Creating and Maintaining a First-Class Patient Experience with Dr. Sam J. Halabo, DMD
September 19, 2019
Our guest this week Dr. Sam J. Halabo, DMD sits down with our Guest Host Brandon Fetters and discuss the differences between doing a residency and working with a mentor right after graduating and how both provide two completely different experiences that will help you understand real world patient needs and day to day procedures. Dr. Halabo also shares his experience with fearful/anxious patients early on in his career and how that helped him establish a long-term positive patient experience later on in his practice. You will hear all this and much more on this week’s episode of the Dental Up Podcast.
In this episode you will hear about: -Understanding how to work with fearful/anxious patients
– How Digital Marketing helped grow his practice, establish his Brand and helped showcase his customer experience.
-How he utilizes CAD/CAM in his practice
-The Importance of working with a Dental Laboratory.
-How he became Director of the UC San Diego Homeless Clinic and how he helped fund that organization.
Host: Ladies and gentleman, this is the Dental Up Podcast, brought to you by Keating Dental Lab, a full-service, award-winning dental laboratory. Each week you’ll learn tips and techniques from real-world dentists. Bringing you in-depth interviews, motivating stories, current events and sports, here is your special host, the senior technical advisor for Keating Dental Lab, Brandon Fetters. Brandon Fetters: Hey, everybody. Brandon, here. Welcome to another episode of the Dental Up Podcast. Our guest this week is a graduate with honors from Boston University School of Graduate Dentistry. He completed his dental residency at Loma Linda Veterans Hospital, learning special techniques and working with fearful patients and providing comfortable dental care. He was voted the top San Diego dentist for 15 consecutive years and is a well-respected speaker in the dental community. Currently practicing from San Diego, California, please welcome, Dr. Sam. J. Halabo, DMD. How’s it going, Dr. Halabo? Dr. Halabo: It’s going great. Glad to be here with you guys today. Brandon Fetters: Excellent. We really appreciate it as well. Thank you so much. I know that you’re a busy man, so let’s go ahead and jump right into it. Why did you get into dentistry, and at what point did you think, “I want to become a dentist?” Dr. Halabo: When I was younger, I hadn’t been to a dentist. My family hadn’t taken me, and then the first time they took me was because I had a big toothache. So I went to the dentist in complete fear and then the dentist took my pain away, and this guy became our family dentist. And actually, he became my mentor eventually. Dr. Halabo: So right at that point, I was looking at him going, “Wow, this could be a pretty interesting career. This could be something pretty cool.” And as I grew up, I wound up actually going to his office, volunteering there in high school as well as in college. Because I liked the idea of dentistry and just the way he worked, he made his own hours. He would always talk to me about how he got to use his hands, he got to use his mind. And he was very personable which I kind of love. Dr. Halabo: I’m a dental speaker now as well as having my own dental practice. So I get to speak with a lot of people. And he was always teaching and talking, so I felt very comfortable with that and thought, “This could be a great career.” And the more I researched it and looked into it when I was in college, I was like, “Oh, I think this is exactly what I want to do.” So I eventually started volunteering at some different offices to see what exactly I wanted to do, and really see if I was going to fall in love with it, and I did. Brandon Fetters: And that’s interesting that you mentioned about the fear of the dentistry, or the fear of the dentist, I should say. And then, I was seeing also that you had worked with dental phobic patients at the VA, where I guess you got to apply that even further. Is that right? Dr. Halabo: Yeah, no, absolutely. There was parts in our dental school where we actually had to work with patients in psychiatric hospitals. And that was one thing I had learned right away, was people who are really fearful. And then at the VA was again working with fearful patients. So that’s something that’s really carried on quite a bit in my career. Dr. Halabo: It was also interesting, I didn’t mention, when I was that young I hadn’t even spoken English yet. I didn’t speak English until I was 10 years old, so I was really terrified of the dentist. I had no idea what he was saying, what he was doing or anything, to me. Which eventually becomes a career and I became a public speaker as well, later. So it’s funny how life changes at times. Brandon Fetters: No doubt. And that was experience, and now you get to help out others through it. That’s really awesome, doctor. Dr. Halabo: Yeah, absolutely. Brandon Fetters: So, Dr. Halabo, what was it like going to Boston University? Dr. Halabo: Oh, it was actually great. I wound up growing up in San Diego. I went to UC Santa Barbara for undergrad. And that was a great place altogether. It was still Southern California. I got to surf, and I actually had a partial tennis scholarship and academic scholarship. But then I decided to go to the East Coast for dental school. Which I had never been to the East Coast. Boston was also one of my favorite cities, because it had the Celtics and Larry Byrd playing back then. I was a big Larry Byrd fan back then. So I decided to go there and I also had a partial scholarship to the Boston Dental School as well. There is only a couple of those, so when you get one of those you try to take it and run. