Practice integrity: fulfilling the promise

Dr. Joel Small discusses a strategy to create and maintain long-term success

Smallz-talk_Part1_600x300Have you ever stopped to consider the enormous amount of time and effort spent in the healthcare profession trying to identify the secret to long-term success for our clinical practices? Today there is a continually growing abundance of courses, journals, and consultants dedicated to teaching us any number of techniques or tricks of the trade to guarantee our successful longevity. Perhaps this is an indication that today’s healthcare providers are coming to the realization that technical skill, although a key factor, is not the only determining factor of our overall success.

With all of this diverse information coming at us from all directions, wouldn’t it be helpful if there was one overarching theme that consolidated this information into a single concept that allowed us to better focus and gain clarity with regard to a long-term “success” strategy?… a theme that provided for us a clear line of sight between where we are now and where we need to be to ensure years of prosperity and fulfillment?

One school of thought maintains that BRANDING is this overarching theme, and yes. Branding is important. Unfortunately, the idea that a brand is created through marketing is a common misconception that actually hurts rather than helps our strategic plan for success. Marketing, for all of its hype, is simply a means of presenting our message to prospective patients and referrers. All marketing messages contain both stated and implied promises that we make to patients and referral sources. What we often fail to realize is that it is our ability to deliver on these promises that creates our brand and the environment for long-term success in the service industry. It is my opinion that marketing campaigns consistently fail, not because the message was not ideally crafted, but rather the underlying promise is not kept.

I would like to submit that the overarching theme that drives our success is not simply branding but what I call Practice Integrity. So, what is practice integrity and why is it so vital to our success? Before answering this question, let me begin by asking you to consider what qualities you personally admire most in those people who have positively influenced your life. I’ve asked this question to literally hundreds of our colleagues, and invariably many if not most of us say that it is these influencer’s ability to exhibited impeccable honesty and a consistent willingness and ability to fulfill their commitments that we admire most. Interestingly, this same concept of honesty and fulfillment of commitment is the found in the definition of integrity, and whether it is applied to a personal or professional relationship, it still holds true. Practice Integrity knows no boundary. Whether we have a small solo practice or a large multi-doctor, multi-office practice, it is our practice integrity that both creates and maintains our long-term success.

So here’s an exercise that I would like to suggest … one that I believe you will find to be very beneficial in helping you and your team find clarity and direction when designing your strategic plans and creating your brand. First, ask your referral sources what they expect from you with regard to your patient care and interaction with their office. Meet with their staff if necessary to gain a clear understanding of their expectations and needs. Next, survey or ask your patients what their expectations might be.  Dig deep to go beyond the superficial expectations. Once you have accumulated this information, gather your team together, both doctors and staff, to have a frank discussion regarding your Practice Integrity. Create a list of both the implied and stated promises you make to your referral sources and patients.  Does your promise match their expectations, and more importantly, are you able to fulfill your promise. Again, it is important to dig deep … to go beyond the superficial obligatory responses to the deeper more meaningful answers. Identify the universal expectations expressed by the vast majority of your patients and referrers. Determine if and how you are meeting those expectations. Next look for those unique expectations expressed by specific referral sources.  Ask yourself and your team if collectively you are willing to extend the promise of consistently meeting these expectations, and if so, how will this best be accomplished? Finally, let your referral sources know that you will periodically check in with them to ensure that you are fulfilling your promise to them and their patients.

Once we clarify these expectations and develop a reputation for consistently delivering on our promise, the word will spread from our satisfied referral sources, and we will find that our reputation becomes a magnet for attracting other referral sources. Furthermore, as these word-of-mouth referrals increase to critical mass, our practices will eventually reach a tipping point from which we will experience exponential growth through lasting professional relationships that ensure our long-term success even in the most competitive environments.


small_HeadshotDr. Joel C. Small is a practicing endodontist and the author of Face to Face: A Leadership Guide for Healthcare Professionals and Entrepreneurs. He received his MBA, with an emphasis in healthcare management, from Texas Tech University. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas postgraduate program in executive coaching and limits his coaching practice to motivated healthcare professionals. He is a nationally recognized speaker on the subjects of leadership and professional development. Dr. Small is available for speaking engagements and for coaching healthcare professionals who wish to experience personal and professional growth while taking their practices to a higher level of productivity. Dr. Small can be reached at Readers can sign up for his blog at

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