An interview with Laura Jamison, President of CEO of Jamison Consulting
By Justin Lee Altshuler, D.M.D., F.I.C.D.

Justin:

In my experience with practice management advisors over many years, they all seem to have come up from the ranks of working in a dental office, is this your background?

Laura:

Yes. I started working as an appointment coordinator in the front office for two dentists in private practice. I became engaged in attending as much continuing education as possible with the support of the doctors. We also benefitted from the training and advice of a consultant. The office was designed by Pride Institute (which was Pacific Institute at the time) and in time, I was invited to work for them.

Justin:

At what point in time did you realize that you wanted to explore a career outside the dental office?

Laura

The two dentists I worked with encouraged me to consult with several younger dentists who were starting their practices. They knew that I could share the systems and verbal skills that had made them successful because I had been a participant in the same training that they had been. Coincidentally, Pride Institute was seeking a consultant for the state of Florida at about the same time and both doctors knew that it was a great step for me to take. They were kind and generous in encouraging me to move forward and I did.

Justin:

Who have been your mentors?

Laura:

I have been blessed! Let me start with the two dentists I worked for, Dr. David Brown and Dr. Jim Chmielarski, Then Dr. Jim Pride, Dr. Peter Dawson, Dr. L.D. Pankey, Dr. Frank Spear, Dr. Gary DeWood, Linda Miles, Katherine Eitel and several of the women I worked with while with the Pride Institute, Deborah Brunner, Pam Strother and Mary Alwan.

Justin:

I understand that you had great training with Pride Institute. Six years working with Dr. Jim Pride. What prompted you to leave?

Laura:

In 1986, Pride Institute taught systems by working through the consultant teaching systems in the client's office. I worked as a consultant for three years enjoying terrific results by developing the relationship with the client and the dentist's team members. In 1989, Pride changed their business model to enroll groups of dental teams into a regional management program and for three years I facilitated training workshops. Each two-day workshop was preordained and I saw results but the relationships were different. At one time, I was working with 80 dental offices in 10 different groups. I was not aware of who was who or what they were doing. I wanted the personal relationship and to see the results occur, see their celebrations, frustrations and feel that I was helping them to solve their problems.

Justin:

With your extensive background and experience, it would seem that you are well prepared to assist dentists and their team members with managing their management. What was your experience like with your very first client?

Laura:

My first Jamison Consulting client was a group dental practice with two dentists.

They had several goals:
1. to implement systems that would improve customer service
2. to learn how to run their practice as a business so that it was profitable
3. to improve their acceptance of treatment presented
4. to grow as leaders.

I was gratified to have an immediate client upon leaving PI and it was a dental practice similar to the one I had grown up in. Both experiences converged to enable them to achieve all of their goals in the three years that I worked with them.

Justin:

As a dentist, I fully understand that a dental practice succeeds only when the majority of patients are saying yes to treatment presented. What do you do to coach your clients on this very important topic?

Laura:

This is a great question! Because this is the most vital skill in a dental practice, I observe my new clients on my first day conducting their new patient examination and the patient consultation. To allow me to hear the discussion, I have placed a baby monitor in the consultation room and listened in a quiet room such as the dentist's private office. Afterward I am able to replay the dialogue and make recommendations. Here are some suggestions, first, for the initial examination appointment and then the patient consultation:

1. I believe strongly in scheduling all adult new patients on the doctor's schedule. In the new patient experience, I recommend that the dentist meet the patient knowing their initial concern, which was determined by the appointment coordinator over the phone. Then spend time building rapport by being the first to ask the patient questions about their concerns and past dental experiences. Many times the patient recounts an emotional story and it can be painful to have to retell a story to the chairside nurse and then again to the dentist. I do believe that your nurse should be in the room with the doctor. But doctors, I have seen great results when you are the one to ask the questions and listen to the patient's answers.

2. Be curious. Feedback what you hear. Have the nurse write down what she hears. In this digital, techno-driven age, we appreciate when someone is attentive.

3. Use visual aids such as Snap Dental (SnapDental.com), hand-held mirrors and intraoral cameras to show the patient what you are seeing. Programs such as Snap Dental enable the dentist to show before and after photos through its proprietary software. Use these tools at the end of your examination to gain their interest so that they will want to return to know what the solution is. Always say, "At the next appointment we are going to discuss several options for treatment. Who would you like to include in this appointment?"

4. Reschedule the patient to return if the treatment is more involved than a simple restorative case. It gives you time to collect your thoughts and rehearse how you can present the treatment plan.

