The Nightmare Patient and Other Bad Customers

by Jim Du Molin

I was sitting with six people outside of a recent dental event. There were some high-powered consultants in the small group, and we were talking about dental management issues. A colleague’s Blackberry beeped with an email was from one of his recent client doctors. More than just an ordinary complaint, the email sounded like the tantrum of a two year old. I had a moment of deja vu as he read it aloud; I was instantly reminded of a similar experience I had a few years earlier.

As it turns out, I correctly guessed the author of the email: the same doctor I had dealt with. Another person in the group had a similar experience with the person as well. So, out of seven of us, three had negative experiencse with the same client doctor. What are the odds? It should come to no surprise that this individual was given a complete refund and told he would never get service again.

So what happened? How did this client get so bad? In my experience with him, he countered back to me “The client is always right!!” I disagreed. “The right client is always right. The wrong client is always wrong. You are the wrong client.”

I recall a story told years ago of a customer who complained about everything to Southwest airlines. After every flight, she would fire off another letter about all the things that she felt were wrong. Due to all the previous letters, they bumped her latest one to the CEO, Herb Kelleher. After reading her letter, he responded with the following:

Dear Ms. __________,

We will miss you.


That’s it. Mr. Kelleher understood that by backing down to this unruly and unpleasant passenger, he would not be standing up for and supporting his employees. That is a valuable lesson. My staff will tell you that I have fired clients and refused the business of people who were rude to them.

The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store, in London in 1909. It is typically used by businesses to:


  • Convince customers that they will get good service, and
  • Convince employees to give customers good service.



Fortunately, more and more businesses and dental practices are abandoning this maxim. Why? Ironically, it leads to bad customer service. The main issue with it is it means that abusive people (like the person I mentioned initially) get better treatment than nice people. That’s just wrong. It makes much more sense to be nice to the nice patients to keep them coming back and fire the bad patients.

Put team members first and they will be happy at work. Teams who are happy at work give better patient service because:


  • They care more about other people, including patients.
  • They have more energy.
  • They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with.
  • They are more motivated.



On the other hand, when the practice and doctor consistently side with patients instead of with team members, it sends a clear message that:


  • Team members are not valued.
  • Treating employees fairly is not important.
  • Your team members have no right to expect respect from patients.
  • Team members have to put up with everything from patients.



When this attitude prevails, dental teams stop caring about service. So put your people first, and watch them put the patients first.

Remember, happy team members always produce more and offer better patient service.

Jim Du Molin

Dentists Keep Mum on Quality of Colleagues’ Dental Work (video)

Two of three dentists say they avoid criticizing their colleagues’ work. Is this professional courtesy? A high ethical standard? Deep-seated fear of lawyers?

“There are many factors out of the doctor’s control (we all know what those are),” said a periodontist, “and what comes around goes around.”

(Probably it’s the lawyers. A sleep dentist once told me he lived in fear of them.)

Cosmetic dentists are the worst offenders of bad-mouthing other dentists,” vented one dentist. “They imply other dentists do ugly dentistry.”

Read more: Two Out of Three Dentists Won’t Criticize Colleagues’ Work

Dentist Thinks All Dentists Should Drop Dental Insurance (video)

Dentist Thinks All Dentists Should Drop Dental Insurance (video)Dental insurance is a great way to bring in new dental patients, but it is also a great way to reduce a dental practice’s bottom line and give dentists less control over their dental practice.

Explained one endodontist, “If I dropped dental insurance I’d be cutting ties to 85% of my patient base!”

Another doctor suggested, “If all dentists dropped all insurances, then all dentists could collect fees in full from everyone!”

The Wealthy Dentist conducted a survey asking dentists if they have dropped dental insurance.  Many dentists responded that they are sick and tired of dental insurance companies dictating fees and treatments, leaving a number of them wanting to drop their dental health plans.

To hear more of what dentists had to say about dropping dental insurance, Click Play —

What are your thoughts on dental insurance?

Average Dentist Spends 75 Hours Annually on Continuing Education

Dental Continuing Education Is an Important Part of Dentistry

In our most recent survey, we asked dentists how many hours of formal continuing education they log in an average year. The mean response was 75 hours per year, more than enough to meet state requirements. Interestingly, general dentists reported more CE hours than did specialists.

“More continuing should be required,” wrote a Georgia dentist who logs 200 hours/year. A Michigan orthodontist (logging 120 hours/year) agreed: “The orthodontic world is exploding with information and the state CE requirement is 20 hours a year. Hopelessly inadequate!”

“I’m a CE junkie,” said a Tennessee dentist boasting 150 hours a year. “I also chase extraneous awards and distinctions from various organizations.”

Check out the full results of our dental continuing education survey for more data and comments from dentists.

Dental Care: California Medi-Cal Cut Dental Coverage for 3 Million

California Medi-Cal Cut Dental CoverageThe Los Angeles Times is reporting that ever since California cut coverage for 3 million Medi-Cal recipients two years ago, dentists say patients now wait until infections become so severe they must visit emergency rooms or their teeth must be pulled.

In the Los Angeles Times article, Nagaraj Murthy, a dentist in Compton for the past 32 years, states that ever since California cut back dental coverage, he has lost about half of his adult patients because they don’t have money to pay for dental treatments. He doesn’t charge these patients for preliminary comprehensive exams but said he can’t afford to provide free dental treatment.

The highly anticipated healthcare reforms are not expected to help.

California’s Medi-Cal program no longer pays for X-rays, root canals, dentures, fillings or cleanings. As a result, some dental patients are having their teeth pulled instead of repairing or replacing them.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research states that 12% of U.S. adults 20 to 64 have not been to the dentist within the past 5 years.

For more on this story see: Reduced State Dental Benefits Create Dire Situation for Patients.


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