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Handling Treatment Plan Divergence – Strategies for Aligning Associate Dentists’ Approaches

In a multi-dentist practice, Associate Dentists can have diverse clinical approaches when developing treatment plans for patients. While this diversity can bring fresh perspectives and ideas, it’s important to ensure that patient care remains consistent and aligned with the practice’s standards. Handling treatment plan divergence among Associate Dentists requires effective communication, collaboration, and a commitment to maintaining high-quality patient care. In this article, we will explore strategies for Practice Owners to achieve this.

Establish Clear Practice Guidelines

The foundation of aligning treatment plan approaches lies in well-defined practice guidelines. Practice Owners should develop overarching guidelines that outline preferred treatment philosophies, protocols, and standards of patient care. These should embody the practice’s values, ethics, and principles, serving as a useful reference point for all clinicians. Associate Dentists are more likely to align their treatment plan approaches when they share these core values, so the recruitment process should be designed to ensure that new hires embody them where possible. Consider alignment as a framework that permits autonomy and personal decisions while maintaining a patient-centred approach.

Encourage Flexibility and Adaptation

While aligning treatment plan approaches is important, it’s essential to acknowledge that each patient is unique and must be treated as such. Given that each Associate is responsible and liable for the clinical work they undertake, the ultimate decision must rest with them. Each dentist has different education, experience, and preferences, so some diversity in treatment planning is natural. This is where guidance and support become important, especially in the earlier years.

Provide Support and Mentorship

If an Associate Dentist is unsure of how to approach a particular case, having access to a more senior dentist for suitable guidance is invaluable. The knowledge from years of trial and error can be passed down during these interactions, and the more junior Associate’s thoughts and approaches will converge and align with their ‘Supervisor’ over time.

Discuss How to Document Treatment Approaches

Maintain clear documentation of treatment approaches and rationales for each patient case. Besides the protective legal implications, this documentation facilitates knowledge sharing and consistency in patient care, especially when multiple Associate Dentists are involved in a patient’s treatment journey or when a transition to another dentist is required.

Discuss Taking Over Treatment Plans

It is not uncommon for a patient to need to see another dentist mid-treatment plan. This may be for an emergency when their regular dentist is away or because an Associate Dentist has left the practice. How this is handled is very important, and Associates should be guided in their communication in such circumstances. Explaining that each dentist’s approach will vary slightly depending on their training, experience, and preferences is a great way to reduce resistance to any changes. A good practice is to ask the patient if “it’s ok for me to thoroughly review the proposed treatment plan before proceeding” and explain that “I like to ensure that I am not missing anything.” Then, present your findings and handle any modifications to the old treatment plan with suitable appreciation for the positive intention of the previous dentist.

Standardise Diagnostic Processes

To minimise treatment plan divergence, emphasise the importance of standardised diagnostic processes. Encourage Associate Dentists to follow consistent procedures for patient assessments, radiographs, and clinical evaluations to ensure suitable and accurate treatment planning. This is where it all begins.

Learn Together and Encourage Open Dialogue

The more you expose your clinical team to education together, the more you will naturally align them. Invest in continuing education opportunities that focus on evidence-based practices and clinical guidelines. Providing ongoing education ensures that all Associate Dentists stay updated with the latest advancements, techniques, and research in the field. Create an environment where Associate Dentists feel comfortable discussing and sharing their treatment plan approaches with one another. An online area, such as an internal WhatsApp group among clinicians, is a great way to get quick thoughts and feedback, but for more complex cases, in-person discussions are preferable.

Discuss the Referral Network

Having a largely unified referral network can benefit a dental practice. Remember that who you refer to is an extension of you, and if things do not go well, patients will assign some level of accountability to you. It is important to get feedback from patients on their experiences and to evaluate the treatment they have received. These should be shared among the clinicians periodically, and if circumstances dictate a change, this should be made to ensure the highest level of care for patients at the practice.

In conclusion, managing treatment plan divergence and aligning Associate Dentists’ approaches is a delicate balance that requires a combination of guidelines, collaboration, and ongoing education. Practice Owners play a crucial role in creating an environment that promotes cohesive patient care while respecting individual clinical autonomy.

By implementing strategies such as establishing clear practice guidelines, promoting collaboration, and encouraging evidence-based practices, Practice Owners can ensure that treatment plan divergence is minimised, patient care remains consistent, and the practice’s reputation for quality care is upheld.

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