Home Dental Episode #648: Treating People, Not Patients, with Dr. Michael Sonick

Episode #648: Treating People, Not Patients, with Dr. Michael Sonick

by adminjay



Are you treating people, or just their teeth? To help you do both, Kirk Behrendt brings in Dr. Michael Sonick, author of Treating People, Not Patients, with ways to be hospitable, present, and empathetic for the people who choose your chair. Improve the way you connect with patients! To learn how to provide the Four Seasons experience in your dental office, listen to Episode 648 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Register for Dr. Sonick’s course, The Art and Science of Exceptional Dentistry: Periodontal Mastery (November 1-3, 2023)

Read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Learn more about Culture Index

Main Takeaways:

Find mentors who can teach you “soft” skills.

Make patients feel safe and comfortable in your office.

Connect with the person in front of you — it doesn’t take a lot.

Your patients are coming for great experiences, not great dentistry.


“Most dentists are not taught how to treat people in dental school. What are we taught? We’re taught how to do crown lengthening, extractions, orthodontics, veneers, bonding. We even have requirements. You have to do 30 of these restorations. I had to make four dentures. I had to do six periodontal surgeries. I didn’t have to be nice to anybody. I wasn’t taught how to be nice to any of the people in my practice. They didn’t teach us integrity. They didn’t teach us transformational powers over patients. They didn’t teach us neurolinguistic programming. They didn’t teach us the most important thing that we can do for a patient — and that is to make them feel safe and comfortable in our environment.” (3:30—4:09)

“When a patient comes into a dental office, it’s not the Four Seasons hotel. They come into our office, and we’re not giving them a great experience. We’re giving them an anesthetic. We’re jabbing them. We have more knowledge than they do. We make them feel inferior. They already feel terrible because their mouths are in bad shape. They feel guilty. They come in with so much baggage and preconceived notions of what’s going to happen to them when they’re in our office. So, the first thing that I need to know about that patient is, what are they worried about? Let me take that away immediately. I try to find that out.” (5:03—5:35)

“For me, the restaurant became the model for running a good dental practice — except the restaurant is a little different. They don’t serve dentistry, they serve food.” (7:29—7:37)

“You can’t treat someone well just because you think they’re worthy of being treated well.” (12:12—12:17)

“Have you ever been to a meeting, and you’re there talking to someone, and they don’t know who you are, and then, all of a sudden, they see somebody more “important” than you? They see George Bush behind you — I don’t want to get political — or Arnold Schwarzenegger. They see him, and they go, ‘Let me talk to Arnold.’ The greats don’t do that.” (12:19—12:37)

“There are plenty of restaurants that are beautiful, and they have good service — but the food isn’t very good. You’re not going back. So, the same with a dentist.” (14:51—14:58)

“It’s hard for patients to assess our clinical skills, unless it’s a single front tooth, or maybe even ortho. If their front six teeth are aligned — they don’t know about the occlusion. How do they assess us? Were they nice? Did it hurt? What was the price? Those are easy ways to assess. But it really doesn’t talk about the clinical skills.” (15:31—15:50)

“If you don’t have the soft skills — and soft skills are the ability to relate to other human beings to get them to trust you, because it’s really all about trust. If you don’t get people to trust you, they’re not going to buy from you. We’re in a sales business. I don’t think that’s a dirty word anymore because we are in sales. We’re professionals. What’s the definition of professional? Someone who sells a skill.” (15:53—16:14)

“Everything that we did to become a dentist has nothing to do with soft skills. First of all, you had to get good grades in high school. Then, you had to get good board scores. Then, you had to join clubs. Then, you had to interview well. Then, you had to do well on your SATs. And then, you had to do well in dental school. But that doesn’t really make you a good dentist. The process to become a dentist has nothing to do with being a good dentist, unfortunately. So, it’s important to have those skills, but you have to know how to relate to other human beings and then make them feel comfortable.” (16:37—17:06)

“I think what’s important for younger people is writing down a mission statement and figuring out where they want to go with their lives. Do you just want to do crowns all day long and make a lot of money? You can do that. Maybe you don’t want to build your own private practice because you’re going to have to have somebody to help you. I’ve worked with many dentists. I’ve had four or five partners over the course of my career, and most of the partners I’ve worked with don’t really have that vision. They’re great dentists and they are really smart. I try to encourage them to have that, but they don’t feel it. So, can it be taught — which is an important thing. And I do think it can be.” (19:24—19:59)

“You’re all unique in your own way. But there are certain skills that you can use to ameliorate the way you’re practicing to get more patients to say yes to the treatment that you want to provide.” (20:22—20:31)

“I hope that you take away from [Treating People, Not Patients] the reason why you went to practice in the first place, and that’s to help other people. In the book, it’s 10 chapters, and each chapter has about 15 to 20 questions that you can use as a workbook. What you’ll take away from the book is the importance of being there for patients, the importance of making a patient feel safe, the importance of creating a comfortable environment through décor, because people look at everything — as simple as fingernails. Do you have a written policy of what fingernails should look like? I mean, I don’t want to talk to one of my female assistants and say, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t have those long, pointy fingernails.’ But I can say that to them before I hire them so that there’s an expectation.” (21:34—22:14)

“In my office, I don’t get to see every patient. I don’t get to have every interaction. I don’t know how many interactions there are in a day. I’d say there are probably between 7,000 or 8,000 interactions in my office a day, between phone calls, emails, patients coming and going. Those are 7,000 or 8,000 opportunities for things to go wrong, so that whole team has to have the same philosophy built in. So, how do you create that team philosophy? I specifically show people how to create that in [Treating People, Not Patients].” (22:25—22:50)

