by Marianne Jackson
“The promise to treat Dugoni family members with the respect that they deserve and need” is how Dr. William Sands, assistant professor in the Department of Dental Practice and vice chair of the clinical practice strand, describes The Pacific Promise initiative. “It is a school-wide initiative to raise the bar in terms of overall customer service,” says Dr. Russell Woodson, assistant professor in the Department of Dental Practice and inter-clinic, quality assurance and International Dental Studies coordinator. Dugoni School family members include patients, students, staff, faculty, alumni and neighbors. “We aspire to treat them as we’d like to be treated ourselves,” adds Sands. It’s the Golden Rule applied to today’s dental practice—and those spearheading the initiative believe it makes good business sense as well. So do others, including Dean Patrick J. Ferrillo, Jr., who is a strong proponent of the initiative and is lending it his support.
The new campus and The Pacific Promise share the common goal of creating a positive impact on all constituents at all touch points. “First impressions are very powerful,” asserts Sands. “There is nothing in the world like our new building…but buildings without a family are somewhat hollow. The Pacific Promise is who we are and how we want to fill that space.”
The Pacific Promise customer service initiative will be rolled out in phases, first to patients and students, then to faculty, staff, alumni and the community. “We have always been customer-friendly and we have always put patients first. What’s different now is a much more coordinated effort on all levels to provide better service to all of our key constituents,” explains Woodson. The initial focus of The Pacific Promise was to support the patients and the opening of the new downtown campus. With the new clinic up and running, the initiative’s focus is now shifting to students.
Co-leaders Sands and Dr. Richard Fredekind, associate dean for clinical services, conceived The Pacific Promise in early 2013, believing that the new building brought the opportunity to rethink customer service across the board. “The two of us spent lots of hours trying to define who is in our family and what respect means. We have the best dental school facility in the world, so we must reflect that with the best service in the world,” explains Sands. Together the two crafted the plan and the language for The Pacific Promise. Fredekind adds, “We have been working on many of these ideas for years, but we wanted to go after them in a much more organized fashion, so The Pacific Promise coalesces these multiple initiatives under one umbrella.”
The Pacific Promise customer service initiative will be rolled out in phases, first to patients and students, then to faculty, staff, alumni and the community.
While the goals are lofty, the implementation tactics are specific and comprehensive. Twelve functional areas have been identified as critical for the continued refinement of clinic processes and practices. The Pacific Promise will focus on: the patient intake process; patient relations; patient access; efficiency (including timely patient care); billing; referrals and quality assurance; telecommunications; communications and training; faculty (including educational, relational and technical aspects of student-faculty interactions); website; social media and advertising and safety.
Goal setting and measureable outcomes are important parts of the program. Examples of visible objectives are to decrease the length of dental appointments, improve efficiently and productivity, improve comprehension of billing statements, improve the intake process and give patients access to online appointments and health records. According to Woodson, we need to “be more efficient at everything we do.” Key practice indicators and incentives have also been put in place for students, who receive individual progress reports every five weeks highlighting their proficiency on 13 metrics.
Early Progress, More to Come
Already there are some early successes. Patient intake time has been cut in half. In telecommunications, all phone messages are now returned the same day. New staff members have been added to support The Pacific Promise goals—a patient relations liaison, to help decrease unsatisfactory patient experiences, and an inter-clinic referral coordinator. And, facilities are more patient friendly in a variety of ways. Fredekind says that the elimination of overhead paging has created a more peaceful atmosphere. Woodson added that there is “better flow than ever” in the eight group practices.
Goal setting and measureable outcomes are important parts of the program.
Students and patients alike are witnessing differences in customer service. Waiting areas are more peaceful and quiet. “I love the fact that staff are not walking through yelling names anymore,” observes patient Stephen Shoemaker. Instead, group practice waiting areas are more private and students are not spending valuable time searching for their patients.
Other program components will launch this fall. A new billing statement format will be easier for patients to read and understand, directly addressing a frequent complaint of current patients. All customer surveys are being rewritten to be more relevant. An electronic tracking system that will issue reports to key partners in a timely fashion is under development. This will allow for coordinated referrals to help students better manage their patients’ needs. Team leaders in the quality assurance strand are also considering electronic kiosks to simplify patient feedback and increase participation rates.
