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A Rose Is a Rose

A Rose Is a Rose

The Management & Marketing column by Dr. David Drake in this issue is one of the best articles I've read on the use of orthodontic staff. Although he covers the position of treatment communications coordinator in great detail, I would like to add a few comments on how the position is structured in my own office.

When we first decided to create this job, it took us much longer to decide on a title than to come up with a job description. As Dr. Drake mentions, there are many titles in use throughout the country. We thought about communications consultant or coordinator, treatment consultant or coordinator, and even hostess. However, the more we looked at the job description, the more we felt that none of these titles had enough depth or breadth. We finally decided that no name was a perfect fit, but we settled on manager of patient relations (MPR).

Our goal, like Dr. Drake's, was to involve this employee in all interactions among the patient, the patient's family, and our office. We thought the "manager" title would convey a bit more authority than "coordinator" or "consultant". As Gertrude Stein said, though, "a rose is a rose is a rose"; the position itself is more important than whatever you choose to call it.

It is our firm belief that this person, if properly selected and trained, can be more effective than the doctor in terms of interpersonal relationships. Our first four MPRs (at that time we had four full-time offices) were all women who were already on the staff. We simply selected the four who we felt best matched the job description. Their initial training was mainly in answering objections from potential patients. We had them sit in on consultations with the orthodontists, then worked with them on scripting their own consultations. Because we felt the doctors tended to get too technical in their case presentations, we tried to focus more on the overall benefits of orthodontic treatment. Our case acceptance rate improved by 10% when we had the MPRs begin handling most of the consultations, with the doctors coming in only at the end.

Our MPRs' main function, however, is not to free up time for the orthodontists. Their full-time concern is with all phases of patient relations. Their duties extend from encouraging the referring doctor, patient, or parent all the way to maintaining good alumni relations with those who have completed their treatment. They are also involved with publishing our newsletter, decorating the office for various holidays, making hospital visits to sick patients and orthognathic surgical patients, and keeping abreast of the achievements of our patients and their families--athletic, scholastic, or social.

The MPRs' community outreach includes attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, representing our office at science fairs, and talking to students. For example, our MPRs have made their own costumes and dressed up as carrots and chocolate kisses to talk to first and second graders about nutrition. The subject matter is more dental health than orthodontics, but each child receives a kit to take home that includes our office address and phone number, in case of future orthodontic need.

In our office, the MPR is a profit center, not an extra cost. The MPR's ability to empower the doctor and staff far exceeds our own. She can perform the sales function that we all need, but for reasons of professionalism often feel uncomfortable performing ourselves. In turn, the orthodontist can empower the MPR by praising her to patients and parents at the end of the consultations. The MPR is the patient's best friend in our office. When we have our annual skating party for our patients and their guests, there is always a bigger crowd around the MPRs than around anyone else on our staff.

If you are creating such a position, the easiest way to start is the way we did--by selecting from your current staff members. I now recommend testing your prospective MPR for sales ability and interpersonal skills, using any of the standard tests for such employees. But it may not be necessary to conduct an extensive search and hiring process. Your first MPR may already be in your office.

Call it an MPR, a TCC, or whatever you want; if you haven't yet created this position in your office, read Dr. Drake's article and then rethink your objections.


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