Observe and Conquer


Having trouble recognizing the problems holding your practice back? Apply the scientific method to get
yourself on track.

OBSERVATION IS THE first step in the scientific method. Observe a problem, then form a hypothesis about it, followed by a test of the hypothesis, and so on. Most of us are familiar with the scientific method for problem solving; we’re comfortable with experimentation when it comes to products or clinical procedures. People, though? Not so much.

The nonprofit group Science Buddies describes the scientific method as a “way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments.” This sounds to me, frankly, like an ideal way to work through dental-practice management issues as well. Yet there’s one hiccup: How do we identify a problem we don’t know we have?

Most of us greatly value the research that goes into dental-product development. Yet we’re blissfully ignorant of research about doctor-patient relationships, psychology and even business — and therefore we often can’t recognize the poor communication that spurs patients not to accept treatment, or the money mismanagement that leads to wasted resources. We missed those cues — so the scientific method becomes a nullity.

Many dentists, I’ve found, don’t realize they have a problem until they stop making money. This is painful. With no cash in the coffers, the problems you have are now as obvious as a swollen canine space.

Fixing things requires change, and change is hard. So get out the first-aid kit. By this, I mean get some help: new supplies, new expertise. The very thought of asking for help stymies some doctors and leads them into further trouble — a prideful act that’s the last thing a wounded professional needs.

After 18 years in dentistry, I find great satisfaction in the times I asked for help. Between dental associations, dental study clubs and former classmates, help is out there. Will it always be free? No. Will every piece of advice be worth taking? No. But here are five things to remember:

  1. You’ll have to nurse your own wounds, too. It’s not purely someone else’s job.
  2.  Be mindful of who medicates you.
  3. Don’t swallow all the pills. But always be gracious to those who try to help.
  4. Put systems in place to alert you to the first sign of pain.
  5. Again, always ask for help. The worst thing any of us can do is suffer in silence.

If we employ our own philosophy of preventive medicine when it comes to managing our teams and our money, we’ll prevent unnecessary pain and problems. We chant our preventive mantras to our patients; it’s up to us to heed our own advice and apply these concepts to other areas of our lives.

Like our patients, though, sometimes we wait too long. We fail to observe a problem and then need to call for help. Well, do it — then move on with your life and your practice. You’ll be stronger for having done so, and your observation skills will improve — and the scientific method can once again triumph in the end.

DR. LISA KNOWLES has practiced for 16 years. She founded IntentionalDental
Consulting (IntentionalDental.com) to help dentists have more peace in their practices. She blogs at Beyond32Teeth.com.