A culture of change
Recently at a workshop on practice management, I was struck by a discussion on team building. Often in our surgeries, we tend not to view our workplace as a Team Place. By this I simply mean that we work as part of the team. In some quarters there still tends to be a view that the dentist is single-handedly saving the nation, one tooth at a time! However, as we truly know, dentists and hygienists are entirely dependent on their dental surgery assistants/nurses, receptionists, practice managers and treatment co-ordinators (if they have them).
There is an array of people who, in some small ways and in some big ways, directly influence our ability as dentists to provide treatment and service to our patients. Think about our colleagues in the dental industry, our suppliers, waste management companies, dental laboratories. They all play a vital role in delivering good patient outcomes.
I would also argue that the term “our patients” refers to patients of our practice team and by that I mean the team of people I’ve listed above. This idea of team and workplace is central to good communication and clear, achievable work output.
One of the tenets of postgraduate study in healthcare management looks at the idea of culture in the workplace. Particularly, the work of Charles Handy (whom the Financial Times calls a “world-class management guru”) is very instructive for culture.
As any dentist will know, small groups are easier to participate in than larger ones. Participation increases commitment and increased interaction leads to increased sentiment. Our patients will all concur with this. By examining this from a culture perspective, it is sometimes instructive to look at the culture of our own surgeries.
Culture can be thought of in simple terms as “the way we have always done things here”. And if you think about that sentence and apply it to your practice, it makes sense. You’ve always opened at 9am and taken lunch at 1pm. You’ve always used laboratory X or supply company Y. You’ve always taken holidays in July and always closed on the Friday before Christmas. These are some common examples of how culture becomes engrained in how we run our surgeries.
In the main, culture is a bedrock on which we build successful practice. We do, however, need to ensure that our culture is one that is growing, advancing, rewarding and progressive. Such a culture leads to a positive work environment, a fun place to work. Fun places to work tend to be profitable places to work, as Apple and Google will tell you.
Culture, however, can sometimes be a challenge to change. If we are implementing a new cross-infection policy, changing our software or even putting a new card machine at the desk, change may prove difficult. Education and training are essential. And, like most changes in life, leading by example is the surest way to provide the best “how to” in getting a change over the line.
I have been delighted to see in recent years the increased number of “team events” catering for dentists with nurses and practice managers. As a profession, our cohesion in these teams can lead to better service to our patients, improved clinical outcomes and a healthier bottom line. To apply this to your own practices, think about how you would rate your surgery in terms of its ability to change. If you were to introduce a clinical change (formal cross-infection control reviews every three months) or practice management change (say, increased recall system), how would your practice fare? Would you lead the change?
What challenges would you face in implementation? This exercise can be instructive to highlight your surgery’s culture and will definitely assist in identifying areas where you as a team can build and hopefully make your practice the “apple” of your patients’ eyes!