Stephen Thorne builds long-term patient relationships at Pacific Dental Services

Stephen E. Thorne IV thinks schools have it all backward. Since he founded Pacific Dental Services Inc. in 1994, he’s worked with thousands of dentists who have been trained to believe they’re the best of the best — and technically speaking, many are. But they’re rarely educated on the crux of the business.

“My idea of the perfect dental school would be a school where the first year they come in and they’re taught a ton about the soft skills, about human interactions, how to talk to people, how to relate to their patients, chair-side manner, questions to ask to get an understanding of their patient as an individual,” says Thorne, whose father was a dentist and tuned him in to the industry early on.

In his ideal curriculum, dentists-in-training would progress to clinical work only after they mastered patient interaction.

Thorne hasn’t infiltrated the medical education system, but he still strives to educate dentists on that all-important piece when he partners with dental practices, providing support on everything from selecting locations and negotiating leases to strategic planning and finance management.

“Oftentimes, dentists forget that attached to that tooth is a human being, a real live person,” says Thorne, president and CEO. “They’re not fixing teeth, really. They’re helping people out.”

Thorne’s focus on the end-user means better business in any industry, whether you’re dealing with customers or patients. He wants his affiliated dentists to understand that patient satisfaction is not a pleasant one-off experience; it’s really about building long-term relationships.

“Why are those relationships so important? Well, you can go straight to the financial side,” Thorne says. “It’s a lot more expensive to acquire a new patient than it is to retain an existing patient. … If a patient is a one-and-done, and (the practitioners) try to do as much as they can right there, the patient spends maybe $2,000. If a patient stays in a practice for about seven or eight years, they’d spend over $6,000. Which would you rather have? I think it can absolutely be applied to other industries.”