Capping Off a Better Patient Experience
With 10,000 patient visits per year, the patient experience is at the core of the Pacific Dugoni clinical program. Both the facility and The Pacific Promise initiative contribute to the improvements in security, tranquility and intimacy. The state-of-the-art SoMa campus reflects a deliberate effort to improve the patient experience.
Operatories are set up to be more welcoming, roomy, airy, private, secure and comfortable. Shoemaker comments, “I recently fell asleep during drilling because I was so comfortable and things were so quiet.” A patient for 10 years, Robert Barone, reveals that he “liked the latest technology and tools, particularly the quieter electric treatment instruments.” Matthew Kelly, Class of 2015, enthusiastically shares that “patients love the new space!” He also notes that “toe-in” exam chair positioning in the new operatories is better for patient privacy. Sharing Kelly’s enthusiasm is fellow Class of 2015 student, Tyler Kisling, who says that patients “like the gadgets and newness” and raves about the improved acoustics which are ideal for student-patient communication, team building and small group practice sessions.
The new campus and The Pacific Promise share the common goal of creating a positive impact on all constituents at all “touch points.”
The new facility also improves the patient welcome process, an important component of the overall customer service experience. A new appointment-based ticketing system aims to improve the flow of traffic. Patients used to wait, often standing, in a huge impersonal reception area, sometimes for a long time before their name was called. “Now, no one ever has to stand,” Woodson proudly declares. Instead, patients wait in intimate, comfortable and quiet group practice reception areas.
What the Promise Means for Students
Students are more aware of customer service than ever before. “The old school was very technical, but decades ago there was not enough focus on training soft skills like communication and customer service,” recalls Woodson. These skills have real-world implications that will benefit Dugoni School of Dentistry students and their patients. Sands explains that the main goal is to graduate practice-ready professionals and “that is precisely what The Pacific Promise hopes to accomplish.”
Every aspect of the building and curriculum takes student education to the next level. Program improvements include: team meetings in small and quiet huddle rooms, close proximity of small group practice leaders’ offices, separate reception areas for each group, modern new facilities and technology. Since there are eight dental practices in the building, students are assigned to a practice and they are learning how to run a practice every day. The Pacific Promise team leaders strive to enable students to have a more fulfilling experience at the dental school, including completing more procedures, improving communication skills and taking newly revamped functional courses in practice management, marketing and basic finance.
With 10,000 patient visits per year, the patient experience is at the core of the Pacific Dugoni clinical program.
Tapping Alumni Wisdom
The Pacific Promise offers the school’s already engaged and devoted alumni more opportunities to interact with the school and students. “They love their school and the core value of giving back is built-in from day one,” says Sands. The recently initiated patient ambassador program highlights alumni pride and early involvement with The Pacific Promise. One month before the new clinic opened, alumni were emailed and asked to participate in the grand opening. The response was enormous! Nearly 100 alumni donated their time during the first weeks of the new academic year to usher, guide and answer questions for patients—capturing the core customer service goal of The Pacific Promise initiative.
The Pacific Promise program is still in its infancy, and there is still room for growth and development. Certain elements of the initiative are still not well-defined; details of the staff, faculty and alumni goals and strategies have yet to be crystallized. Fredekind acknowledges that certain goals will develop over time—for instance around treatment outcomes and job satisfaction. In addition, some patients are still adjusting to the new check-in system, technology and security.
The Pacific Promise offers the school’s already engaged and devoted alumni more opportunities to interact with the school and students.
While new high-tech kiosks and increased support personnel staff the lobby, some patients find the new process confusing and don’t yet recognize the benefits of the changes. Finally, the initiative has not yet permeated the culture, and some members of the Dugoni School of Dentistry family are not aware of its existence or its goals. Training is a big part of the solution. “The Pacific Promise outreach is currently being solidified all over campus,” says Dr. Craig Yarborough, associate dean for Institutional Advancement.
The Promised Land
The Pacific Promise will “make the experience better for all of the people in the building,” predicts Fredekind. Sands adds, “The Pacific Promise is the promise to fill the wonderful light, bright space with the best Dugoni family we can be.” Once this program takes root and reaches its objectives, Dugoni School’s leadership in dental education and patient care and its respect for its patients will be unmatched. The Pacific Promise is a noble commitment to embody the school’s mission, offer leading customer service and build upon the golden opportunity offered by its new, world-class facilities.
Marianne Jacobson, BA, MBA, is a freelance writer from Marin County.