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, you got to take it [crosstalk 00:03:59]- Dr. Halabo: But I loved being on the East Coast at first. It was really great because I hadn’t experienced all the seasons. And when we live in Southern California we don’t get too much of that. But having gone there, I experienced it and it was great at first. But the winters were a little tough, I got to tell you. There was a couple of winters where we had over 100 inches of snow. Literally, one winter, I still remember it, it would snow every Wednesday and every Saturday. It was none stop, it was just … So, I kind of determined that I loved the East Coast but I was going to move back to the West Coast as soon as I had the chance. Brandon Fetters: All right. That makes perfect sense. How would you compare the seafood from West versus East? Dr. Halabo: They’re both pretty good. They’re a little different in their own ways. But both of these cities that I’ve lived in have been on the coast. So the seafood is hard to beat in either one. So that kind of stuff is just tough. What’s funny is, I still lecture every year in Boston, so I get to go back to my roots. And I’ve actually lectured at my old school, too, which is really fun and interesting. Brandon Fetters: That is fun. Out of curiosity, because I see that you’ve been voted the top dentist in Chula Vista for 15 years, how do you market yourself to your community? Dr. Halabo: Marketing in our community has been very interesting. I’ll tell you a little bit about my practice and how I came back here. I moved back to California. I went and did a one-year residency at Loma Linda Veterans Hospital and passed my California boards and immediately started looking for offices. My brother one time called me and he said, “Hey, this is my periodontist just called. There’s an office here the guy was running. It’s in the South Bay, but he had a mild stroke and he’s looking for somebody to help cover for him.” And I said, “Well, sure. That sounds like a thing I could look into.” And I had built up a number of free days at the VA because I worked all the time and I never took a day off. So, I was able to go down there and every free day I had, I would go and work and try to see how the practice was. This is a smaller practice. There’s only two and a half days a week. And we had a day and a half of hygiene. But I thought it was ideal to start. And I thought it had a lot of potential. Dr. Halabo: And this is 22 years later now. I’m in the same practice but a much more different dynamic. We’re four full days here, four days of hygiene. I have an associate on Thursdays. We have about four or five people here. So to say that we’ve grown the practice would be an understatement. It’s gone through a number of renovations in terms of physically and in terms of how many patients have gone through, and how many we have now. It’s more than quadruple. It’s been building little by little and marketing was definitely a big piece of it. When I started, we used to do a lot more mailers and things like that. Now, it’s become a lot more online. I have a group that I work with where they do a lot of our marketing now. Where I used to be able to do it a little bit more, when I had more time. But now it’s become something where I actually have a marketing/advertising company that does most of it for us. Dr. Halabo: A lot of what they do is more things through the website, SEO, keywords with Google. Some mailers, still, every now and then, maybe not as much as we used to. But our practice, the dynamic of it has stayed similar in that it maintained the private-practice feel the whole time. Which I really love and enjoy because that’s the way I like practicing. We like to really individualize the experience for our patients and make them feel really unique. I’m in a very tough environment here where just on my block alone, there is six other general dentists and three specialists within about 100 yards of me. So we have to really do some unique things and make the patient experience much more different in order to make ourselves stand out. So that’s something that we really pride ourselves on and really work on a lot, in order to individualize the experience for the patient and make ourselves unique. So that we’re sought after, not just a commodity, which a lot of practices are. