Most people would agree that the choice of your family’s medical and dental health provider is critical. Yet few families have a method by which this critical decision is made. There is a little known reality in the healthcare field that providers know but few others do that makes this decision worth some real consideration… there is a wide range of quality in the healthcare field. That is, healthcare is not a box of Cheerios. It’s not the same wherever you get it. The reality is, some providers are a lot better than others.
To begin with let’s review how most provider decisions are made.
How are most Dental providers picked?
- Friend referral- As a dental provider we love referrals. And most patients like their dentist and would recommend them. However, very few patients know much about dentistry and their rationale for recommendation may not be a good one for your family.
- Social media- Social media is a great place to go if you are seeking opinions. But an opinion is just that, it is not a method.
- Insurance- There is some merit in choosing a provider based on cost. However, your insurance company makes no attempt to evaluate quality of care. They are strictly concerned with their cost and the cheaper the better for them.
- Advertisement- An ad or website can be a good place to start an investigation but it is only a start.
How to choose a provider: What is most important to you?
The process starts with you. What is most important for you as a family? Typical factors may include:
- Quality of care
- Cost of care
- Services provided
- Technology available
- Experience of the dentist and dental team
- Environment of the office
I would strongly encourage you to rank these factors and any others that may apply. Your decision should reflect your needs as a family. Then the rest of the process begins.
Do your Homework:
Nobody likes homework but a little research goes a long way in making good choices. Here are some ways to do some investigation rather than simply asking for an opinion.
- Check the website: Most good providers will have an appealing website that introduces you to the office and it’s a great place to start. A good website will introduce the doctors and team members. It should also describe services provided. A really good website has video content, authentic before and after photos and a description of the technology utilized for your benefit. Also, look for a theme of the office and see if that fits your needs. Beware of the website with lots of pretty stock photos but little or no description of the people there and what they are really good at. It’s the people that matter.
- Services Provided: Not all dentists provide the same services and provide them at a high level. In fact, it is my experience that excellent providers try to be excellent at a few things, not everything. Examples: Does your provider see plenty of kids and is that important to you? If you ranked convenience as high on your list then having all family members under the same provider may be critical. If not, then sending the children to a pediatric specialist may make sense. Is one of your family members anxious or apprehensive about going to the dentist? In this case you may want to find a provider that provides IV sedation and can resolve a lot of dental issues at one visit. Remember that your family’s needs will change with time
- Reviews: Authentic reviews are a good source of evaluating a dental office. You can usually tell by reading them if the reviews are genuine. Look for reviews over a period of years and the more the better. Don’t be scared off by a lone bad review or two. Every office will get these. In fact it’s a great way to tell that the reviews are real. But, if there is a pattern of bad reviews, you may want to move on to the next provider.
- Cost: Dental care can be expensive and should be a consideration. If cost ranked very high on your list then an In-Network provider may be for you. Here are some things to know about In-Network plans:
- The In-Network provider has a contract with the insurance company where they agree to accept what the insurance company is willing to pay for a certain procedure. That can vary greatly among plans. Meaning that some In-Network plans will not be much different for your cost than non network provider and others will. You should know what your plan is.
- In-Network providers typically contract with an insurance company because they have a difficult time attracting patients without it. Unlike in medicine, many dental providers are not signed up with a plan, depending on what part of the country you live in.
- If your In-Network plan requires the dental provider to receive significantly less than market prices it can save you money but at a cost. Less revenue often means devoting less time to individual patients or less investment in education or technology. Corporate dentistry typically hires lower priced staff and dentists with higher turnover. Remember it is much cheaper to do dentistry once successfully than having to repeat it, regardless of the initial price.
- Experience: Experience matters. Most dental practitioners will tell you they are better dentists today than 10 years ago. Wouldn’t you want them to be? Same for the dental staff who most of your time is spent with. If a quality product and a quality office experience is important to you then choose a seasoned provider with a good track record.
- Education: Dental school or hygiene school is not the end of a provider’s education. Top providers are regularly attending top educational courses. They are often listed on their website. Excellent offices often will work with consultants as well to improve the patient’s experience. A provider that consistently attends high end continuing education is almost certainly a quality provider. It’s a great way to choose a high caliber office.
- Giving back: We all appreciate the generosity and good dental teams will often give back to their communities. While it may not qualify them as great dentists it certainly speaks to their character.
CONDUCT AN INTERVIEW
Once you have narrowed your choices make sure to take the time to ask questions. Usually this can be done on the phone. Here are some things to consider for that investigative first phone call:
- Does someone answer the phone and speak in a pleasant manner? Most of us would prefer to talk to an actual person and dentistry is a high customer service business. Expect the staff member to give you their undivided attention and take time to answer questions without sounding rushed or annoyed.
- Ask about the focus of the office. A good office, like any good business, will know its “mission statement”. Also ask about any particular services provided that may be important to you.
- Inquire about the experience, education, and technology. This includes not just the dentist but the hygienists and assistants as well. Keeping up with technology can be a good sign as well.
- Is the office an In-Network provider for your insurance? It’s always best to go with an office that provides a great service but choosing an in-network provider can help save healthcare dollars.
- How quickly can they see you? Good offices will block time for new patient appointments for a comprehensive exam or an emergency exam. It may take a few weeks for the initial comprehensive appointment but the same day or next day for emergency visits. You want an office that is busy but understands how to manage its schedule.
Go Take a tour
Well trained office staff will actually give you a tour of their facility. You will immediately get a feel for the atmosphere. Does it feel chaotic or confident? Are patients getting back on time and being treated as friends or numbers? Likely won’t take long to tell.
Ask an Expert
Finally, ask someone who really knows. If you know someone who has worked in the dental field in your community for a long time but you are not going to their office for whatever reason, ask them where they would go for their own dental care.
Choosing the appropriate dental provider is something that you may have to do only a couple of times in a lifetime. Take time to make a great choice and it will translate to exceptional dental care.