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The Secret to Feeling Better About Your Recent Mistake

You know that awkward moment when you have to tell a patient that you’ve made a mistake?  Yikes.

Umm, yeah, so... uh... sorry?

I used to be very hard on myself when something in my practice didn’t run smoothly.

Have to redo a procedure because it failed? I’m a bad dentist.

Patient was kept waiting for 15 minutes in the reception area? I’m a bad business owner.

I was being very hard on myself in those first few years of practice.  Staying connected to other young dentists through the ADA helped me realize I wasn’t alone.  Eventually I evolved thicker skin, but I could still get bummed out when things don’t go perfectly.

Well who said every dentist is perfect?  We have a tough job.  Every day we juggle several skill sets:

the metal acuity for diagnosis the dexterity to perform challenging procedures the social graces to connect with our patients the compassion and patience to guide our patients through unpleasant circumstances the business acumen to keep the business afloat the managerial expertise to keep our staff happy the entrepreneurship to grow our practice

Literally NONE of those skills are easy.  So when something doesn’t go perfectly, why should we beat ourselves up so much?  We shouldn’t.  Even when we perform a procedure with great skill, the human body can chose to not accept our therapy and complications arise.  But I was still beating myself up.

That began to change a few months ago when I discovered an expression that has now become my mantra.

“Every mistake is an opportunity for greatness.”

Let that soak in for a few seconds.

I will always be at least a little disappointed when some aspect of my practice doesn’t go perfectly.  But rather than let it consume me and ruin my day, I’m going to figure out how to turn the loss into a win.

I realized that the moment I have to tell the patient I made a mistake is only awkward because I make it awkward.

I now use that moment to present myself as the perfectionist that I am.  I use that moment to show the high standards that my staff and I maintain.  A mistake is an opportunity to market your practice.

Have to redo a procedure because it failed? Express my sympathy, remind the patient about any pre-operative concerns I may have shared, re-assure the patient that I stand by my work and that I’ll make things right, inform patient there will be no charge to redo the failed procedure (when appropriate, depends on the scenario).

Patient was kept waiting for 15 minutes in the reception area? Express my apologies for keeping them waiting, let them know that their time is valuable to me, inform patient my office prides itself on running on time, offer brief explanation about the unusual circumstances (a couple of emergencies, etc).

Rather than dreading to look our patients in the eye to deliver an apology, we should face them with confidence.  Our confidence stems not just from our knowledge that mistakes and complications are bound to happen, but also from the knowledge that we get to show the patient our character and integrity.

Do you have a website or advertisement that talks about how your office delivers dental care that is “compassionate” or “caring” or “friendly” or some other warm and fuzzy adjective?  Well, these are the best times to prove it.

I’m willing to bet that your patients are more likely to sing your praises to their friends and family when you have righted a wrong than when everything went according to plan.  Trust me on that one.


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