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, no doubt, really give them that, more like the mom-and-pop-shop feel, where you get that interpersonal relationship going. Dr. Halabo: Absolutely, absolutely. And then also, we’re very technology heavily based. So we do a lot of things. Where they, by the time they walk out, they’re like, “Wow, I’ve never had that in other offices.” So that’s the thing I want to give them. I don’t want them to just go into, “Oh, it’s just another office. They did this. They tell me what’s wrong.” Dr. Halabo: We take photos of everything. We show them every single tooth that we’re going to work on and some things that we’re not going to work on. We show them everything from A to Z. They come out with a full knowledge of what’s happening in their mouth by the time they walk out of our offices. Brandon Fetters: Excellent, excellent. So obviously, you’re always into the newer technologies and dentistry that are coming out there. I know, what, about 20 years ago or so we started to see the scanner starting to very first come out on the market or so. And I assume you’re using that CAD-CAM technology in your office also? Dr. Halabo: Oh, absolutely. I’ve been using that since 2004, so, when I was early a doctor. And it’s interesting, I had actually even used some of these machines back in my dental school. So that was something that opened my eyes to them. We still use them a fairly good amount. I don’t use them too much for my anterior work. I have labs like Keating Dental Lab do that kind of work for me because they do a great job. But we do use them for single units and the posterior at times. And we’re also scanning with them quite a bit. Dr. Halabo: So we use the scanning feature quite a bit. But definitely, technology I think really helps out a lot. I think these kind of machines will eventually make their way sort of like digital radiography did. It was slow to start and when the prices finally came down a little bit it became much more mainstream. And eventually about the majority of offices wind up having it. Brandon Fetters: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a very truthful thing about that. When the technology first hits, it’s so expensive. But then it comes down in price and the availability is out there for the majority of us. Dr. Halabo: I think it’s absolutely one of those technologies that is definitely going to be in the process and going to be mainstream very soon. It’s just a matter of those prices coming down. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, certainly. Is there a certain procedure that you find to be your favorite in dentistry? Dr. Halabo: There’s a few. One of the reasons I think I stayed as a general dentist is so I could do a lot of different things. My group of speakers, we talk about the super general dentists, and they call me one of them. Even though I tell them, “Hey, I don’t do my molar endos, ever. I usually just send those away.” Dr. Halabo: I group up with a business background in my family. So one of the things I look at as an office is I look at is as a business as well. I always tell people, “I love dentistry probably more than anybody.” And dentistry’s been fantastic, I love every part of it. But you have to look at your practice as a business. And as a business, you have to run it as a business and look at numbers as well. So, with that in mind, I look at every procedure. We time all of our procedures. And we try to see what’s efficient and what’s not. Dr. Halabo: One of the things that I’m not fast enough at, or do efficiently is a molar endo. So those are one of the only procedures we typically send out. Other than that, we tend to do a lot of things in-house. I place implants, have been placing implants for about 10 years now. I actually teach placing implants to other dentists. We do things like Invisalign. We do Six Month Smiles. We do all sorts of procedures. But some of my favorites are basically, the implants and some of the full mouth rehab cases. Where you get to really change the smiles and change the outlook of a person on their life, and how they see things. And all of a sudden you start seeing them smile, and be happy, and be able to function and chew. So those are some of the procedures that I really, really tend to enjoy. Brandon Fetters: Oh, yeah. That has to be really rewarding from somebody who walks in and they’re holding their hand in front of their face when it comes to talking, to hide their smile, versus walking out shining bright and smiling wide. Dr. Halabo: It’s funny you say that. Just yesterday, we took some final pictures on a patient. We’d just went through a full-mouth rehab. I asked her, I go, “So what do you think? How do you feel?” And she was like, “Oh, my God. I wish I had done this sooner. This feels so much better. It looks so great. I get compliments all the time.” Brandon Fetters: Oh, that’s awesome. Dr. Halabo: So that kind of thing just makes you feel better about what you do. Brandon Fetters: Oh, no doubt. That’s got to be so rewarding. Dr. Halabo: Yeah, I know. Truly, that’s one of the best parts of this job. It’s just fantastic. Brandon Fetters: I don’t know. That’s always one of the things that’s really, really fascinated me about the industry, too. It’s just really helping the quality of life with people and then also, that self esteem factor to where being so afraid to show their smile. Dr. Halabo: It’s interesting you say that. When I was younger, I actually helped start a homeless clinic and I was the director of the UC San Diego Homeless Clinic. So, UC San Diego had this project where they wanted to treat the homeless and they brought in dentists like me from the Dental Society. And I actually wind up donating so much of my equipment and materials that we have here, because we were doing a rehab on my office to the process. Dr. Halabo: Just doing work like that, I always tell people, “If you’re ever bored or you want to give back a little bit, go back to a homeless clinic or something like that where you will be amazed at how appreciative these patients are. They’re just so happy sometimes to get out of pain, or to be able to have