Redefining “root canal”

June 28, 2008

It happens.  Last night I had a semi-emergency root canal. That’s not why I haven’t blogged, though — I feel fine.  I haven’t used any of the pain medication.  I’ve been able to work without the headache I thought was sinus, but now appears to have been an infected tooth.

But the story is Harry Sugg’s dental practice at Wheatland Dental.

There’s a lesson there for health care.  There’s a lesson there for professional services, like law offices.  There’s a lesson there for schools.

After a half-day wrangling with the dental insurance company — a phone system very unfriendly to clients asking questions, a fellow with bad information about which dentists in the area are on the plan — I got through in the late afternoon to Sugg’s office.  I’m a new patient, and I more than half expected them to offer an appointment late next week.

Instead, the receptionist said the entire staff, but for her, were out celebrating Dr. Sugg’s birthday.  But they’d be back in an hour, and I should be there when they arrived.

The waiting room has massaging chairs, two televisions running different, intrigueing DVDs, and a coffee pot.  Before I’d finished the paperwork I was offered a bottle of water.  Zip, zip, zip.  Oh, and no out-of-date magazines (a few interesting books, on history mostly, and astronomy).  The waiting room was not full at all — not a lot of waiting.  One group appeared to be there to support an aging family member.  They kept up a lively and often funny line of patter with the staff.  It was as if a co-ed barber shop had broken out in the waiting room.

The exam was quick, with digital x-rays, from a woman who noted most of the staff was in a training session in the lunchroom — the Guinness Book of World Records‘s champion speed reader was offering reading tips to the staff.  A quick diagnosis from Dr. Sugg — could I be back at 8:00 p.m. for the procedure?

That’s right:  8:00 p.m.  The office hours run until 9:00 p.m.  Other options were Saturday and Sunday.  It’s a ’round-the-clock, through-the-week operation.

I mortgaged our grandchildren, took the prescriptions to the pharmacy, got a quick dinner and headed back.  Dr. Linda Cha performed the procedure.  She deadened everything before I got a needle — didn’t feel any pain at any time.  Obviously highly skilled, she explained as much of the procedure as I needed, always solicitous to my comfort.

As I left the office at about 10:15 p.m., an attendant gave me a fresh red rose.  Today they called to check on my progress and spend a significant amount of time answering questions.

Could I get used to that kind of care?

So I thought back to the days I aided intake at Legal Services of North Texas — the cattle-call features, the crowded hallways, the lack of restrooms, the vending machines that often didn’t work, the impossible tasks of trying to match a sticky legal situation with an attorney to do the work for free.  Clients weren’t happy with much of anything there.  I did this often while I worked at Ernst & Young — free coffee, free soft drinks, free pastries, client-effusive hospitality.  Lots of training.   And at bigger lawfirms in town, with restroom attendants, shoeshine machines, on-site concierge for employees and clients if needed.

At one of our high schools in Dallas, men’s restrooms for faculty went without water to the sink for months.  The teachers’ “lounge” doubled as a site for a major computer node, so the ambient temperature was generally close to 90 degrees.  A coffee maker looked as though it hadn’t been used in months, nor that it could produce any coffee that wouldn’t resemble industrial sludge.  But teachers only get 30 minutes for lunch anyway.

Anyone who doubts there is a War on Education hasn’t been in most schools lately.

Harry Sugg runs a great business.  Professional offices and other businesses could learn a lot from how he operates his dental clinic.  Schools could learn a lot, too.  He could consult with school districts on how to treat employees and get good results.  I’ll wager the school districts wouldn’t listen.

Teacher meetings?  Frankly, I’d rather have a root canal.  And I’ll pay for the service.

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