10 Common Mistakes Dental Practices Make and How to Fix Them

Robert Patrick


There’s nothing worse than someone coming into your life, into your space, and telling you that you’re doing things all wrong. But in many cases, such a statement is nothing less than fact. That doesn’t mean you can’t make things right, however.

“The days of us thinking we’re in a dental practice and not a business are over. You must know your data, you must know where your marketing dollars are being spent, and you must know where you are getting your returns,” said dental practice consultant Kevin Henry. “The days of just ‘being in a practice’ are over, and that kind of thinking is going the wrong way.”

Instead, practice leaders must ask themselves what they can do well, what they can do better, and what they can do to be better advocates for their patients. Many practices simply do not reflect on such values, Henry said. Instead, they leave themselves open to 10 costly mistakes.  

Not Treating the Practice as a Small Business

You need a business mindset every day. If you don’t run your practice like a business, it won’t thrive like a business should. Henry encourages dental practice leaders to think of their favorite businesses. Every business—Starbucks, Amazon, McDonalds—produces a certain image in your mind, and all of them are different. Thus, you need to identify your core message and think about how to get it across to patients.

If you’re going to treat your practice like a business, you also need to get down to its nitty-gritty details. You need to fully understand how it functions, from the front office to clinical areas to the back office and everything in between. You have to understand these areas so that, if there are issues, you can correct course and make improvements to become the business you want your patients to perceive.  

Not Treating Your Team Well

Your team represents your business. In many cases, your patients interact more with your team members than with you. You should always treat your staff with respect in front of patients and in private. Encourage team members to provide feedback on areas they see as opportunities for improvement and reward them if their ideas are successfully implemented.

For example, if they bring you an idea on how to save money on claim processing or in recycling fillings and it ends up saving the practice money, reward them with a gift card or bonus as a token of your appreciation. It’s a simple way to keep the ideas flowing, it makes everyone feel more engaged, and it improves employee retention. Positive reinforcement leads to greater productivity all around.  

Lack of a Training Budget 

Practices need a training budget to stay on top of changes in the industry. Whether it’s practice management, hygiene, insurance, marketing, or other areas, you have to invest in your employees to reach your business goals. 

If you’re like most businesses, you’re only using a small portion of the functionality of your equipment and software. Invest in training your entire team to get the most out of the tools you have in place and make sure to cross-train so that you have backups for emergencies or employee turnover. 

Not Putting Yourself in Your Patient’s Position

The first and last impressions your patients have of your practice usually occur at the front desk and in the waiting area. How they are greeted can go a long way in forming their opinion of your practice. Is your front desk staff so busy that they simply direct patients to a clipboard for sign-in, or are they personally greeting each patient with a friendly smile? 

Think about how you like to be greeted for a business appointment, and put that into play in your practice. Do your patients feel valued, or do they feel like they’re running on an assembly line through the practice during their visit? 

Not Being Willing and Open to Change

Change is scary, but it’s necessary for growth. In business, you need to be aware of your surroundings. Know what practices are opening in your area and what they are doing to attract new patients. Are there things going on in the local economy that may impact your practice? What about major trends disrupting care protocols? Is anything coming your way that might be problematic for the business if ignored?

Remember, your way is not always the best way. It’s just a way. There may be better options available to you, but you have to look. Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the only way.

Not Utilizing Team Members’ Smiles as an Advertising Tool

Seriously, the team members at your practice all should have attractive smiles. They should showcase the practice and be used as a billboard for your messaging. If you do the work for free or at a discount, consider it an investment in marketing your practice.   

Not Including All Staff in Continuing Education Courses 

Practice teams should grow and thrive together. No person should be left behind. Invest in everybody’s career, no matter who is on the team.

Not Attending Yearly Dental Trade Shows 

Tradeshows present great opportunities for education and exposure. When you go to a tradeshow, do your homework and research which classes you are going to take and which sessions you want to attend. These events represent a perfect opportunity for the team to earn continuing education credits and bring new ideas back to the practice.

Lack of Transparency About the Numbers (Not Including Salaries)

You need a game plan, and your team needs to understand what it is. You and your team also need to know the score financially. According to Henry, every team member needs to know if you are ahead or behind and where you need to go. Share an overview of how the practice is performing and where you’d like to be, and discuss how you can all get there as a team. Transparency breeds trust.

Ineffective or No Use of Social Media to Reach Patients

Social media can be scary, as practices worry about what information they can share and promote without violating HIPAA. Set up a profile and some protocols and then consistently post quality information to engage patients. 

However, you need a signed model release form if you’re going to use images of your patients. Henry recommends practices contact their state dental association and request a copy of the form for use. Don’t rely on Google for these forms, as they must be specific to your state. And, always include the signed model release in the patient’s file. 

Gain More Insight 

For more from Henry, check out his free webinar, “10 Mistakes Your Practice Is Making and How to Fix Them,” sponsored by NEA Powered by Vyne.

Mr. Patrick is president of dental at Vyne.

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