a few teeth to be able to function and eat with. That is one of the best things ever. And you will get so much joy out of that. Even though you’re not getting compensation, but it’s just the joy that fills you with doing something else for someone else.” Brandon Fetters: It just kind of makes me wonder, do you have any advice you could give toward new dentist coming into the industry or starting their own practices? I mean [crosstalk 00:13:25]- Dr. Halabo: Yeah, no, absolutely, and I always give this too, in my lectures, too. Because I always have a lot of the younger dentists come up during breaks and ask me questions. So I always tell them, I go, “I think every dentist coming out of dental school should either do some sort of a residency, or go to work for someone who can mentor them.” I know nowadays, a lot of them come out and a lot of the DSO’s are jumping out on graduates because the graduates are coming out on so much debt. And they want to get a job and start paying off some of their debt quickly. Dr. Halabo: But if you can really find somebody who is able to mentor you and walk you through a lot of situations and teach you a lot, that is so amazingly valuable. I had to do it through a residency. But I’ve had other associates where I teach them step by step and really help them grow and show them. I think that’s one of the greatest things that will teach people, help them mentor. Because when I get somebody in, I don’t just teach them the dentistry. I teach them the business part. I’m teaching them marketing. I’m teaching them so many things that aren’t really taught in dental schools. Which, even when you go to a residency program, you’re not taught those things. You’re just taught how to work on teeth. Dr. Halabo: Well, the whole dental curriculum and the whole dental process, and the dental practice is way more than just teeth. You have to be able to work with people. You have to be able to work as a business. You have to be able to do many different things and wear many hats. So if you’re able to, and you’re coming out of school, to find a mentor who can help you through these, and really work with them and learn, that’s a great thing. If not, at the very least, do a residency where you get more experience and you learn a lot. Hopefully, those are a couple of things that will help out the new dentists as they come out with their big debt that they’re coming out of dental schools with now. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, I would only imagine so. And do you have … Dr. Halabo: Yeah. Brandon Fetters: Oh, sorry. Go ahead. Dr. Halabo: No, no. Go ahead. I was listening to you. Brandon Fetters: I was just kind of curious. You mentioned about speaking and meeting at dental groups. Do you have any conventions or any things coming up here soon that you’re going to be attending? Dr. Halabo: Oh, gosh. My next three months are pretty full. Probably three out of every four weekends in each of the next three months, I will be gone speaking somewhere. I’m speaking at some different dental societies. I just got booked into Texas Dental Association meeting for next year, and the Hawaii Association meeting for next year. Dr. Halabo: But, a number of them on the West Coast and I’m speaking in Chicago at the AGD. And I’m speaking at a couple of others on the East Coast as well. But, it’s going to be a pretty busy time. But I love going to conventions and whether I’m speaking or not, just looking at all the new technology, and playing with a lot of the new toys that come out. Because it really lets you see how fast our industry’s moving and where it’s going in terms of our technological uses of all the items we have in dentistry. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, yeah. Did you happen to attend the ADA in San Francisco? Dr. Halabo: I actually didn’t this time. This is the first one that I’ve missed in a while. Just because I actually had a lecture that weekend as well. So it was like, “Oh.” Brandon Fetters: You can’t make it to all of them. Dr. Halabo: My lecture has been booked a year and a half in advance sometimes. So it’s like, “Oh.” So, yeah, unfortunately I missed it this time. But I was at the CDA South earlier this year. And I was lecturing at that and got to spend some good time at that one, as well. And I will probably be attending the Greater New York. So I will probably be there, too. Brandon Fetters: Yeah. Greater New York show’s always one of the best ones to go to, I’d have to say. Dr. Halabo: Yeah, definitely. Brandon Fetters: Are you going to be speaking there as well, or just attending? Dr. Halabo: Not this year. I’m attending this year, but I think I’m speaking next year. Brandon Fetters: Well now, is there any particular subject that you tend to talk about when you do lecture? Or is it, you do sometime? Dr. Halabo: Yeah, so, I have a couple of different topics. I do speak on implants. I speak on the technology with implants a lot. I speak on cone beam use. We use Prexion, which is a really easy system to use for cone beam and CBCT. So, I tend to talk about that. I also will talk about restorative. And I have lectures on dental materials and CAD-CAM dentistry. Dr. Halabo: So I do have a few different topics that I talk about. And all of them are coming from the idea, from a private dentist’s practice. So I’m kind of in the trenches with most of these dentists. So my audience tends to find that