Sinking My Teeth into Dentistry

My client is an in-demand dentist, business owner and public speaker. She can do it all — but needs help when it comes to crafting copy that perfectly eloquates her candid insights into her work/life balance and advice for working moms.

In need of a copywriter who could help eloquize her blogs, and add humor to her speeches, I got to work crafting content from her voice in both formats.

Blog | The Doctor Is Still In

Preserving Your Dentistry Practice Through a Pandemic

While social distancing may make it easier for your patients to forgo brushing their teeth, the breadth of the issue far outweighs the bad breath issue.

Let’s face it, we’re facing a rapidly-changing world. One in which many professionals have been rendered unable to work because their job required them to be in close contact with others. Luckily, dentistry isn’t one of them.

Whether your practice closed voluntarily, to preserve the rapidly depleting PPE’s by the state dental boards, or due to ADA or CDA, the amount of times our doors may be shut is indefinite; an unfortunate reality that is tolling, both financially and emotionally.

Fortunately, there is a growing abundance of resources that are helping dentists across the globe keep their practice, and their patients’ health, fully intact. While you may not be able to do fillings, there is a growing way to keep your `work fulfilling – teledentistry.

Drilling into Teledentistry

Telehealth refers to the collective variety of technology-driven solutions and tactics to deliver virtual dental, medical, health, or education services. There are exciting methodologies in development that are already enhancing patient care.

Although expedited by the recent surge in demand for virtual work, it was inevitable that teledentistry would grow in popularity – videoconferencing is trending across the healthcare industry as a whole; dermatologists can diagnose skin conditions, mental health professionals can connect with patients, and sick patients can get prescriptions without risking infecting others with an office visit, to name a few examples.

Much of your dentistry practice can transition seamlessly to remote, including maintaining accurate clinical records, prescribe medications, document post-operative instructions, recommendations, and sharing all pertinent data with guardians or members of their restorative team. 

Screening Patients for Visits

With the aid of modern technology, many dentists are adapting to conducting virtual consultations through a plethora of platforms. It is important for dentists to develop a workflow to an efficient virtual consult that mimics what you’d do in a conversation with a patient. While you may not be able to perform cleanings, surgeries, and everything in between, you are able to educate your patients in a personal way.

Teledentistry enables us to conduct diagnoses and recommend treatment, and work with each patient to find the best care path – be it referring them to another specialist, an emergency unit, or delaying a visit until standard office visits are available again. It is important to distinguish between patients who have minor or cosmetic issues with those who have dental emergencies.  In a continuous effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19, avoid sending patients to the Emergency Room unless absolutely pertinent.

Avoiding advising patients to go to the ER must be a mass effort on our parts. Last year, ERs received more than two million visits due to dental emergencies. Reasons for these visits include an inability to get in touch with their regular dentist or schedule an appointment fast enough, not having dental insurance, or were unaware they would only get a pain prescription (dangerous within itself) and a referral to a full-time dentist.

In addition to screening your patients for the severity of their dental needs, it is best to do what you can to screen their risk of being a carrier for COVID-19, if they’ll need to be in contact with you or others. Rather than invasively asking if each patient is a carrier, request that your website developer or resource for creating your online documents screening questionnaire to evaluate your patient’s status. You can then determine if you want to bring the patient in or refer them to another office or ambulatory setting – whatever solution is safest for all involved.

Pertinent questions to ask may include:

In the last 14 days, have you….

  • Experienced a fever?
  • Experienced an onset of respiratory problems, including a cough or difficulty breathing?
  • Traveled to Italy, China, Iran or other locations with documented COVID-19?
  • Been in contact with people who have recently traveled to Italy, China, or Iran?
  • Been in contact with a COVID-19 infected individual?
  • Been in contact with people with current fever or respiratory problems?
  • Participated in any gathering, meetings, or had close contact with others in large gatherings and are now showing any flu-like symptoms?

More questions to ask:

  • Is your dental appointment an emergency or is it an elective procedure that can wait several weeks?
  • Do you smoke or have had respiratory issues or disease in the recent past?
  • Do you have a thermometer and can you measure your current body temperature?

