Here’s something you might not know: my husband creates communication software that helps medical practices stay on time, and as his marketing manager, I thought it was ABOUT TIME (bad pun, *snort*) that I wrote an article about our behind-the-scenes passion. Ooh, that sounded honeymooney, but no, not that. I’m talking about the passion we both have to help people communicate better, and in the ten years since we launched the software we have helped thousands of offices – dental, medical, veterinary, optometry – who were plagued by the inability to move people quickly around their practices.
If you are well-aware that your office needs some improvements when it comes to knowing when patients arrive, when dentists need to get their BUTTS MOVING TOWARDS A HYGIENE CHECK, if you’d like to not have to ask “pretty please” any time you need an assistant to visit your operatory, or you just need to scream with your fingers to everyone in the practice because an appointment isn’t going well, I can help. Click here on this BlueNote Communicator link, or in the Sponsor box on the right. Please don’t send money or your Visa card number, just use the software in your practice for free for a month, and work with it to bring out a little of the magic that I’m going to spend the rest of this article talking about. You see, it’s the magic that’s really the most important here, not the way you make it, after all.
You probably already have some good work habits and routines in your practice, and you’ve realized that the efficiency you’ve gained from those routines gives you a feeling of having it all together. Until you realize that you don’t. This is because you are part of a group of people that are dependent upon one another to get stuff done. You each have your good moments and your weak ones, and sometimes you’re so focused on the details of your own job that it can be tough to remember that they must fit in seamlessly with everyone else’s details. Otherwise the patient ends up with a cold steak.
I’m going to pick up that random cold steak now and drop it into the metaphor of a dental office being like a fine culinary experience. Weird, yes, but work with me here. The inspiration for this article all started after I heard this radio story about mise-en-place, a French phrase used in the cooking arts that refers to the gathering and arranging of ingredients and tools needed beforehand. What struck me is that mise-en-place, for many people in culinary institutes, becomes the way they relate to the world. They organize not only their kitchens, but their closets, their desks, their entire lives around the philosophy that those things that are reached for most often are the most strategically placed. It becomes an obsession, almost. Here’s the part of the story that really grabbed my attention:
“A chef, because of mise-en-place, he’s always on time,” says Andre Soltner, dean of the International Culinary Center in New York City. He demands the same kind of efficiency outside his kitchen. “If I go to the doctor, and if he’s not ready, I leave. And that’s because of mise-en-place.”
Ouch. What a sucky reason to lose patients. The reality is that, if people are picky about the temperature of their steak, imagine how bent out of shape those same people would be about the quality of care they receive in a dental practice.
You’re probably thinking that you don’t want to have to deal with PITA patients like that because who really walks out on a doctor for being ten minutes late? But the problem isn’t them. We train our patients to expect mediocrity when it comes to being on time. The issue isn’t really about being late either. It’s about getting into that wonderful flow that decreases anxiety levels so that you actually enjoy being part of dentistry and taking care of people.
Busy kitchens have to orchestrate all of their actions to synchronize the plating of a dish without being chaotic. Every movement is deliberate and necessary, there’s no gravy on the floor, and it all has to happen behind the scenes. Diners only see the seamless completion of their meal as it is presented to them. That flawless execution means that, hey boss, we all did our jobs, and we did them together! How does this happen?
By having systems. You’ve probably got these already so I’m not going to play Practice Management Consultant with you today. What I am going to emphasize, though, is that, like a great kitchen, your practice can calmly see many patients at once without ever getting crazy, and that’s when you’ll know that your systems are working.
Dr. Michael Ling states this better than I ever could:
“In a restaurant there are no small jobs. Every person has their place in a bigger system. It doesn’t matter if I am working the grill and cook the steak perfectly if the system breaks down and the guy making the veg isn’t ready at the same time. The plate goes out cold and the customer is disappointed. And do you know why the guy cooking the steak can do it so effortlessly? Because he was set up by the teammates and the steps in the system that preceded putting the meat to the fire – the meat was butchered to the exact thickness he requires, it’s stored in the right place at the right temperature, his grill is clean and set up, and he knows from experience that if everything is set up properly, 3 minutes each side equals perfectly medium rare. If the grill wasn’t cleaned properly and doesn’t get hot enough, or the guy cutting the steak gets sloppy and starts cutting 2.25 inch pieces instead of 2.0 inches, the whole system falls apart.
“Your practice systems are the recipes of your ‘kitchen’. There is a little room for creativity and improvisation, but if you don’t follow your part of the recipe closely, then you let down everyone else counting on you and the dish fails. If you don’t communicate how your part of the dish is going, your teammates won’t have the opportunity to adjust, and the dish fails.
“So that is why I love taking my staff to dinner at restaurants with open kitchens whenever possible. It’s a great way to get the message across about teamwork, communication, attention to tiny details, and the fact that following rigid systems (or recipes) doesn’t necessarily mean doing things without passion and energy.
“Start with some small talk, joking around, have a few drinks to loosen everyone up. And then steer the conversation towards work, or how the conference was that day, what we liked or didn’t like, etc. And then I take control of the conversation and explain to them why we are there. How our office is a lot like this restaurant. Our patients have very high expectations, and there are a million moving parts that have to come together behind the scenes to pull it off. Patients never really appreciate how much we care and how hard we work, just like as restaurant customers we just want to enjoy our steak, we don’t give a sh— how hard it was to make it. As we watch the cooks work, I point out the different stations in the kitchen and how each of them is focused 90% on executing their portion of the dish to perfection, and 10% to what is going on around them and how their portion is going to fit with everyone else. They constantly communicate about where they are, what is coming next, and how much time they are going to need. If you don’t pay enough attention to what you are doing, your work gets sloppy. If you pay too much attention and get tunnel vision, your portion turns out perfectly, but you miss out on how it fits with everyone else, and ultimately the dish fails.
“I’ll look at one of the plates served to us, and ask one of my team how long it would take them to cook this dish at home. And why is it that this kitchen was able to push this dish out perfectly in only 10 minutes? It’s all about systems, being confident that everyone on the team is following the same systems, and having everything prepared and at your fingertips. Cooking is so much easier and faster if you have everything prepped and ready to go, mise-en-place as they say. Aren’t there ways that we as a dental team can prep for our day, instead of scrambling at the last second?
“The restaurant is another really good way of emphasizing the importance of teamwork, systems, communication, etc. And oh, by the way, you usually get a kick ass meal out of it too.”
What do I want you to get out of this article? Probably the realization that you have some systems in your practice that aren’t working. Change them. Bring in new ones. Discover what mise-en-place can do to close the gaps in your office flow and maybe you’ll discover your own magic recipe for greatness, served on a plate piled high with quality care for your patients, more time to do the things that matter, and maybe even a little extra income as the sprinkles.
The other takeaway? It’s time to invite everyone out to dinner.