really useful. I talk about everyday things that we do with these different procedures and processes in the office. And I talk about the business sense in every one of the lectures as well, because I think that’s important as well. I try to make it a full round out chorus so that people can really take lots of little gems back to their practice and use them. Brandon Fetters: Out of curiosity, how did you happen to become the editor of Inside Dentistry? Dr. Halabo: So, when you write a lot of articles and go through a lot of things, eventually they start going, “Okay, we’d like for you to start evaluating some of the articles we get here.” And I’ve written numerous articles here. And I write a few every year, so eventually I was asked, “Hey, would you like to be an editor?” And so, as an editor, you get to look at a lot of these articles and you can make corrections or give advice to some of the article writers and things like that. Dr. Halabo: So, that’s a pretty fun thing. So I get to have time for that. And I evaluate products as well for a couple of different groups, including Catapult Group and CR. So, it keeps you kind of busy. It’s a lot to do but it keeps you busy. And it keeps it fun, as well. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, I bet, I bet, no doubt. It’s kind of interesting, I was thinking about that earlier when you had mentioned on the dental materials, and then also CAD-CAM. Because that’s also one of those things, especially from a lab standpoint, that we were always looking at was that elimination of yet another expansion contraction. Have you noticed superior fits with CAD-CAMs, or with dental scanners, versus other impression materials? Dr. Halabo: Absolutely. There’s so many articles now illustrating this, too. So it’s not just our words. It’s the people who are using it. But there is so much more accuracy in terms of CAD-CAM dentistry, and the scanning ability of it. There is so much less remake, so much better margins and things like that. And I always tell dentists, too, “A lot of things you’re going to see are that you’re actually being able to see your finish lines and you see them right in front of you. Or a lot of times you look at in impression and you go, “Oh, looks good enough.” But there’s been a lot of studies also that show how many impressions need some more work. They’re coming from dentists to labs. Dr. Halabo: So I always like the idea of being able to see your margins right away and picking them out for the lab. Because you’re the one treating the patient. So it’s always great for you to outline that margin for the lab. You wind up with much better results and you get to see what your work looks like. You can make any adjustments before you actually send that FDL file to the lab. So there’s a lot more that’s coming with it. And that’s why I keep saying I think it’s eventually going to take over the future of impression making. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Throughout the past, I don’t know how many times do you have that conversation, where you take that impression and you’re looking at it. It’s almost like the negative of a developed photo, and it’s hard to see that clarity. But just like you’re saying, when you see it right there in real time, right in front of you. You can, “Whoa, wait. I need to go back and rescan that area.” You have so much more control and ensurance of accuracy. Dr. Halabo: Oh, absolutely. And like I said, a lot of the studies and a lot of the articles show that now. They’ve done a number of comparisons and I talk about them a lot in my lectures, too. And I show these articles. It’s just showing that the accuracy versus an impression. And it’s just one of those things that’s going to be coming. And sooner or later, it’s going to happen as soon as those prices come down and everybody gets a machine eventually, I think. Brandon Fetters: Yeah, yeah, much agreed. So I think we’re pretty much wrapped up with all the questions I had. Is there anything you’d like to add? Dr. Halabo: No. I think it’s great. I love the fact that you have these podcasts here that can help people understand things. If anybody ever has a question or wants anything, I’m more than happy to email them. I’m sure you guys might list that with About Podcast. And if there are any questions or any new kids who want to ask questions about anything in general, or have questions in general for a dentist about a dental career and things to do, I’m more than happy to answer them. So, thank you for having me today, too. It’s been great. Brandon Fetters: Oh, yeah. I really appreciate you Dr. Halabo. It’s been, quite honestly, rather educational and a fun conversation. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. Dr. Halabo: Good. Thank you guys. Thank you for doing such a great job. Brandon Fetters: Thank you very much, Dr. Halabo. I hope you have a great afternoon and we’ll be in touch. Host: Thanks for joining us on the Dental Up Podcast show this week. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Or search the Dental Up Podcast on iTunes for our weekly feed. Don’t forget to visit keatingdentallab.com/promo for exclusive offers. Keating Dental Lab is a full service dental laboratory and we’re nationwide. We’d love for you to send us a case so we can show you the Keating difference. If you dig what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and we’ll be back next week.