Mind games that dentists play

Mind games. Chances are that you are playing a few in your practice right now. Sometimes it is your own mind game that you play on yourself and sometimes it is one you’ve passed on to everyone on the team. The trouble is, it could be affecting your practice productivity in a very negative way.

My decision to address this comes from the fact that Levin Group has seen a surprising number of businesses that engage in one of the following mind games. Fortunately, we’ve never encountered a practice engaging in all four!

Mind game number one

‘Mrs Jones has been a patient forever. We have to let her slide when she comes in late or fails to show for an appointment without notifying us.’ Mrs Jones may be the most wonderful person in the world. She may also cost the practice hundreds of pounds in lost revenue annually. By itself, that’s not a great deal of money. However, imagine the effect of a dozen patients doing the same thing as Mrs Jones. Believe me, it adds up fast. Now picture the effect after 20 years of practice. Enforcing a few simple rules about missing appointments with all patients can eliminate the problem. Let no one slide on this, not even Mrs Jones. Let her know that missed appointments cost the practice money and consequently can cause fees to be raised. If she is a repeat offender, charge a missed appointment fee. That step will frequently change the behaviour.

Mind game number two

‘I don’t need a dress code.’ In an ideal world, having no dress code might work out fine. Many dentists don’t see the need to be picky about how the staff dresses, trusting that they will know what’s appropriate for the office. However, you never know what a staff member is going to consider appropriate. If your previously sensible front-desk person shows up one morning with her tongue pierced, you are going to regret failing to have a dress code. Your dental assistant may think that showing off a little midriff (and that lower-back tattoo) is fine. Or, she may not think a thing about wearing low-cut jeans that reveal more than they should. To some dentists, these situations may seem highly unlikely. Believe me – you’d be surprised what can transpire if a dress code is not enforced. Every practice should exude a professional atmosphere. Patients expect it – and so should you.

Mind game number three

‘Embezzlement? It can’t happen here.’ No dentist wants to think the worst of a staff member. The concept of someone on the team taking money is so repugnant that many doctors simply push the thought out of their minds. Unfortunately, the story of the office manager dipping into petty cash to the tune of thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – of pounds is an all-too-familiar one. It can happen, and it can be people you would never suspect. And it can continue for years and years. While you don’t want to walk around thinking everyone in the office is trying to steal from you, you do want to put in place a system of checks and balances to eliminate the possibility of such activity. Think of good systems as a way of eliminating ‘temptation’.

Mind game number four

‘It’s not my fault.’ Guess what? It’s your practice, so it is your fault. Even when it isn’t your fault, it’s still your fault. Why? Because your name is above the door. If your practice isn’t performing as smoothly as it should be, it’s up to you to fix the problem. No one is going to do for you. Face facts – no one has a greater vested interest in the practice than you. While others can (and should) have input, you are the only one who can decide how problems will be solved. Only you can change the direction of the practice. Only you can chart the course for practice success. Not your fault? Ultimately, it is.


Some mind games are about denial. Others are about avoidance. And some are a little of both. To become a better leader in your practice, you must tackle difficult issues like these head-on. These mind games must be acknowledged and addressed, not swept under the carpet. The success of your practice depends on it.

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