5. Show photos during your consultation. Refer to the patient's prior statements and present the dentistry so that it solves the problem that the patient has shared with you.

6. Sequence your treatment plan so that it accomplishes what the patient wants done first (if possible) and then their trust will be gained.

7. Several forms of financing the dentistry should be offered to the patient. Many patients without insurance appreciate monthly payments.

8. Lastly, what gets measured, gets rewarded. Document your treatment plan presentation numbers and discuss what works and what doesn't.

Justin:

How do you work with a client?

Laura:

Every client has unique needs and goals for their relationship with a consultant. An effective consultant will recognize this. I begin my work by scheduling two days in the office. A workbook is sent to request information; survey questions, marketing ideas, practice numbers including overhead, fee schedule, hours of operation, website domain, etc. This allows me to do homework before arriving. The client is instructed to schedule at least one new patient examination and consultation in addition to a typical day's schedule. While I am in the office I am asking the questions that help me determine why numbers are askew, how systems are operated, what tools that employees have to help them, and will even ask patients about their experiences. After reviewing what's necessary, I will meet with the doctor first to review my recommendations and a prioritized action plan for their practice. Once that has been approved, we begin a series of training sessions conducted in-office on the subject matter that fits the priorities of the practice.

Justin:

I am aware that employees are threatened when they hear that a consultant is coming to the office. How do you deal with the team members?

Laura:

I send a survey in advance of my visit. I arrive on time for the start of the day which shows respect for their work. In that early gathering I say something like this, "I appreciate that you took time to write down your thoughts prior to this visit. Your comments are very helpful. I am here to help facilitate your ideas to fruition because I can not possibly know everything that there is to know about you and your practice in two days. I need your help. Today, let's find time to sit down and discuss your responsibilities and where you grow frustrated. I have enough experience to know that what you are struggling with may have been solved in another dental office. Sound good?" There are times when an employee is not a good fit. I have to make recommendations to let people go. It's the hardest part of my job. But the client's results come first. Relationship with the team members is secondary. I enjoy knowing everyone on the team. It's why I work with the team one on one. I am also very approachable. Most team members like having me as part of their team.

Justin:

Is the dentist ever part of the problem?

Laura:

Occasionally. When a dentist contacts a consultant he/she generally has decided to accomplish certain goals. Typically, the dentist has been in private practice for several years and gets to a point of not knowing how to manage their team and/or run their practice as a business.

These are the three main problems I experience with the dentist:

1. The dentist has hired the consultant to "fix" their team, to work with them, not me.
2. The dentist prioritizes finances at home instead of investing in their business. I will see them spend large sums of money on house, car, private schools, social memberships and then be frugal when it comes to employee salaries, investing in technology and continuing education. It causes the dentist to put pressure on patients and employees to allow him/her to keep up with the Joneses'. If the dentist prioritizes the business first, the household finances are taken care of. Spouses contribute to this problem. It is hard to sacrifice in the early stages of practice (or in the marriage).
3. The dentist is not willing to spend any extra time working on the management of the practice. He/she doesn't want to look at the numbers, participate in staff meetings or hold performance reviews. This is management. You're a business owner. Not running your practice as a business is what got you in trouble in the first place.

Justin:

What do you do when the dentist is the problem?

Laura:

I tell him/her that a consulting relationship is not a worthwhile investment at this time.

Justin:

Laura, thank you so much for the gift of your time. Many of the words of wisdom you have shared will be read with interest by my colleagues in the U.K.

Laura:

I am honored that you believe that this will be helpful. If anyone is interested in contacting me, I can be contacted via email at laura@jamisonconsulting.com. My website is www.jamisonconsulting.com. While you are there, I invite you to sign up for an informative newsletter sent twice per month. It is especially meaningful to me that the readers of The Journal for Private Dentistry remain committed to providing high quality dental care in a private practice setting. Remain faithful!

E-mail: laura@jamisonconsulting.com


Laura Jamison

"As a practice management speaker, Laura Jamison truly stands out as one of the most effective speakers...." Ahmed Shams,
Dentaltown magazine

"Laura has a deep understanding of the numbers. I would expect her to provide your practice with great insight to improve the health of your business...."

Thomas Giacobbi, DDS, FAGD
Editorial Director, Dentaltown Magazine

"Great Course! I really got an abundance of information from it...."

Mark L. Obman, D.D.S., Clearwater, FL

"WOW! GEEZ! You're the bees knees. Great job!..."

david PHILOFSKY &
Lindy Conner,
soutwest study club

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