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Inside Dentistry

May 2008, Volume 4, Issue 5
Published by AEGIS Communications


It’s Better To Know the Truth

Roger P. Levin

When it comes to managing their practices, dentists tend to rely on "conventional wisdom." Often, these series of beliefs gathered over the course of a career turn out to be false. These myths—unless exposed early on—can sidetrack a potentially great career for many years.

However, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many misconceptions work their way into the management foundation of dental practices. After all, dental school prepares students to be dentists, not business people. When dentists become practice owners, they often learn the dental business the hard way—through trial-and-error and on-the-job training. To fill the gaps in their business knowledge, dentists will pick up what they can; a pearl there, a nugget here. Separately, these bits of misinformation may not prove too harmful. But collectively, they will wreak havoc on a practice’s production, productivity, and profitability for the long-term.

As a result of consulting to thousands of dentists and specialists since 1985, Levin Group has identified a series of fabrications that dentists often tell themselves. Here are six of the most common myths, along with some suggestions for correcting these misconceptions:

1. "It’s wrong to think of my practice as a business."
No, it’s not. Because as a practice owner, you are operating a business. You have employees, provide services, collect payments, and have expensesjust like any other business. Obviously, all dentists strive to deliver excellent care to their patients. That’s your whole purpose for becoming a dentist in the first place. However, refusing to think of a practice as a business has kept many well-meaning dentists practicing many years longer than they intended.

An inefficient practice is the handicap that never goes away. It’s there year after year, hindering your best efforts to be a great dentist. Think about it. How can you be a great dentist if you are fatigued, stressed, and anxious to go home? How can you live the life you want if your practice isn’t performing to your expectations? How happy are your patients going to be when they can sense the stress and frustration the minute they walk into your practice?

Profitability goes hand-in-hand with exceptional patient care. In fact, a financially successful practice can provide optimal care to far more patients than a practice on the verge of bankruptcy. Profitability allows you to invest in your practice, including the purchase of state-of-the-art technology, which can enhance the level of care in your office.

2. "I can’t possibly increase my production."
Before we address this one, let me ask a question: can a fast runner become a faster runner? Do most runners just accept that they aren’t going to run any faster and remain satisfied with their current performance? The answer in both cases is no. Decent runners will find new ways to increase speed. Maybe they are over-striding and wasting energy, maybe they need to put a greater emphasis on cross-training or changing their diet. They’ll do whatever it takes. They don’t settle. Neither should you.

Instead of a runner, let’s switch to thinking about an office’s schedule. If the schedule is full and booked out weeks in advance, how can production be increased? And, more importantly, how can it be accomplished without everyone in the office working their fingers to the bone?

The real issue is this: most practice schedules contain a much higher than average number of single-tooth treatment procedures. Add an ineffective scheduling system into the mix and we have a situation where dentists are working very, very hard for their income. By expanding the service mix, increasing the average production per patient, and redesigning the schedule, dentists can successfully increase their production.

3. "I’m a good leader."
Are you sure? Is this something you tell yourself? Or have you received positive feedback from your staff and others on your leadership abilities? One of the best ways to gauge your leadership is with a survey taken by both your patients and anonymously by your staff. The answers you get back may reinforce your impression of your abilities. Conversely, candid feedback could put you into an emotional tailspin when you see your patient and team members give you bad reviews.

Whether the feedback is positive or negative, you have honest answers with which to assess your performance. Don’t take it personally—just take it and act on it. If the reviews are favorable, keep doing what you are doing and look for ways to keep the good reviews coming in. If the reviews weren’t good, you need to enhance your leadership skills.

4. "Spending money on refurbishing the office is a luxury I can’t afford."
Believe me, it’s no luxury. It’s as important as the diplomas on your wall. You may want to ask a few of your patients what they think of your office. You may think your office looks fine. Your patients may hate it. Perhaps your office looks like a time capsule from 1974. Maybe the "Miami Vice" colors of your reception area worked in 1985 but not so much anymore. Regardless of the reason, you need to look at updating the appearance of your office. Don’t forget that this is one of the ways patients judge you. They can’t judge you on your clinical skills because they aren’t dentists. Therefore, they rely on emotional factors such as how the reception area makes them feel when they walk in. Do they feel welcome? Are they impressed by what they see? It all matters.

5. "No-shows aren’t that big of a problem. If anything, it gives us some breathing room."
This could be the most expensive breathing room in the world. A patient not showing up here and there may not seem like much, but no-shows add up. If you count up your no-shows over a 20-year period, you will find that as much as $200,000 to $500,000 in production has been lost forever. That represents a year’s take-home pay for many dentists!

Rein in your no-shows. And don’t get too lenient just because a patient has been with you for awhile. Putting a stop to no-shows is not that hard but you do have to set a policy and stick by it. Every patient should be informed by the front desk that there is a fee for missed appointments. When patients miss appointments apply those fees. In most cases, the transgressors will comply if they think it might cost them money.

6. "It’s inappropriate to ask for patient referrals."
Why? If patients are happy with what you have done, it is only natural to ask them for referrals. Truly satisfied patients will not think less of you for asking. If they are happy with their experience, they will often be more than happy to tell friends and family. In fact, truly happy patients will often gladly serve as a walking advertisement for your office. They will talk you up to others and even provide education about the procedures they underwent. In a way, they may already be starting your case presentation for you. What could be better than a new patient coming to your practice already "pre-sold" on a procedure?

Getting this kind of enthusiastic patient referral doesn’t take any prodding from you, just the slightest bit of encouragement. Soliciting a successful patient referral is as simple as letting your patients know that recommendations are appreciated.

CONCLUSION

Under normal circumstances, managing a dental practice can be extremely challenging. When many of your management beliefs are based on misinformation, you’re in for a long uphill battle. Don’t let this situation happen to you. Don’t let the myths get the upper hand. Shed those "beliefs" that are undermining your success, and you’ll position yourself to realize your practice potential—sooner rather than later.

Inside Dentistry readers are entitled to receive a 20% courtesy on the Levin Practice Power™ Seminar held for all general dentists on July 18-19 in Dallas. This seminar experience will give you the action steps needed to increase practice productivity while reducing stress for you and your team. To register and receive your discount, call 888-973-0000 and mention "Inside Dentistry" or e-mail customerservice@levingroup.com with "Inside Dentistry" in the subject line.

About the Authors
Roger P. Levin, DDS
CEO, Levin Group Inc
Owings Mills,Maryland

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