Interview: “Dentistry is a high-impact sport”

Robert Spiel is helping dental practices boost profitability. (Image: Robert Spiel)
TextIveta Ramonaite

Dentists often work in competitive markets and struggle with growing their practices. To receive specialist advice and improve efficiency in the dental office, it is often crucial to hire a dental consultant. Dental Tribune International spoke with Robert Spiel, a president and CEO at Spiel and Associates Consulting, about ways to improve dental practice management.

Mr. Spiel, what motivated you to become a dental consultant, and what are some of the challenges you face in your role?
There are two pathways to get into dentistry: either dentistry finds you, or you find dentistry. In my journey, dentistry found me. After serving as a hospital and surgical center CEO and consulting in medicine for a couple of years, a good friend and longtime dental consultant, Larry Wintersteen, invited me to go consult with him. I fell in love with dentistry in two days and haven’t looked back since. That was almost 12 years ago. Every day, I’m thankful to be part of an industry that makes such a difference in people’s lives.

The challenges you face in this role include a lot of travel and staying abreast of new technology and changes in the industry, but the most significant challenge is speaking with practice owners who could benefit significantly from consulting but are too fearful to engage. When you’ve been consulting for as long as I have, you notice that there is a very clear trend that suggests that the top 20% of practices in the U.S. all work with consultants.

“To play at a championship level, one has to have a coach. There’s no way of getting around that”

How important is it to build strong working relationships and to empower dental patients to make informed decisions about their oral health?
Those who have been at this game long enough realize, as my friend Larry Wintersteen said, that “dentistry is first a behavioral art and then it’s a clinical science.”

Building a trusting relationship with patients and then presenting treatment in a co-diagnostic way is vital to a practice’s success in being able to provide increasingly higher levels of service. Dental and hygiene schools present an incorrect paradigm that we are dental educators. I don’t agree with that. Education in and of itself is not sufficient for patients to transform needs into wants. We have to learn to become dental motivators. I’m not suggesting that we become pushy salespeople, but we have to become skilled in the relationship and communication methods that allow patients to own their treatment and want to get it done.

What are some of the signs that a dental practice should hire a dental consultant?
There are many signs that a dental practice should hire a consultant. Two of the biggest indicators are, firstly, that practice growth has plateaued and, secondly, that the practice owner/doctor feels that he or she is on a hamster wheel. If either of these is the case, then it’s time to find the right consultant. Also, if a practice has not learned how to do more production in less time with less stress, then it’s time to find the right consultant.

There are also other reasons, such as the need to learn how to be a better team builder and leader and how to bring on the right associate doctor. There could be a need for help with regulatory concerns such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The feeling of stress about the whole realm of human resources could also signal a need for assistance. Consultants are available to help with all of these issues and drain much of the confusion and stress out of a practice.

On the subject of leadership, I’d recommend my book Flip Your Focus: Igniting People, Profits and Performance through Upside-Down Leadership, which is available on Amazon and Audible.

What strategies would you recommend to boost practice profitability?
The basic answer to this is focusing on treatment acceptance and plugging the leaks within a practice. I recommend Dental Intel to all of my clients to assist with these two things in particular. In addition, providers need to push past what they learned in school and to continue to seek out mentors like Drs. Frank Spear, John Kois, Lindsey Pankey or Gordon Christensen to teach them the paradigm of comprehensive dentistry and to start viewing the mouth and body as an integrated system. The common phrase among consultants is “if you can’t see it, you won’t diagnose it and if you don’t diagnose it, you can’t treat it.” These clinical mentors allow dentists to “see” the mouth and body in a whole new light.

“Dentists are pulled on all day long and live in a glasshouse”

In light of recent studies that highlighted high levels of burnout among dental professionals, what impact does poor mental well-being have on practice management, and what are some of the ways to improve mental health among dentists?
For this reason, working only three and a half or four days a week is a must. There has to be downtime to renew and reenergize. Exercise is also one of the absolutes to maintain and improve mental health along with physical health. Dentists need to think of themselves as athletes. Their bodies are their tools and they have to be in great shape.

Along with this, for mental health improvement, I recommend a daily regimen of thought work, meditation and prayer before the day begins. Dentists are pulled on all day long and live in a glasshouse. To maintain their focus and energy, they have to put energy, positivity and even love back into their heart, mind and soul each day. One of my favorite books on this subject is Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life by Srikumar Rao. I also recommend The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey to all my clients, particularly the chapter on sharpening the saw.

Finally, emotional burnout is inevitable when a dentist views himself or herself as the “chief everything officer” instead of the “chief empowerment officer.” Providers who do not learn how to hire the right employee, build their teams and delegate effectively are on a path to a lot of stress and unhappiness. Additionally, their practice can’t produce up to its potential. I am also on the faculty of Gordon J. Christensen—Practical Clinical Courses and each November teach a high-impact, experiential course on leadership and team building, hiring, coaching and firing. Any provider who feels he or she is professionally “stuck” should attend. The reviews have been outstanding, and the results dramatic.