From my research, I have identified teledentistry platforms that can aide in these screenings, including: Dentulu, Mouthwatch TeleDent, DentaVox, Denteractive, Zoom for Health and Xpress DDS. I have no affiliation with these companies, but many are offering complimentary or discounted services in light of the crisis.

Why take advantage of these platforms? iPhones, for example, are not a HIPAA compliant device. But during this pandemic, a patient might need to send a picture of their tooth to you before a visit to expedite a diagnosis. All HIPAA-compliant platforms that I’ve mentioned earlier allow for HIPAA-compliant exchange of images.

Furthermore, you can run marketing campaign based around setting up virtual consultations to actually grow your business and develop patient relationships long term. These platforms can also help you better manage documentation, paperwork and process payments.  Albeit, it a dimly-lit bright side, but an opportunity nonetheless.

The Legal Bite

An important part of becoming a teledentist includes developing a comprehensive understanding of medico-legal requirements, prescribing laws and HIPAA changes. For example, in response to the pandemic, many governing bodies have committed to waiving penalties for HIPAA on a federal level, although this may vary between states. 

Are you familiar with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights? It’s important to – they’re responsible for enforcing certain regulations issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

In the time of a public health crisis, covered health care providers subject to the HIPAA may seek to communicate with patients and provide services through telecommunications. Some of these technologies, and the manner in which they are used by HIPAA covered health care providers, may not fully comply with the requirements of the HIPAA Rules. 

The office has pledge to exercise enforcement with mindful discretion and will withhold penalties from standard requirements against healthcare providers in relation to the Good Faith provision of telehealth in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, effective immediately.

Meanwhile, they encourage all healthcare professionals to notify patients, who may be unaware of potential privacy risks. This both gives them important knowledge and eliminates your liability of sharing information without their understanding of the current latency of standard policies. We recommend as a best practice that proper consent forms are signed at all times, but especially in the event that you are using technology that is not HIPAA compliant.

Furthermore, to qualify as a Virtual Consult, an appointment must utilize audio and video mediums. A simple phone call is not considered teledentistry and does not allow for prescribing to patients who have not been to your office before.

On a financial note, some states do not recognize teledentistry as a way to get paid under Medicare or Medicate. Some insurance groups have their teams working remotely, so paper claims may take much longer than normal to process.

The Future of Teledentistry

In uncertain times, people look to and appreciate strong leaderships and swift responses. This is an opportunity to prove to your patients, staff, and to yourself, how adaptive you can be

The pandemic will eventually subside (or, so I repeat as a mantra now during my daily walk), and teledentistry will certainly remain as a viable alternative for many in-office visits. When it will come to screening for cosmetic procedures, Invisalign, orthodontics, sleep apnea treatments, and other elective dentistry, our new solution will become commonplace.

So tell your patients… lights, camera, open wide! Just don’t let endlessly entertaining Zoom filters get in the way.

Blog | Work Your Life-Work

Finding the Balance that Drives Your Best Life

I was once asked to speak at a dental meeting. As a practicing dentist, owner of a multi-specialty group practice, and co-founder and a COO of a dental software company, I welcomed the opportunity to share some of my knowledge and inspire other women in the dental world.

“We’d like you to share your expertise about work-life balance,” they explained.

Well… that’s different.

Unlike how to maintain a bright business and smile, I felt less qualified to speak about a work-life balance. A successful one, at least. Managing a busy life is one thing, but balanced? Just thinking about the subject made me physically lose mine.

Busy is definitely one thing I can speak to. In addition to my expanding career, I am married, and a mom to two amazing children, both of whom challenge and inspire me each day. Oh, I am also a speaker, a writer, and a podcaster. Yes, I keep so many balls in the air it feels like a circus, one in which I am constantly jumping through hoops to ensure my whole troupe is happy!

Like any lifelong juggler, I can’t resist adding new elements into my rotation; such as electing to become the head of the library committee in my son’s school, and a room parent in my daughter’s class. Yet, the busier I am, the better I learn to juggle. This isn’t to say I haven’t dropped an occasional ball (or child, for that matter). There’s the occasional carpool line I’ve forgotten to show up for, soccer games I’ve missed my goal to cheer at, or recitals I couldn’t remember to attend.

