Forging better partnerships with laboratories

The dental laboratory is a critical partner in practice success. Or at least it should be. The relationship that dentists develop with laboratories will have a direct effect on scheduling, the quality of patient care and practice stress. Developing a strong relationship with one or more dental laboratories is crucial.

Two questions arise when considering a dental lab. First, what can that lab do for the practice? Second, is the lab you are evaluating big enough to handle all your cases? Potential labs must be sizeable, accessible and affordable.

Levin Group has seen hundreds of practices that have been completely satisfied working with one lab and one lab only. For some practices, working with a single lab may not be the ideal situation. This may be the result of several factors, including the service mix offered by the practice, the volume of lab work generated by the practice, the practice’s or the lab’s location and the capabilities of the lab.

The ideal system for some practices is to work with several multi-faceted labs that can provide the highest quality service while meeting the practice’s diverse needs.

Once you have found the right lab or labs for your cases, how do you make sure that such a relationship grows and continues to be beneficial for your patients as well as your practice’s bottom line? A variety of communication strategies can help you enhance your relationship with a dental lab:

• Effective communication. Give clear, detailed instructions and follow up with the lab to make sure those instructions are understood. This will ensure the product you receive for your patient is of the highest quality.

• Frequent communication. Discuss with your lab representative all matters related to the lab every three-to-four months, just to make sure your practice and the dental lab are on the same page. Furthermore, labs can be great resources of information on the latest products and supplies – take advantage of it.

• Face-to-face communication. Dentists should meet with lab owners one or two times a year to discuss the status of the relationship, new developments in dentistry, past successes and challenges, and to forecast volume for the upcoming six months.

• Saying ‘thank you’. A quality lab is an asset to the practice, patients and staff members. Dental practices should periodically express their appreciation when a lab consistently produces quality work. This can be as simple as sending breakfast or lunch over to the lab.

Use these communication strategies to enhance your relationship with your lab(s) and keep the remake rate low. Remember, a relationship beset with poor communication can cause a lab to have a high remake percentage, resulting in increased costs and lower patient satisfaction.

Expanding into cosmetic dentistry requires a good relationship with one or more dental laboratories. Turning your dental laboratory into a quality partner has many benefits including:

1. Maintaining the schedule.

A remake plays havoc with the schedule because it requires a patient to come in for an additional appointment. Hoping to provide the best customer service, practices often schedule the extra appointment in the first available slot. As a result, time that might previously have been blocked for higher revenue procedures is used by this unforeseen appointment.

2. Reducing practice stress.

A quality practice-lab partnership will result in reduced stress for the dental team. Lab remakes make patients unhappy because they have to come in for another appointment. When remakes occur, extra stress is placed on the dentist and dental team, who must tell the patient that the prosthetic is not a good fit. Scripting can help with the explanation, but it’s always stressful explaining that the practice has failed the patient.

3. Providing ‘wow’ customer service.

Providing convenience to the patient is one of the tenets of ‘wow’ customer service. If a prosthetic remake is necessary, the patient is not able to have all the required dentistry performed in the planned timeframe. The patient may need to take additional time off from work to make the extra appointment. This situation can cause patients to question the quality of clinical dentistry and customer service they are receiving.

Dental laboratories are key to the success of dental practices. Many practices have good relationships with their laboratories, but there is always room for improvement. Using a variety of communication strategies can help turn a vendor relationship into something more – a true partnership that will benefit the practice, the laboratory and your patients.

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