Since 1985, I have had the privilege of meeting dentists all over the country in seminars that I present on almost a weekly basis. This experience and exposure has created a unique opportunity for insight into the thought processes of dentists who are building their practices. Many doctors tell me that their practices are feeling the effects of the down economy, and they don’t believe their practices can grow without adding more hours. Our belief systems often become our limiting factors, and we tailor choices to live within those beliefs.
The truth is that almost any dental practice in the United States has the potential to achieve growth even during this economic downturn. Of course, it won’t be easy. Dental patients are cancelling appointments or postponing care. But there are things you can do that will set your practice on a course for greater success, especially when the economy turns around. Remember, your practice is the best investment you have right now. It is critical that you take care of it.
SEE PAST THE OBSTACLES
The first step in thinking about a growth potential is that you have to envision it. Dentists go to work day after day with a goal of providing excellent care for every patient. This leaves very little time for strategic thinking, and most dental teams are not trained to do this kind of work. Inevitably, a doctor enters what I call the 15- to 20-year “black hole” where their practice stops growing and reaches a plateau. We see it all the time in our work with our clients at the Levin Group.
These are excellent dentists, highly committed to their patients, with a strong desire to run a successful practice and develop their teams. They spend day after day treating patients with little thought to strategic planning. The daily problems of patient noncompliance, no-shows, staff morale, team stress, performance reviews, accounting issues, and a host of other factors can all wear doctors down. These factors are all compounded by the worst economy in several generations. Dentists tell me that they eventually reach a point where they are just tired, and do not have the time or energy to work on improving the office.
If you are willing to accept that your practice could be more productive without increasing one minute of practice time, then you are ready to take an exciting and important step. Once you have opened your mind to the reality that many practices are increasing their production by millions of dollars over 20 years, you are ready to set a goal to grow your practice.
One of the reasons that you are not more profitable is simply that your systems don’t allow you to grow. The same systems that got you to where you are today have become one of the key factors in limiting your growth. To break through to the next level, you’ve got to change the way you operate your practice. The potential for growth is there, so let’s discuss some strategies that will guide you on your growth path. In the current economy, these strategies to redesign your systems are more important now than ever.
POWER CELL SCHEDULING
One of the first steps in taking your practice to the next level is to replace your current schedule. Too many dentists run to continuing education courses thinking that they will get one or 2 pearls, tweak the practice when they return back, and make a real difference. As you already know, usually very little changes once you return to the office.
One must realize that the answer is not to fix systems, but to replace them. Redesigning the schedule from the top to bottom sets the foundation for ultimate practice success. The replacement of a schedule must be based on mathematical formulas to determine exactly what you want to do each day. Learning to use Power Cells to reserve time for high-production procedures in the morning can be a powerful way to improve productivity. By giving productive procedures priority in the morning, you can achieve 60% of your daily production goal while you and your team are fully energized. Minor procedures and consults should be scheduled in the afternoon. Developing a Power Cell Schedule means analyzing what services have been offered, what is projected in the future, and what are the best ways to achieve your production goals while providing optimal patient care.
THE HYGIENE MAXIMIZER
Dental hygiene is one of the most underutilized areas of the practice, even though it often comprises 25% of total practice production. Dental hygiene needs to become more than simply “cleaning teeth.” There are ancillary services today that should be maximized through patient motivation, education, and scripting. They include such treatment options as periodontal therapy, whitening, adult fluoride, sealants, oral cancer testing, periodontal antibiotics, etc. These steps alone can increase overall hygiene productivity significantly.
The second phase of hygiene maximization is for hygienists to target the amount of production they refer back to the doctor. Given that the majority of dental appointments are single-tooth treatment, the opportunity to identify comprehensive and mixed cases is significant. In brighter economic times, overall a practice can add $100,000 to $300,000 a year to its hygiene program on a per hygienist basis.
STAGE III CUSTOMER SERVICE
Stage III Customer Service revolves around creating an extremely positive experience for each patient. Highly successful businesses today are realizing that customer service is no longer simply about being nice. It is about creating a positive experience for customers while they are involved with the business. Stage III Customer Service is about going the extra mile. Exceptional customer service includes everything from knowing patients’ favorite appointment times to how they like to pay for treatment. It can include services such as reminder calls, special incentives for referring patients, and reduced prices for power brushes, dental water jets, and other at-home dental products.
Stage III Customer Service is not an accident or a single script. Exceptional customer service goes far beyond politeness and becomes a standardized system repeated on a daily basis to create a positive experience for every patient, every time! It is no longer about gimmicks, but it is about exceeding patient expectations every step of the way.
GREEN LIGHT CASE PRESENTATION
A combined effort by the dentist and hygienist to motivate and educate patients regarding comprehensive care and cosmetic, implant, and occlusal dentistry can help stimulate growth for your practice. Unfortunately, most case presentation programs em-phasize “selling” services instead of developing a cooperative practice-patient relationship that results in patients choosing “yes” to recommended treatment.
Bear in mind that people do not like to be sold—they like to buy. There is a significant difference. Most sales courses focus strictly on how to sell things, whether the buyer really wants it or not. Fortunately, there are millions of dental patients throughout the United States who would be extremely interested in a more comprehensive approach to dental care, if they only knew it was available and relevant to them. The way treatment is approached and how it is explained to patients leads to a cooperative discussion and plan that can make a tremendous difference in the production of any practice over time.
Every practice has the potential for growth even within the next 24 months, but you cannot get to the next level by doing things the way they have been done before. If you want different results, you will have to manage your practice differently. The 4 strategies introduced above are just a few of the keys to positioning your practice on a growth path. As authors Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter have said, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
Disclosure: Dr. Levin is the Chairman and CEO of Levin Group and received no compensation for writing this article.