So, if you were wondering why your mother-of-the-year award didn’t arrive last year, it’s because I accidentally packed it in my kid’s lunch instead of their sandwich.

 Is Busier Better?

Although it took me years of failing to realize, I’ve learned that the elusive life-work balance we seek doesn’t exist. It’s a myth.

Nothing in the universe is ever in balance – nor should it be.

Sometimes our stressed employees need our undivided attention, sometimes it’s a sick child, or a partner who deserves more affection. Work-life balance is just the commitment to being in tune to what you must do each day to feel fulfilled, and being agile to fit changing top priorities. It is understanding where your energy is needed most in life’s ever-calibrating flow. 

It feels good to be busy, or at least project that we are to others. When friends ask us how we are doing, we reflexively reply “busy,” even if we aren’t. I recently caught myself saying that following a month-long vacation on Maui! Being busy should mean that we are making things happen, even if our tan-lines say otherwise. It should mean our goals are in reach.

But does busy equate to fulfilled?

Does it improve the connections we desire with our friends and family? Does it make us happier? More productive? Wealthier? Are we busy advancing our lives forward or are we just shuffling things to appear busy?

Road to Fulfillment

If the road to fulfillment is paved with intention, let’s build our path by creating a vivid and detailed vision of a life worth living with purpose. If we don’t intentionally design our lives, someone else will design it for us, and we might not like their vision.

Imagine your life three years from today, what do you hope to see? Who surrounds you? How have you cared for your body and health? Let this image refine itself like a new polaroid photo. As it becomes lucid in your mind, you can trace a clear path between there and now.

As you embark on your new, emerging path into the future, here are some simple truths to accompany your journey to best balance the time between your work and life.

  1. Our Time is Finite. When you say “yes” to something, you say “no” to something else. Consider if what you’re agreeing to is more important than what you’re eliminating. True productivity isn’t about working more; it’s about working smarter. Identify projects that brings your life the most purpose – now focus on them. Do things that you enjoy and create value. Automate, delegate, or eliminate the rest.

When we say that we don’t have time for something, we don’t recognize it as a priority. Consciously or not, we are saying that we are choosing to spend our time on things that are more comfortable, maybe easier. Exercising, walking your kids to school, working on creating systems in your practice? If this is important to you, put it on your schedule.

  • Multitasking, the Myth. Our brains are not built for multitasking – but can be tricked to believe that we are being efficient. Rather than simultaneously accomplishing tasks, our brains waste energy toggling between activities, causing mental fatigue and tricks our bodies into releasing cortisol. You know, that hormone that makes us stressed out and fat. It diminishes our memory, inhibits our concentration and invites error-making. Instead of trying to juggle more balls at once, make sure you’re expertly handling each one before increasing your load. Learn to single-task and perfect one job at a time.
  • Emphasize Quality Time. Folding laundry next to your kids is not the same as getting down on the floor with them to play. We’ve all had wonderful times with family and friends that we don’t recall because our brain does not store memories properly when we were distracted or tried to multitask. With small, intentional investments of time, you can radically improve the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. 
  • Escape Your Comfort Zone. There’s little room for excitement when you play it small and safe. We struggle to embark into unknown territory and find ourselves stuck in paralysis by analysis. We are scared to enact decisiveness in fear we lack pertinent information.

Consider the last time you struggled with an incompetent or unpleasant employee. Were you afraid to make a change in fear that finding a replacement could be worse than putting up with the smell of their lunch, or worse, body odor? It’s understandable. Haven’t we all put up with unfriendly patients, allowed ourselves to wallow in unproductive associateships? Why?

  • Enable Vacation Mode. Your email has this setting for a reason. If you’ve found yourself working way too long, doing work you don’t like, only to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like – then stop. Take the time away from the office. I promise that your work will still be there when you return. Once you are happy and fulfilled in your personal life, the energy will translate at the office.

As Rabbi Harry Kushner famously said: “Nobody ever on their deathbed said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Taking risks and making changes can be scary, as is anything we cannot fully anticipate. While we’ll never have all the answers, we can control our ability to accept the uncertainty, take a risk, make a real change. We can go the extra mile, and find it’s never crowded at the finish line. Next time, I hope to see you there!

