Dental Suppliers and Lab Technicians Important to Patient Satisfaction

By James V. Anderson, DMD

This article represents the 11th and 12th principles in a series of articles discussing the 14 Management Principles from The Toyota Way  a book authored by *Jeffrey Liker. The principles illustrated in Toyota’s management systems can be applied to improving the efficiency in dental practice operations.

In Principle #11, Toyota explores the extended network of partners and suppliers and challenges them to improve along with the growing auto business.

What dental practice would be complete without dental product and equipment suppliers and dental laboratory technicians? They play a part in the landscape of every dental practice but not considered as part of the onsite team. Each plays a vital role in patient care and cooperative teamwork with the dental practice.

It is reported that the auto industry suppliers site Toyota as the best customer but also the toughest. Not hard to get along with but expect standards of excellence from their suppliers as they demand it from their workers.

Dentists, once they find a supply company that they can depend on to meet their needs of excellent quality dental supplies at a fair price and within the practice budget are often customers for life. Finding a quality laboratory and or a dental technician with high skills, artistic flair, and can meet appointment deadlines is a challenge. Loyalty for a lab technician is built upon excellent dental prosthetic work that virtually drops into place in the patient’s mouth with little to no adjustment. Finding a lab or special technician that “understands” your standards is the key to better prosthetics and happier patients.

Toyota is cautious about what they keep in the house or outsource. Toyota outsources about 70% of vehicle components yet is involved in the core competencies in the production of these components. Teaching the suppliers, the “just in time” , philosophy of getting supplies at the point they are needed instead of storing large amounts of inventory created a constant flow without money tied up in inventory. Of course, the logistics of manufacturing cars would be more complicated than providing dental care, but the principles of having the best equipment, supplies, and lab technicians at hand is the key to continuous improvement for the dental practice. There must be the same values and quality of product standards in suppliers and lab technicians to ensure the quality of patient procedures and care.

Providing services in a dental office is about satisfying patients and keeping them coming back for care year after year. We often don’t consider how our dental equipment, consumables suppliers, and dental technicians fit into the picture of patient contentment. The patient looks to the dental office for satisfaction and is not aware of the influence of others involved with the process.

Supplies that aren’t there when you need them or a lab case that wasn’t delivered on time affects patient care and satisfaction. If the patient is seated when you discover that the new crown was not delivered or worse, it is someone else’s crown in error; it is the worst case for customer service. If the crown doesn’t fit, the patient will now have to go through more impressions and another appointment. Was it the dentist or the lab? The conversation will ensue as to who is at fault. The end game must be a happy patient. The dental office is put in the position of double-checking the commitments of suppliers and lab technicians. With all that can go wrong in a dental practice, why do you have to be responsible for errant partners in dental care?

Avoid these blunders by communicating the expectations of standards of excellence to your suppliers and technicians.

Have regular conversations with your lab technician and share more than necessary information with them that may make for a better prosthetic outcome.

Principle #12 of the Toyota Way says to “go see for yourself” to understand a situation (genchi genbutsu) fully. Third-party demonstrations or explanations can distort the picture of what is going on in a case. The concept of seeing something firsthand instead with an open mind will remove preconceptions of the problems. Grasping the actual situation leads to solving the problem. Toyota used this concept working on the production and factory floors.

In the clinical area of dental practices, the dentist and dental clinical team are present during the production of dental care. When mistakes happen, one or more of the groups is there to remedy the situation. Ensuring errors never occur again may take training, better supplies, or a better system of delivering care.

To improve the result of a prosthetic, have the lab technician come to the office to observe the process of prepping, taking impressions, and other steps along the way to creating the best prosthetic. Patients will appreciate the special treatment and know you are taking extra measures to ensure they are getting the best fitting prosthetic. The feedback and suggestions from the technician can not only improve the communication, but the technician can see firsthand how the impression is taken and make any changes at that time that will affect the final product.

Originally published in The Dentist’s Network


James Anderson, DMD was an entrepreneur before becoming a dentist. His leadership and business presentations offer dentists the essentials needed to achieve the practice and life of their dreams. His speaking programs help dentists realize their full practice potential by combining dental clinical skills with excellent business skills to create a profitable and enjoyable dental practice career.

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