Previously, we discussed potential pitfalls awaiting unsuspecting doctors from the dental consulting industry. Three fictitious dishonest consultants—Dr. Nick Machiavelli, Harry “Taco” Bell, and Dr. Jake “the Snake” Ponzi—are hypothetical prototypes of what naïve doctors may encounter. Please quickly review these imaginary villains to better understand the positive examples presented below. One requires darkness to fully appreciate light.
The business climate of the dental industry has changed very dramatically in recent years. One may not be able to financially recover from an experience with a consultant who is a swindler or simply grossly inept. To follow are avenues of advice.
It is essential that you personally provide your own due diligence in exploring a potential consultant. Don’t delegate this legwork to some “expert” who may not share your values or perspectives.
Check with trusted study club members, long-term respected colleagues you’ve known since dental school, and doctors you’ve gotten to know and appreciate through online dental education and chat rooms. Don’t simply rely on an advertisement, a journal article, or sponsorship of a meeting.
Recommendations from colleagues who have actually spent their money on a consultant and witnessed positive results is the way to go. Secondhand recommendations from dental supply sales reps or sponsorship by your state dental association may be a starting point, but offer too little data upon which to make such a critical decision.
Ask for and follow up by checking the references of a prospective consultant. All legitimate consultants anticipate background checks, and they respect the efforts of dentists who do them. Yes, there generally are positive testimonials on consultant websites. They don’t represent a serious background check.
If the consultant declines to provide references with lame excuses like, “We’re XYZ Consultants, and we’ve been in the business for over 40 years. If we weren’t outstanding and got results, we wouldn’t have been around that long and grown to be the biggest in the industry,” walk away. In the lingo of scam artists, that form of deflection is known as a “dodge.” All good consultants know they need to prove themselves to their clients every day and strive to do just that.
What specific areas of your business would you like to enhance? Do you even realize what your problem areas might be? You must do your homework.
“There are two kinds of consultants. The most prominent is the cookie cutter approach with long-term help and oversight. The other is customized,” says Mac Lee, DDS, a prominent national dental consultant headquartered in Texas.
“It makes sense as a new dentist to use the cookie cutter. As the practice matures, it needs customized coaching. You tell me the end result you are wanting and we will help you make it there,” Lee says.
“Yes, the consultant/coach should be asked very pointed questions. Which questions? Depends on what the doctor is looking for,” Lee continues. “What do they want to achieve? What do they want stopped? How is the consultant going to make them money? How are they going to help with the crap that goes on in every office, patient flow, teamwork, leadership, getting patients, new and recall, to say ‘yes’ to needed treatment?”
You may want to elevate your general staff motivation, scheduling efficiency and profitability, marketing, branding, billing protocols, patient routing in the practice, phone skills, systems for fraud prevention, mechanisms for enhanced patient communication, and so on. You make the ultimate call on what’s right for your business.
Good consultants will generally agree to an initial analysis. Do they believe they can truly assist your practice? Is there open and positive communication between the potential consultant and the doctor/owner? Are they very familiar with the dental industry (ideally only targeted on the dental industry) and its unique circumstances?
“I’d be wary of ‘jack of all trades’ consultants who appear ready to tackle any problem you throw at them. The good generalists know the limits of their own expertise and do not hesitate to bring in someone with more specialized expertise when warranted. The consultants pushing ‘no problem too big, too small, or too complex’ may simply be hungry for business,” says David Harris, CEO of Prosperident, which focuses on dental office embezzlement prevention, detection, and damage control.
“Consultants range from fairly big companies with well-established processes and systems to solo operations offering much more customized work. Both have advantages and may suit different scenarios,” Harris says.
If your gut instinct tells you the consulting won’t work out, politely and quickly end the discourse. Seek another consultant. Personalities can conflict. Styles can conflict. This is usually unfavorable in coaching. A consulting relationship is somewhat like a marriage. If the parties are frequently at odds, it’s best to never enter into the arrangement or to end it in very short order.
“We are basically an advertising agency exclusively for dentists. Nothing ever happens in a dental practice (of a revenue consequence) until and unless the phone rings,” says Howie Horrocks, founder and CEO of New Patients Inc.
“I hate that dentistry is moving toward becoming a commodity. We’re not selling refrigerators, for God’s sake. Dentists are highly trained and skillful doctors, providing healthcare services that can and do change people’s lives for the better,” says Horrocks.
Most consulting agreements involve a contract. One is wise to enter into an agreement with a backdoor dropout clause to terminate it if things don’t work out within a short time frame. A brief initial test trial period may be positive. Very costly long-term contracts for consulting services generally aren’t in the interest of the doctor/owner. A shorter-term agreement forces consultants to prove their worth continually. Either consultants constantly produce value or their services are terminated.
Be wary of contracts overly parsed in esoteric legalese. This is often an indicator of a company frequently accustomed to involvement in legal actions. Regardless of the wording, it’s always prudent to have your legal counsel review the contract. A couple of hundred dollars wisely spent could potentially save you a couple of hundred thousand dollars in the future.
There exists a wide variety of consulting firms designed to assist small-business dentistry. The vast majority can produce highly favorable results, but only when partnered with the right fit of doctor/owner to consultant. At the same time, there are some unfortunate swindlers, dilettantes, and well-intended hacks in the industry who must be avoided.
Work is mandatory on the doctor/owner’s part. Due diligence investigation, defining goals and objectives, and responsibility for contract specifics are all part of the required effort. That said, the fiscal and business satisfaction and rewards can be very positive.
The author has utilized the services of the interviewed New Patients CEO, Howie Horrocks.
Dr. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and malpractice legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review Committee and serves as a state dental association member to its house of delegates. He extensively writes and lectures on related matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or smilesofsantafe.com.
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