A smile about patient satisfaction

One of the goals of a comedian is to make the audience laugh while decreasing their resistance to discussing a topic that makes them feel uncomfortable. When an audience lowers its defenses, the ability to look honestly at oneself and those around us increases. When the "elephant" in a dental office is put on the table - whether the elephant is discrimination in the workplace or bullying employers/employees - a healthy workplace and successful dental practice are achieved.

BY ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH

One of the goals of a comedian is to make the audience laugh while decreasing their resistance to discussing a topic that makes them feel uncomfortable. When an audience lowers its defenses, the ability to look honestly at oneself and those around us increases. When the "elephant" in a dental office is put on the table - whether the elephant is discrimination in the workplace or bullying employers/employees - a healthy workplace and successful dental practice are achieved. Through the use of her persona Diana Directive, Lisa Newburger, LISW-S, brings to life in a humorous way the problems of discrimination in the dental practice. Her program is called, "What Do Your Dental Patients Really Think of You ... and What Can You Do to Find Your Job More Rewarding?"

A self-described "drama queen," Lisa's persona is a 22-year-old dental hygienist diva, Diana, who brings to life the problems associated with the many forms of discrimination in the dental practice. During the entertaining workshop, the information is presented through the eyes of the dental patient, which makes participants aware of their prejudices and how they treat patients. Participants in the program will:

• Identify key communication skills that will improve patient/employee satisfaction

• Identify personal prejudices that impact providing excellent patient care

• Discuss ways to make improvements in how patients are treated in the practice

• Create an action plan for the next steps to take after the workshop

Lisa believes that customer satisfaction isn't just about the patients, but also about the hygienist and dental team. It is a patient care issue. Turnover, open hostility, and passive/aggressive behaviors are frequently seen in dental practices. Dental teams often think their behaviors are hidden from patients, but in order to do that, they would all need to be great actors! The way teams treat one another and their patients can make the difference in the success of any dental practice.

During the past four years, Lisa experienced a personal journey that cost her $34,000 in TMD treatment. She shares her nightmare experiences in her program and in articles she's written for DentistryIQ and Dental Practice Management, from the patient's perspective. By bringing dental office issues that have been suppressed to the surface, the hygienists' and other team members' voices can be heard. Since Lisa is not selling a product or service, she commands an authentic presence. Her background as a licensed independent social worker supervisor provides her with the ability to assess, guide, and question dental teams, especially hygienists, on issues that matter most to them.

"What Your Patients Really Think of You ..." is a two-hour presentation given in what Lisa describes as PowerPoint in Presentation Zen Style. She loathes traditional PowerPoint presentations or when presenters "read" slides, so Lisa has mostly photos and graphics full of stimulating ideas that tell a joke or illustrate her point. She hates to stand behind a fixed podium and believes audiences want honesty, fun, knowledge, and to have time pass quickly. Her handouts are not what audiences expect, and include seek-to-find or crossword puzzles with content embedded in them.

Her goal is not to provide concrete answers in her handouts, because the answers come from the room full of experts and the program itself. Her programs are infused with small-group brainstorming sessions, large-group discussions, snowball fights, props, role-playing, and other aspects of accelerated learning. Audiences appreciate the involvement and real-life vignettes that are problem-solving exercises. Lisa presents information even prior to the program, when she sends participants a preprogram survey on SurveyMonkey. This allows her to gauge the audience and tailor the presentation to meet their needs.

Lisa's interest in dentistry sprung from purely selfish reasons. Since 2001, she has had her own dental nightmares with TMD treatments, crown lengthening, tissue grafts, endodontics, and two rounds of orthodontics. She has seen hygienists come and go from good practices and not-so-good practices. She has seen periodontists and oral surgeons do amazing things, and seen others show disdain for their employees. She was so disturbed by what she witnessed with all of the power struggles that occur within practices that she decided to become involved. She wanted to give team members, especially hygienists, a voice where they often are voiceless and powerless. Many team members play it smart politically by staying quiet about issues, but this causes a frightening turnover problem.

As a passionate, energetic, and committed person, Lisa is also concerned that so many Americans are without dental care. An article she wrote for DentistryIQ about Heather of California tells the story of Heather receiving $14,000 worth of pro bono dental treatments, which illustrates that there are many good dental professionals who care about people in need. Lisa uses her experiences and programs to enlighten dental professionals about patient access to care, as well as the daily office power struggles that can hinder that care.

During one of her presentations to a group of teenagers, Lisa recounted a recent event. She'd had her orthodontic bands removed shortly before, and had recently been on a boat with about 32 people. Most of the passengers had been drinking, but she had not. She was having a great time, even salsa dancing, when her retainer fell out. The teenagers thought that was hysterical, and Lisa turned it into a discussion of how one can respond to events that may be out of their control or embarrassing. People have the power to choose how they handle situations. It is okay to laugh at yourself and keep going. Lisa wants her audiences to laugh and understand the message from her presentation. If she were not a social worker, speaker, and writer, she would definitely be a comedian.

Lisa loves watching her audiences achieve the "ah-ha" moment during her presentations. She thinks that laughter is truly the best medicine for a number of issues, and that one of her greatest accomplishments occurred at a California Dental Assisting Teachers conference. The executive director and president of the association welcomed her with enormous warmth and support over an article Lisa had written that had really hit home for the CDTA members, "Mean Girls in the Workplace." Feedback like this keeps Lisa inspired to continue and fill the world with laughter.

For more information about Lisa or her programs, contact Lisa@discussdirectives.com.

Thought for the month: "There is little success when there is little laughter." - Andrew Carnegie RDH

This month's INeedCE course

Regular price is $59; with discount, ANFEB15, get 50% off for a price of $29.50. Valid through March 22, 2015.

Women's Health

Dental hygienists must be knowledgeable about women's oral and overall health. This course begins with a history of theories and research on the oral-systemic link going back to antiquity.

The author describes issues most closely associated with the oral environment, including preeclampsia, osteoporosis, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and lung disease. The majority of hygienists are women, and they spend more time with patients than other dental professionals. They are uniquely qualified to keep both female and male patients informed on oral-systemic links and contribute to individualized treatment planning.


ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at amrdh@aol.com.

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