Dr. Susan Mazzei of West Suburban Oral Health Care Grows by Accepting Help from Experts
While growing up in Grosse Pointe MI, Susan Mazzei aspired to someday help people, and was intrigued by a dental assisting program offered at her high school. “I fell in love with dentistry as a sophomore in high school, and never looked back! I never thought about doing anything else,” recalled Dr. Mazzei. After attaining an undergraduate degree in psychology from University of Michigan, she earned a DDS from Northwestern University Dental School, as well as a specialty certification in prosthodontics.
Having fallen in love with the Chicagoland area, Dr. Mazzei and a colleague bought a small existing practice in the suburbs. The two doctors treated patients in less than 800 sq. ft. of office space, with no assistant, no hygienist… and apparently, no spare time! For the next 12 years, Dr. Mazzei also served as a full time Clinical Assistant Professor at Northwestern’s Dental School!
The practice had grown slowly over the years, so when the Dental School closed in 2003, timing was right to move to a larger space and focus on growing the practice even more. And that they did! In 2018 she upsized and moved once again, this time purchasing a building in Naperville IL. West Suburban Oral Health Care now comprises Dr. Mazzei, an associate, four hygienists, four assistants and three front desk staff – a team she describes as “spectacular.”
The Other Part Of a Practice
Dr. Mazzei bought a practice right off the bat, having had no exposure to the myriad aspects of owning and running a business. She admitted, “Being a business owner and being a clinician are two very different things. I always say dentistry is easy; it’s the other part that can be difficult, and you don’t really learn until you get into it. And as you grow, there are layers and layers of other issues.”
Virtually every doctor will admit that building a practice becomes very personal; it can be hard to let go, to let others help, to trust others with your “baby” and your livelihood. Moreover, just recognizing that you need help can be a huge hurdle. Considering her academic background, it’s not surprising that Dr. Mazzei is an avid lifelong learner – constantly reading, attending webinars, remaining current with the latest advancements in oral health and dentistry. But even she had to admit to nearing burnout before realizing she needed to do some things differently, especially if she wanted to continue growing the business.
Initially you think you can do it all, and you want to because it’s your baby. But at some point, you realize you cannot know everything. You open yourself up to learning when you accept that you need to get help from other people with real expertise.
As a longtime Chicagoan, she couldn’t resist the analogy to legendary Michael Jordan, explaining, “You can be as good as you can be, but you can’t succeed to the level you want to alone. You have to bring other people with you.”
A New Team Member
Having moved to a larger office so the practice could continue growing, it became apparent to Dr. Mazzei that the billing and collections function was no longer succeeding to the level it needed to, and she brought eAssist onto the team a year and half ago.
To alleviate potential concern on the part of existing team members, Dr. Mazzei explained what eAssist would do in partnership with the internal team, and assured them the decision did not reflect negatively on them. Then it came down to trust. She explained, “My team trusts me to do the best I can to bring in the best people, because we all want to succeed. Then we had to build that mutual trust with eAssist.” Having established that trust, and based on the results consistently achieved, she confidently reported, “Everybody loves it! It’s such a huge help. They might as well be in the office with us because we communicate constantly.”
Meet Dr. Susan Mazzei
- University of Michigan, BA Psychology
- Northwestern University Dental School, IL
- Prosthodontics Certification
- Clinical Asst Professor (12 yrs full time)
- Asst Professor Emeritus
- Certified Functional Medicine Health Coach
- Charter Fellow, American Academy of Oral Systemic Health
- Preceptorship Program, Bale & Doneen Method
Dr. Mazzei cited this specific example: Even though she and the team relied heavily on Charles Blair’s “coding bible,” at times they agonized over proper coding. Claims would go unfiled for too long because they didn’t feel confident making a decision. In addition to delayed payments, more time was spent appealing denied claims. Now with eAssist on the team, they have someone to go to, and feel confident they’re getting correct answers instantaneously. Consequently, “We don’t have claims just sitting around anymore. And if a patient calls, we can call them right back with an answer.”
