Wow! A full front page spread, whatever have we done to deserve this.
The banner headline, front page spread of the Saturday edition of the Independent, Saturday would indicate that it was rather a slow day at the news desk. “The Great Dental Rip Off” screams the headline, although a more factual, but clearly less exciting headline and story would be “Consumer buys product that breaks after a year”. A disappointing result for the consumer, for sure, but hardly front page news of a national newspaper. (The scare tactic photo of drill and mask, shows very little consideration for genuinely nervous or phobic patients but we have come to expect this by now).
The inside article repeats the often stated but factually inaccurate comment “that patients are paying wildly differing costs for the same treatment”. THEY ARE NOT! The statement that “all crowns are the same” is as wrong as the statement ” all cars are the same”. Fees differ wildly because practices differ wildly in the amount of investment they put into to their facilities, their training, their staffs training,the laboratory they use (to make the crown), the materials used to make the crown, the cementing procedures to fit it, the after care they provide and the guarantees they provide with it. Clearly the crowns are not the same (although they may be used to do the same thing, in the same way that two different cars will) and the golden rule of buying applies – “you get what you pay for”. Dental surgeries can be accurately described as “Health Care Businesses”. The “Health Care” aspect means that we have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to provide treatment of a clinically acceptable standard, or above, but the “Business” aspect means that we must do so under the normal rules of profit and loss that apply to all businesses, regardless of what product or service they provide.
Any way enough grousing, lets get down to discussing the article, which does actually raise a very important issue, that of patient dissatisfaction and how they can resolve it. The article concentrated on the newly formed “Dental Complaints Service, set up in May 2006, which is a body concerned with private dentistry only, not NHS. This service is for patients who have a complaint about treatment that cannot be resolved directly with the dentist. This is a vital service and one that should have been set up a long time ago but it is one that no one should ever have to use. Every dentist is required to have a complaints system in place within their practice that is clearly worded and accessible to all patients, existing or prospective. All ethical, well intentioned dentists have one of these and stand by it.
Unfortunately it is probably true that the ones who have this procedure well developed within their practice are the ones who least need it. This sort of dentist will avoid virtually all need for the procedure by spending time listening to their patient’s wishes and providing detailed verbal and written explanations of treatment needs, alternatives, procedures, costs and expected outcomes. By working in this fashion the dentist and patient can collaborate together in the treatment, achieving shared goals that match the patients desires and budgets.
It is also sad truth that good dentistry done well can fail. Well informed patients, warned in advance of possible outcomes will accept this fact and the matter will resolved by repeating the procedure or choosing an alternative; no complaint procedure will be needed or considered. Dentistry carried out at StoneRock Dental Care can, and does, fail. Russell and I know this and deal with this as part of our normal working practice. We have a complaint procedure for all to see and use if they every feel the need and our management staff are fully compliant with it but it is not how we like to handle things. We prefer to minimise the risk by providing written costings and explanations ahead of treatment and by listening to our patients comments to make sure that we are providing the service that our patients want.
At StoneRock we make the following promises
- To listen to our patients wishes
- To provide detailed explanations of treatment needs, alternatives, costs and expected outcomes
- To provide a guarantee for all work completed, unless otherwise stated
- To respond promptly and appropriately to any negative comments or complaints with an aim to resolving things amicably within the practice
In a recent “Kitchen’s Nightmares” programme Gordon Ramsay said that at his restaurants his staff don’t listen to the positive comments, only the negative ones. I suspect that this is a central reason for his phenomenal success and useful lesson to all of us in any business.