found the veterinary dental community to be extremely generous in sharing their wisdom and expertise.

You're going to need the right equipment

If you haven’t already, you will also need to invest in a veterinary dental suite, comprehensive range of hand instruments (sharpened daily!) and yes intraoral radiography. Without dental radiographs you are sabotaging your purpose of practicing Gold Standards.

And don’t forget time.

Once you start routinely radiographing your patients and appreciate all the pathology you’ve been missing for years your workflow patterns will change. We frequently find dental cases take 1 – 1 ½ hours to complete. You will need to ensure you have adequate human resources and enough hours in the day to cope with this.

It is beyond the scope of this article to address all of the Leadership principles that need to be applied for success with your dental program…….I could write for days! However getting the team motivated and creating some accountability is a great place to start.

If you have any questions or comments for Gary just add them into the comments section below

About Gary

Dr Gary Turnbull is the managing director of the Lincoln Institute, a boutique leadership development company delivering facilitated training and coaching to a broad range of industries including the veterinary profession.

He is a highly recognised speaker and presenter in the fields of veterinary practice management and leadership, veterinary business models and life balance strategies.

Gary developed the Goldmine Dental Program which he has presented internationally. He is also the director of the East Port Veterinary Hospital, a multi-award winning ASAVA accredited Hospital of Excellence on the mid-north coast of NSW. 




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