Speech | Documenting Your Vision

[In this project, my client sent me a finished speech, and asked that I add/bold humor additions]

Quote: “The reason why companies spend so much time managing people is because nobody knows where they are going.” – Cameron Herold

The problem in our practices is that we don’t have our vision written up in a way that everybody can read and see what’s going on in our minds. Many of us have a vivid vision in our heads but our employees don’t see what we see. If we want our employees to go to work every day building our dream practice for us, they have to see what we see, our vision has to trickle down them. If we expect them to take initiative, to make decisions, and to work together, in alignment, as a team, we have to paint a strong vision for them so that they all know what they are working on. So, what to do besides cutting up magazines to make Pinterest-worthy vision boards?

I’ve learned the concept of a Vivid Vision from Cameron Herold, former CEO of 1-800-Got Junk, or as I see him, 1-800-Got Good Ideas. A Vivid Vision is a 3-4 page document that describes in great detail what your practice will look like three years from now. Cameron Herold wants us to lean out into the future, visualize what our practices will look like and capture our ideas. And then write them down on paper as through they are already happening in the present.

Pretend that you are getting into a time machine and go out 3 years from now. You land in front of your practice and walk in. What do you see? What do you hear? Think about different areas of your practice: the ambiance, the mix of procedures you offer, your marketing, your customer service, your office culture and describe those areas as though your are looking at these areas in the present moment. How many people are working there? Do you have any associates? Do you have more than one practice? What are you personal responsibilities? What is your practice known for? What do your patients say about your practice? What are your online reviews like? Are all your employees high-tech Jetsons style robots, or still human employees?

You don’t know how all this happens – just create your vision. Don’t get stuck thinking about HOW. Create your vision, take it back to your team and together you will figure out how to make this happen.

Once you create your Vivid Vision, you are going to start sharing it with you team. When you start sharing your Vivid Vision with your employees, they will start to see what you see. Once they understand your Vision and see where they are going, they will start to see how their role contributes to the bigger picture. They will feel empowered to take initiative, take on projects and make independent decisions.

Once everyone is on the same page and has shared goals, they become aligned and start working together on bring your vision to life. But really, who knew Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” single had such a meta-message ahead of it’s time?

The important part of your Vivid Vision becomes like a magnet for the right employees. You want people looking at it and going “OMG, I want to be a part of it.” And, like a magnet, it will also repel some people. Like Darth Vader said, the force is strong with this one. And we all have that employee who probably belongs on the Dark Side. And that’s OK because you don’t want them anyway.

Quote: “If you get the culture right, everything else will fall into place.”

Tony Hsieh

Mission statements, slogans, and rules don’t make a culture. It’s not a ping-pong table, or bring a pet to work on Friday. These are just things. Culture is action, not words or things. Culture is the byproduct of consistent behavior. It’s about bringing ideas, not bagels, to the table.

Every office has their own culture. Culture can form in two different ways. It can be deliberately created and curated and nurtured. Or–more commonly–it comes about randomly as a collective sum of the beliefs, experiences and behaviors of those on our teams. Either way, you will have a culture.

Culture is defined by the actions that we take every day.  It manifests itself in the way decisions are made and how people interact with each other. This includes everything from how people share ideas, how they disagree and resolve conflict. Culture forms through the behaviors that are rewarded.

Culture doesn’t result from the good intentions of the practice owner. It doesn’t spontaneously happen when you plaster your walls with posters about excellence and teamwork. Seriously, you are better suited saving the plastering for retainers and mouth guards. You can talk a good talk at a meeting but if you don’t define the values that guide your practice – and then live them – people will fill in the void by operating on their own. If you just talk the talk, they’ll likely start to walk the walk onto their next job. To get the culture right, you need to define your core values and you need to live them. It’s not enough to just define them and put them on the wall. The #1 Core Value of Enron was Integrity. If the behaviors of your team don’t line up with your core values, the culture you envision doesn’t exist yet.

It’s important that every single employee in your practice knows what these values are because these values will become the filter through which all decisions are made. If they know and understand the core values, then they can easily start making decisions instead of coming to you for every single decision that needs to be made.

Also, as a nod to my favorite School House Rock video,  remember, your Core Values are not noun, they are verbs. They must be actionable.

It’s not Integrity, it’s Do the Right Thing.

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