“[The culture index] is my secret weapon. If I get somebody’s culture, I know exactly who they are. My wife and I — they wouldn’t fill them out, but I made all my family members fill them out. So, whenever I see their behavior, ‘Oh! Their culture index says they have a hard time making a decision, so they’re having a hard time making a decision.’ So, I don’t get upset with people for being who they are. And the culture index also shows us not who they are but who they’re being in their job. What’s cool is if someone comes in and they have a great culture index, but their job culture index shows them not happy, I tell them, ‘Oh, you’re not happy at your job because you’re forced to be not so social, and you have to be told to do something that you don’t really want to do, and you’re not very detailed, and you’ve got to make up for the creativity of your bosses because they don’t have any.’ They go, ‘How did you know that?’ I go, ‘I looked at your seven dots.’ It’s pretty cool. So, that’s something that I love.” (28:35—29:30)

“There is turnover because people get married, people have babies, people leave for nine months, people have carpal tunnel. Things happen. I lost two of the best assistants I’ve ever had to the military because their husbands were restationed. So, we’re always looking. The “bench” is really important. I always want to be overstaffed, not understaffed. Sometimes, one of my office managers will look and go, ‘They’re standing around.’ I go, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care if they’re standing around. We’re getting the job done. We’re meeting our production quotas. Everything is organized. If they want to stand around now, that’s fine with me, because in about two hours they’re going to be killing themselves. So, they can do that.’ So, I give my staff a tremendous amount of autonomy. But it is important to be overstaffed and to have that bench because you need it.” (30:11—30:55)

“It is slower growth if you’re going to go fee-for-service. They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, let me go down there because he doesn’t take my insurance.’ You have to give them something that they’re not going to get elsewhere, and that is a great experience because people are not coming for great dentistry. They’re coming for great experiences. They’re coming to be taken care of.” (34:19—34:36)

“There’s nothing wrong with taking [insurance], and I realize that some people think you have to — but you don’t.” (34:48—34:52)

“If you provide super high-quality care, give patients a lot of your time and attention, and spend an hour with every new patient, they’re not going to get that anywhere else. And during that one hour, you get to give the patient choices so they can make the best decision. Now, my daughter is a dentist. She went to school in San Antonio, which is a good dental school. It’s a procedure type school. A lot of procedures. So, she came out knowing a lot of procedures. As she was doing the procedures, and I’ve given this lecture to the residents at the perio program with Brian Mealey there, I said to her, ‘You have to give the patient choices, and then always let the patient say they can decide. And then, the first choice that you give them is to do nothing.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You don’t have to do anything. And the patient will say, what do you mean, not anything? And then, the decision gets shifted to the patient.’ It’s amazing how many of my patients say, ‘No one has ever spent this much time.’ I don’t even spend that much time with the patient. But I’m present, and I don’t leave the room until they feel comfortable.” (35:11—36:08)

“I remember when I was in my teens, my father had to go see a dermatologist. He had some cancer on his face. Dr. Oestreicher — he’s still practicing. He’s like 80. He’s in my town. He was by himself, and there were like 30 people in his waiting room. So, I went with my dad, and I walk into the room. Dr. Oestreicher walks in and starts the exam like that. I’m thinking like, ‘Hurry up, man. You’ve got 30 patients out there.’ I’m like 16. He’s taking all the time in the world like there was nobody else. I wasn’t like that when I first started. I thought I had to be busy all the time. I walk in a room with that new patient, or a patient of record, or a hygiene room, or whatever — that’s the only person in front of me, and they feel that human connection. And it doesn’t take a lot to connect. Just make some eye contact. Talk to them. It’s amazing how patients will respond to that.” (36:09—37:03)

“My moonshot is to improve the way doctors and all healthcare providers interact with the people that they serve, and that is by being hospitable and by being present. Almost everybody I talk to does not have a good experience with their dentist, with their doctor, with their healthcare provider, even if they’re seeing a PA or a nurse. And I’m a patient. We’ll talk about that another time. I’ve had a lot of dental work done. I have 23 crowns. I’ve lost nine teeth. I’ve had two bad bike accidents. I’ve been on the other side, and I’ve gotten great care as an adult — not as a kid, but as an adult, I did — and it means a lot. So, I can relate to the patients.” (38:29—39:07)

“You can’t tell your team like, ‘Let’s treat patients better.’ That doesn’t mean anything. You have to have some tools for it.” (39:32—39:36)


0:00 Introduction.

2:00 Dr. Sonick’s background.

5:40 Why Dr. Sonick wrote Treating People, Not Patients.

13:15 Why having soft skills is important.

21:14 Takeaways from his book.

23:26 Dr. Sonick’s hiring process.

29:36 It’s better to be overstaffed rather than understaffed.

31:07 Going fee-for-service.

37:48 Last thoughts.

39:07 More about Dr. Sonick’s courses.

Dr. Michael Sonick Bio:

Dr. Michael Sonick, DMD, is an internationally known, highly regarded authority in the field of Dental Implantology and Periodontology. He completed his undergraduate degree at Colgate University and received his DMD at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and his certificate in Periodontology at Emory University. He received his implant training at Harvard University as well as the Brånemark Clinic in Gothenburg, Sweden. A full-time practicing periodontist in Fairfield, Connecticut, he is also a frequent guest lecturer in the international program at New York University School of Dentistry and the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Sonick is a diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology, a diplomate of the International Congress of Oral Implantology, a fellow of the International Team for Implantology, a fellow of the International Society of Periodontal Plastic Surgeons, and an Eagle Scout. His mission is to improve the quality of patients’ lives as well as the lives of everyone he meets. 

Source link

Related Articles