I am not interchangeable, temporary or disposable. And no business, or for that matter government or person, shall treat me as such. Furthermore, I shall never treat my patients that way. My patients are never interchangeable to me.
The current problem with the corporate (and governmental) "More-MORE-MOORRRRE!!!" mindset is that they've screwed up by treating us as interchangeable and temporary and disposable for so long that there isn't any "More" to be had from us. They don't deserve our "More", and we're starting to realize that, and are directing our precious Attention elsewhere.
Greedy people are less interesting than generous people.
And in a world of tremendous choice and clutter, where our precious Attention is vied for by more communication channels than ever before in human history, we are able now to pay Attention to what interests us. It's not like in the old days when powerful gatekeepers of information reigned, where, more often than not, someone else was able to tell us what to pay Attention to. Now, we have near-infinite choice. Now, more than ever, we get to decide who and what gets our Attention.
Ergo, generosity is going to become more and more valuable as time goes on. Because it's interesting.
We've done some advertising... and much of it fails. Some works, much fails. That's how the world has changed, and really it's probably a good thing. As Seth Godin points out in several of his books, particularly in The Purple Cow and Tribes, media has exploded and consumers have never been more distracted, overloaded, selfish and less inclined to look at ads of any sort. The effect is compounded by the fact that, as advertising becomes less effective all the time, many marketers feel it necessary to yell at us louder and louder in more and more intrusive ways until we break.
Except we won't.
Still, as I frequently interact with young dentists, through teaching in my former residency and other venues, and occasionally check what's going on in a national student/young doctor online forum, I see a great deal of concern, bordering on fear, of corporate dentistry. Walmart may even get involved in retail teeth. On another end of the spectrum, some folks are mightily impressed by the dental practice that advertises heavily, and seems to be making a huge gross. That situation is often that one owner doctor has a legion of poorly paid associate dentists and even less compensated staff. It's the factory model of business. And the ad copy almost always reads like this: "Look at me! I do the prettiest veneers in town! You NEED veneers, you know. So lookatme-lookatme-lookatmeeeeeee!"
Is this what the modern consumer wants from a medical experience? Some folks are lagging behind, it's true, but many people have had a long hard look into The Abyss of our highly uncertain economy. We've lost retirement funds, jobs, even houses. To the extent that we have disposable income, we are looking for two vital things: Certainty, and Connection. Simple, honest, true human Connection.
A fun pair of examples happened the other day. One patient, in for his six month recall, told me he had taken a leave of absence from work and was going back to South Africa for a few months, to be with family for a more extended time than usual. Having had a number of professors in school from South Africa, a number of whom are now esteemed colleagues, I've always held an interest in the place. So I asked, "Where?" At the same time, I put up Google Maps on our operatory computer and we chatted briefly about the climate, culture, and food of his homeland. He was so pleased that I took an interest in his background, and I was glad to know more about a place I was always interested in but have never visited.
Just a bit later that day another patient told me how she was going back to Greece "for a month this year; I'm old enough where a week isn't enough anymore!" Oh, man, that was cute. And we looked at maps yet again; she was delighted that I showed her her hometown; we even found her family house! We both remarked how even in small villages, the houses all look new; there must be a lot of new construction even in this most ancient of cultures. I demonstrated how easy it is to find famous buildings like The Parthenon by satellite if you know where to look; I do believe that I've started my patient on a new hobby.
Of course, many of our interactions with patients are far more medically relevant than connecting over hometowns, as fun as that is. Over the years we've frequently noticed something amiss in a patient's health and have pointed many patients towards seeking a medical diagnosis early in the progression of some disease process. At times, this has saved them untold difficulty. We've managed early referral for diabetes diagnosis far more than once, for example. This vigilance leverages the fact that some people come in to us at six month intervals like clockwork, but may not have seen an internal medicine doctor or a dermatologist or an opthamologist in a very long time. It also leverages the fact that many dentists listen to their patients for longer intervals of time than some of the hyper-busy M.D.'s in our health care system do.
And that's an interesting point. I've heard stories and seen stats on how little doctors listen to their patients these days, and how poor a medical visit can be from a "customer service" perspective. Yet in my own recent experiences, as well as those of family, I find the opposite to be true. My internist listens and chats and makes sure that things are going well for me. My dermatologist recently removed something rather dangerous from my skin and explained things beautifully. After a single kidney stone caused me unreasonable pain and trouble two years ago, I see a urologist who helps me prevent such occurrences in future and, again, he and his whole practice make me feel like the most special patient in the world every time I go.
Anyone reading this post has probably had both kinds of medical experiences, the superb and the unsatisfying, if not downright dangerous, ones.
We now live in an era of incredible choice. If there's a job to do, you can always get more than one person to do it for you, in fact there are probably hundreds of choices. There is really no reason to remain with dental or medical practices that treat us poorly when, all across the United States, there are dentists and doctors who care, who listen, and who provide Certainty and Connection for their treasured patients.
Once you meet them, you can tell who they are. And it has nothing to do with those ads. An ad isn't necessarily a sign of trouble, far from it. An ad might point you towards a wonderful practice. It may point out some valuable product or service that will benefit you greatly. We have a current ad that brings attention to our In-House dental insurance program, which is meant to increase affordability of dental care, especially preventive care, in these tough economic times. So far, it has been universally well recieved.
What I wish to say is that an ad backed up by Connection and meaningful interactions when it comes to your health is a valuable arrow that can point you to something beneficial. And an ad that screams "Me! Me! Me!" about the advertiser has very nearly become a signal to stay away from that entity entirely.
I'd like to close with a blog post from Seth Godin; I view it as highly important and thought-provoking:
Every treatment that I've ever done in my entire dental career has been as beautiful and cosmetic as I can make it, given the patient's circumstances and the technology of the time.
That doesn't mean I'm a "cosmetic dentist."
Have a look at this case (which is 20 years old and predates me!):
A dentist who practices cosmetically, with patients' oral health as the most vital goal, would lighten this patient's teeth if the patient desired that, and then restore those two front teeth with a new restoration that: matched the surrounding teeth in color and opacity, was symmetrical, fit within the arch, and gained better health of the gums, among other things.
An aggressive "cosmetic dentist" might suggest (read: present as the only reasonable treatment) a restoration for these two teeth that was as white and opaque as a sample of toilet bowl porcelain, and also veneers for at least the surrounding six teeth, three on a side, making a restoration of eight teeth in all. Hey, that way, they'd all match, right?
Caveat Emptor. Here are two principles for you, the dental consumer, to be guided by when it comes to esthetics:
-Every treatment should be based on sound biological principles and designed to promote oral health; this can be completely consistent with beautiful esthetics.
-Excellent dentistry is cosmetic dentistry; and yet there are times when those who present themselves as a "cosmetic dentist" are going to be aggressive in their approach. Understanding the distinction will protect you.