Sometimes things just don’t go your way no matter your intentions or your actions!
The new dental reality encompasses more than just the way we orthodontists do business. It has a great deal to do with the way we interact with consumers, customers, patients and the public in general. We humans have always held high opinions of our opinions (yours truly being no exception!) but the ability to project our thoughts, perception and world view has increased exponentially. Generally this is a good thing – well, truly it’s always a good thing because everyone having an equal voice and the ability to project it is universally a great thing – but it can run contrary to our plans from time to time. What am I taking about? I’m talking about the modern version of being Punked or on Candid Camera – occasions when the interactions between the orthodontic practices and the rest of the world are less than ideal or perceived to be so and you and your team are front and center under unprecedented scrutiny. This happens to all of us from time to time and to one degree or another and is likely to be reported, recorded, broadcast and amplified. It’s just the way of the world. It’s almost impossible to put the well being of patients first, look after team members, run a good business AND avoid ever having an unpleasant, public interaction online. So what can we do? Two old sayings come to mind.
“Knowing is half the battle”.
“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”.
Let’s go through a few points to help the modern orthodontist prepare for the inevitable:
  1. If you are relatively new to the practice of orthodontics you’re going to get to learn a lot of things the hard way. There are tons of scenarios out there that you haven’t experienced, heard of or even imagined. Know this and do your best. Utilize FB groups to ask advice but understand who is giving advice before you implement. Generally you want to follow the successful… If you’re experienced then life as an orthodontist is generally much easier BUT there will still be situations you’d never even imagined happening. If you’ve got a great poker face perhaps you can bluff your way through. If you don’t (I don’t) then you’ll have to endure the new learning experience, endure the consequences and file it away so hopefully you’re prepared the next time it happens. Showing annoyance in these situations is not useful but we are human beings after all.
  2. Sometimes you’ll run into a person who is better at the game of human interaction than you are and hell bent on proving that to you. It’s to be expected if you see enough patients! Some of these folks have had a bad day, some have an axe to grind, some have problems at home and some do it just because… When this happens, do your best to endure the encounter, take care of the patient in question and help them find another practice. “You cannot please everyone no matter how hard you try!” as my wife is fond of saying.
  3. Sometimes you’ll encounter the no win situation and discover that no matter what you do, things will not turn out well. Whether you inform the patient/parent/relative that they need to find another orthodontists because of trust/behavior/attitude/etc. issues or you decide to suck it up and deal with the abuse for 2-3 years you lose! Make your decision and stick to it. I prefer to rip off the bandaid personally because I cannot stand to see my staff abused. Bridget likes to say that “95% of problems are caused by 5% of people”. We try very hard to identify these folks before they do too much damage but that’s not always possible.
  4. Protect your team members. When you run into an issue be sure to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Picking on Ortho staff is like picking on a waiter or bar tender and there is nothing heroic in taking advantage of or bullying someone who can’t fight back. Doctor you need to make sure your team is not abused at all costs.
  5. Install really good video/audio recording devices in all areas of your office that you interact with patients. You’ll be very happy you have that video/audio if/when push comes to shove.
  6. If you make a mistake, admit it. None of us is perfect. Goodness knows I’ve made plenty of mistakes but one of my big advantages in life is my willingness to admit my errors and make amends. Carrying that stuff around is a waste of time when you can just make it right and move on!
  7. Make “doing good” your default setting. If you see an opportunity to take care of another human being then take it! Every single time! When I find out about tough family situation or any other circumstance where doing braces for free can help, I do! Braces are a want not a need but it sure can improve someone’s attitude and outlook on life to get a great new smile! A track record of doing well by doing good is always the best defense.
  8. Logic rarely applies. When set upon by someone determined to ruin your day it is rarely wise to point out your experience, your degrees, your good deeds, your happy patients or your track record. They don’t care. They only care about being right and being heard. In this forum it’s usually best to publicly admit when you’re wrong and keep your own council (and your mouth shut) when the accusations are baseless. Be happy in your family, yourself, your life and try not to begrudge those who don’t know you but defame you. Don’t let them live in your head rent free for long! Hug your spouse and your kids and go do something fun together! The good news is that these folks treat everyone this way and are known for doing so. Only your competitors/detractors will take baseless accusations seriously because it reinforces their world view. Everyone else will see them for what they are.
  9. Don’t make snap decisions! Take some time and consider your options. Don’t rush to “do something”… especially when you are really old or your blood sugar is low! 🙂
  10. Don’t make policy based on outliers. The temptation is always to “ban parents and non patients from the clinic” or to “get rid of that stupid Facebook page” or “ban staff from using cell phones” or “to do everything yourself so it’s done properly” but don’t. If you are taking care of patients and your business is running well and your team is happy just keep doing what you do, learn from these exciting interludes and move forward.
Life is grand. We live in an awesome time, in an awesome place and we are very lucky to be orthodontists. Don’t sweat the small stuff and have a great weekend!

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