I’m very thankful I found eAssist. It’s been a spectacular experience, and they’ve surpassed my expectation. I wish I had done it earlier!
In addition to Dental Insurance billing, Dr. Mazzei also uses eAssist’s Patient Billing service. When patients call about billing, an eAssist team member answers the phone with the name of the practice, as if the call is being answered in the office. eAssisters are authorized and trusted to speak on behalf of the practice, and rapidly resolve issues.
Patient satisfaction is extremely important to Dr. Mazzei. She has successfully grown her practice entirely through patient referrals. She’s proud to say, “I’ve had this practice a long time. I know these people… I go to their weddings… I know the grandkids and the grandparents. They trust us, and I have that level of trust in eAssist. You can’t put a dollar figure on the value of that.”
Navigating The Pandemic
Not one to ever give up, Dr. Mazzei was confident the practice could survive Illinois’ 10-week shutdown during the worst of COVID-19. From Day 1 she read everything she could get her hands on, and watched every webinar offered to help her, the team and the practice get through it, and come out the other side successfully.
The value of the partnership with eAssist became especially apparent during this time. Dr. Mazzei was in the office most days, and appreciated that “the gals at eAssist made it a lot easier, and tremendously less stressful. They were in constant contact – sending me information, always asking if I needed any assistance.”
And they kept working, which was a huge benefit. By the time we reopened, they were all caught up! eAssist was definitely there to help us through this.
As a psych major in college, Dr. Mazzei is particularly aware of every person’s basic need to feel safe in their environment. She employed numerous strategies to ensure her team was comfortable returning to work, and then addressed how they would make patients feel safe. “Some patients almost have PTSD from this. We have to recognize that, look at everybody individually, and walk them through this,” she explained.
Dentistry is Healthcare
When asked her favorite advice or topic of conversation with colleagues, Dr. Mazzei didn’t even have to think about it – “We have to know we’re healthcare providers. Dentistry is not an ‘extra thing,’ it’s a critical part of health. There’s a critical link between oral and systemic health. And everyone on the team – not just the doctor – needs to believe in and value what we do for our patients.”
We have a really important role in healthcare. We’re not just working on teeth; we go way past that.
Dr. Mazzei believes that excellent oral health begins with education and prevention. As a Certified Functional Medicine Health Coach, and a Charter Fellow in the American Academy of Oral Systemic Health, her professional philosophy is aligned with Functional Medicine, which determines how and why illness occurs and restores health by addressing the root causes of disease for each individual. She has made it her mission to enlighten patients on how they can take greater control over their dental health, which then supports optimal systemic health.
She went so far as to say, “Some days I get sick and tired of filling holes in teeth. If every single person came here and didn’t have a single problem with their teeth and I could just talk to them about how to prevent it, that would be the best day ever!”
Looking on the brighter side, Dr. Mazzei credits the coronavirus for giving the dental industry more of an “in” with patients now because the connection between oral health and systemic health has been made more apparent to the public. The importance of prevention resonates better now. Consequently, her patients have returned in full force, confident that she and her team will keep them safe while tending to their oral health which supports better overall health.
She summed it up by saying:
That’s our job; that’s what we do here. I want to think that’s why we’re very successful – because I believe it, I’m passionate about it, my team knows it, and our patients feel it. They trust us to help them, so they value our services.
We’re All In This Together
Dr. Mazzei loves being in private practice and has “zero interest in selling to a management company.” She believes it is extremely important to the profession that a large percentage of dentists remain as independents, and believes there is room for both. Fortunately, there are considerably more resources available nowadays to help independent dentists grow their practices without having to do it all themselves.
She also views other independent dentists as colleagues and friends, not as competition. “There are plenty of patients to go around. We’re not competing against each other; we’re all in this together for the sake of our patients. Like one huge team in a community, we can all prop each other up and all be successful,” advises Dr. Mazzei.