Closing the (Knowledge) Gap

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I was taught to never present a problem without having a solution and this time is no different. But before we get started, let’s look at a few questions.

Putting aside orthodontics for a second, what do you know?

Seriously what do you know? Are you up on current events? Local events? Do you know what’s going on in the stock market? How is your best friend’s family doing? Who’s saying what on your social media accounts? Do you know what place your favorite sports team is in? How many of your state senators or representatives can you name? Can you identify any of the songs, singers or bands that are shaping the cultural landscape?

The above questions are not presented to make you feel bad. If it’s any consolation, my answers to the above questions started with “I think, maybe, a little” and devolved into a repetitious chorus of no. The point in asking those questions is to demonstrate how easy it is to feel overwhelmed in today’s information soaked society.

In 2010 Eric Schmidt (formerly of Google) brought our information overload into focus when he revealed, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” That’s a lot to know.

Now add in the effort to keep current with an information intensive profession like orthodontics. And if you’re a partner, or you’re running your own practice, then toss in everything you need to know about running a business. Recent healthcare legislation just added a new set of rules, regulations and procedures. Do you know what’s about to change for you?

Overwhelmed is an understatement.

When it comes to managing the content streaming into your cerebral hard drive, the key is to think less Jeopardy! And more Google.

I recently heard a lecture that suggested that there are two types of cognition: the first is basic cognition, your brain’s ability to retrieve knowledge from memory. That’s the basic gist of the show Jeopardy! The second type is called metacognition, and it’s defined as “cognition about cognition”, or “knowing about knowing.” Put another way, it’s our ability to realistically evaluate our own skills and knowledge. That’s why Google is so valuable.

You may not know the answers to any of the questions we asked earlier. But I’ll bet you know how to get the answers to just about all of them. In short, it’s not what you know, it’s your ability to realistically assess what you know, what you don’t know and what’s important.

‘Great’ you’re thinking ‘I just got permission to quit reading the newspaper and walk around Googling the answer to all of life’s questions.’ Um, not so fast. Part of what makes a successful metacognitive thinker is having the ability to prioritize what you don’t know. And that’s where ignorance can get you in trouble.

Here are some things that you need to know, before you can decide what you need to know.

First: you are in a service industry. Granted, it’s a highly sophisticated, extremely specialized one…but it’s nonetheless a service industry. Second: you’re in a management position. Third: your practice is a business that’s competing against a host of similar businesses in the immediate area. That’s three areas where there’s some important stuff you need to know. Your patients, your staff and your target audience will provide you with an essential base of knowledge when you transition between cognition and metacognition.

Your Patients—Discretionary spending is down, orthodontic treatment by GP’s is up and it’s quite possible that the economy is going to be doing the sideways shuffle for a while. You need every edge you can give yourself. The individuals you just treated are a potential goldmine of actionable information. Do you offer your patients a way to provide feedback on the service they just received? Do you follow up with them? Have you ever taken fifteen minutes and called a patient to understand the experience from their side? This is your opportunity to conduct a oneon- one focus group with an individual that just used your service. Ignore this information at your own peril.

Your Staff—Metacognition is all about knowing the limits of your own knowledge base. This can be especially difficult when dealing with other people. Do you know what your staff is really thinking? Do you know how they like to receive feedback? Does the feedback corridor run both ways, or is it just a top down type model? For all of the things you have control over in your practice, the attitude, appearance and approach of your staff can have a huge impact on how you’re perceived. Staff management can sometimes feel like some touchy-feely, Kumbaya nonsense left over from the 60’s. It’s not, and it’s too important to not take seriously. These conversations aren’t always comfortable…but they’re almost always invaluable. This is need to know information.

General Public—Our culture is progressing at a punishing pace. To stay relevant you need to stay current. Take a look at all the touch points you have with the public. That includes interior and exterior design, your logo and storefront, any signage you have, your blog, your website. These are all elements—brand elements if you will—that shape your reputation and as a result, impact the number of people that walk through your doors. It’s imperative that you know what these brand elements are projecting about you and your practice. Stay abreast of evolving treatment modalities and tout any recent technological acquisitions you’ve made. And finally, don’t be afraid to pay for professional help when it comes to addressing any of the above. Like you, professional writers, designers and marketing firms have highly specialized skills. Let them put their cognitive and metacognitive skills to work for you.

There is one final item you should move into the need to know category, and it’s a big one; how to get started. The best advice in the world means nothing if you don’t take action. Whether you do it on your computer, your tablet or with a pen and paper, jot the words Patients, Staff and Public down and then start making a list. What information would be most helpful to you to know about each of the above? Spend three minutes on each. Once complete, set your lists aside, then revisit them the next day and make any additions that come to you. Once you have a list, once you know what you don’t know, you can now realistically assess what you know, what you don’t know and what’s important.

This article published in 2013 OrthoWorld.

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