Chasing the whale

July 18, 2014
The top three issues facing the future of the dental practice, according to many experts, are new patients, retention, and treatment planning.

By Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH

The top three issues facing the future of the dental practice, according to many experts, are new patients, retention, and treatment planning. Of these, retention (recall/recare) is the one that most directly affects both the hygienist and the overall practice. For many years, "recall" has been initiated by contacting patients through postcards, letters, and phone calls.

This recall/recare system has not been effective in producing sufficient retention of patients in today's economy. With that in mind, T. Andre Shirdan has created a program titled, "Stat-Ck: Recall Sanity," that provides dental teams with a better method of recall and retention for hygiene patients, as well as for growth in the restorative department. It has been estimated that 40% to 60% of restorative care comes from the hygiene chair.


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When the efforts that the office puts into its current recare system fail to work, time could be better served in creating true periodontal protocols, effective verbal skills, consistent treatment planning, and exceptional customer service, which have been shown to increase patient case acceptance. By developing a structured hygiene program that is consistent with the practice philosophy of care, conceived from a purely clinical and not a financial viewpoint, a consistent customer service experience is provided to all patients. One objective of Andre's program is to enable practices to create a predictable outcome to recare based on acceptance of care, consistent treatment planning, and exceptional customer service.

The "Stat-Ck: Recall Sanity" program is part of an ongoing series of courses that Andre presents, including "Recall: If Disney Did It, Solving the Periodontal Puzzle," "The Business of Dentistry and Un-blocking Scheduling." Andre's programs are presented in a lecture format using PowerPoint. He provides handouts, and all course materials are available in a digital format. His interactive, highly energetic programs are reflective of Andre's personality, one that draws you in to want to learn as much as you can about a topic. Course evaluations describe his programs as very enthusiastic, energetic, and presented in an interesting fashion that pumps the audience up!

Andre came into the dental profession with a background in art and design after spending time in high-end retail. High-end retail is a field that spends its time fishing for whales while managing to catch lots of minnows. During his time in retail, Andre would expect his regular customers to come to the retail store each season and spend upwards of $10,000 on a full wardrobe. Other customers would buy a pair of shoes for $400 or a $200 silk scarf.

The level of service that he provided to each individual customer was exactly the same. All customers were offered Perrier water in crystal glasses while they shopped or purchases were gift-wrapped so that they could experience a holiday-like experience when they returned home.

The marriage of his sister to their family dentist changed the course of his life. His new brother-in-law asked him to help "change" his practice and assist him with the "business of dentistry." Andre was immediately hooked on dentistry. The bulk of his day, however, was spent fishing for "minnows," the recare/recall patients, while "whales" — the crown and bridge or implant patients — floated by. It frustrated him and didn't make sense. Dental gurus, consultants, and journal articles kept repeating the mantra, "A good front desk person should depend on stickers on charts to see who was overdue" or that he should "run reports of patients who had a prophy months ago and send them a Garfield postcard to reactivate them," or take that report and call those who had not responded to Garfield's smiling face.

This process went against everything he knew and had experienced about customer retention. He felt that as the gate-keeper of the practice that he was already doing his job. The phone rang regularly, patients came for their appointments, and hygiene was scheduled. But the practice was missing the whales while focusing on the minnows. He needed to shift his focus and get back to the basics of what he had learned from Yves St. Laurent and the Disney Institute. Fish for whales! Does Disney need to really market to new parents? That customer is dying to get to Disney. From the moment a child is born, many parents try to figure out the "best" time take the child to the Magic Kingdom. What about newlyweds, family reunions, business conferences? Disney knows those are "whales" and spends time and marketing focusing on the larger picture rather than the smaller.

Andre felt that it should be the same with dentistry. His newfound focus changed the practice. As his brother-in-law's practice changed, other dentists began asking Andre for help with changing their practices. From there, he formed Systems Practice Management, a dental consulting firm and became a partner in other dental research and consulting firms. Andre currently works a technology advisor for Patterson Dental Company. 2014 marks his 25th year in dentistry. Although not a clinician, he has been involved in the New Era Dental Society of Pennsylvania, a local affiliate of the National Dental Association.

In 2002 Andre, in association with periodontist Neil R. Gottehrer, DDS, developed the Stat-Ck System. Stat-Ck allows dentists and hygienists a way to predictably treat and manage patients with 4-6mm of pocketing. Designed similarly to the PSR screening tool developed by the ADA in 1992, the Stat-Ck System goes farther and makes it easier for the patient to understand the need for periodontal treatments. Where the PSR was graded in sextants and numbers, Stat-Ck provided consumer-oriented information by quadrants with letter grades from A-F, which makes it easier for patients to understand consequences of disease and the clinician with a more consistent treatment routine.

Andre has always been concerned about the underutilization of periodontal therapies. Stat-Ck has been featured in several peer-reviewed publications and been used by hundreds of practices. With Stat-Ck, Andre has been privileged to collaborate with some of the best minds in periodontal medicine to create a program that worked clinically and excited patients to follow-through with their care.

Beyond periodontal education, Andre is passionate about his family. He spends countless hours researching genealogy. He describes himself with his consulting company's motto: personal service, outstanding results.

Andre's motivational style and personality engages any audience to want to experience the best that dentistry has to offer. He challenges teams by asking when was the last time they ran reports on who had endodontics but not the prosthetics, or when was the last time a full denture patient was seen in the practice? He enables teams to imagine having conversations with these patients about prosthetics or implant-supported dentures. Andre wants every practice to not waste time chasing minnows, but rather seeing the whales right behind them and to be ready to grab them with the best customer service dentistry has to offer.

For more information about Andre or his programs, contact him at [email protected] or (484) 437-5562.

Thought for the month:
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. It's kind of fun to do the impossible. — Walt Disney

July's discounted course is "CDC Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings: Looking Ahead to 2015." RDH magazine readers will receive a 50% discount when using the ANJULY14 promo code. With the code, the course fee is $29.50 with discount, and will remain available until Aug. 15, 2014.

CDC Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings: Looking Ahead to 2015
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remains the prominent government agency for infection control guidelines within the United States. The existing document, "Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings," was published in 2003 and is currently recognized by dental personnel in all dental health-care settings. The CDC is currently updating and undertaking a limited revision to be released in 2015.

Until recently, these proposed changes remained unknown to the dental community at large. At the 2013 Organization for Safety and Prevention Symposium, proposed modifications of CDC guidelines were introduced and discussed. These potential revisions are the basis of this course. Newly identified infection control risks, potential interventions, and infection control equipment updates will be addressed. Course participants are encouraged to review the CDC updated guidelines in its entirety upon release in 2015.

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 [email protected].

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