As a dental practice owner, doctors are constantly bombarded with different ways and ideas on how to spend their hard earned dollars. You are told over and over again that you need to re-invest back into your practice.
Like the old saying goes “You need to spend money to make money”. But the question becomes, “What is the best way to spend my net revenue so that I can get the most in return for that money?” or in other words, the return on my investment (ROI).
We hear all the time that marketing is where you want to put your money to help grow your practice, get new patients or increase revenue. But if you were to invest in marketing and if an increase in new patients was the result of this, can the staff handle the increase in patient flow? Does your practice have systems and protocol in place NOW?
Taking a hard look at the strengths and weakness of your practice and identifying these is critical to a healthy dental practice. All practices have weak areas that need improvement. If we identify them NOW and find ways to improve them FIRST, then we will be able to handle future growth in the practice, whether it’s adding a periodontic, pediatric or oral surgery specialty to a general practice, or increasing hygiene days or opening another location to handle the increase in patient flow.
Making sure you have a good foundation is important to building a solid dental practice in this day and age. The three areas we need to look at for deficiencies are: 1) staff training; 2) the development of systems and office protocol; and 3) the introduction of digital technology into the practice.I believe this needs to be done first, before we invest in marketing the practice. If you should build a house on a solid foundation, you should also do the same with your business and/or practice.
So let’s first look at staff training. Making sure the staff is trained on the latest version of your current dental practice management software is important. Most software companies release an update to their current version every year or two. Is your staff up-to-date on the latest version? This can improve the communication between the front and back office staff. It can also increase production by alerting the staff of treatment not yet completed or if there is a change in treatment for a particular patient. Communication between staff members is extremely important if you are a chartless office. Making sure the staff is well versed in the practice management and clinical areas of the dental software you use is critical to the success of patient care and the growth of the dental practice. Many business owners or managers overlook the importance of this area. If you were to ask your staff if there are areas of your software that you are not using or areas that they feel they need a little extra training on, I think you would be surprised at what you hear! In many of the practices I go to, the staff feels they are not using their dental software to its fullest capacity or potential. If you invest in your staff and their training, they see you care about them and their success to the practice. This is a great motivational boost for individual staff members.
When hiring a new employee, do you provide appropriate software training, even though they may already be familiar with the software you are using? I have met many new staff members who say they know a particular software, but when questioned about certain areas, they were taught an incorrect way or don’t know as much as they thought they did. Create a basic training manual of the dental software you use. This will help a new staff member get acquainted with your dental software until either a manager can do a more detailed training or a certified trainer from the company you purchased your software from can schedule a time to come to the practice. Make sure you are setting your new staff members up for success and not failure.
After the staff has been trained on the areas that need attention, it is important to implement systems and protocol so that the staff is accountable for making sure the practice is running smoothly. I strongly encourage you to do this with a professional dental consultant from a reputable practice management company. They can help create a tailored office manual specifically for your dental practice. The consultant can help make sure tasks are completed and that each and every staff member is reaching their full potential.
“Running the numbers” in a practice is like looking at a painting up close, you see the brush strokes but not see the whole picture. Reports and their numbers don’t always show what’s going on in a practice. Periodic independent audits of account receivables and insurance EOBs can give a consultant a clear picture of how the front office is run and what areas need improvement. Many times when auditing an office, I come across fees or adjustments posted incorrectly. Why not set up a day for the consultant to come to your office all day to see how the office runs? Watching a patient from the moment they walk into a practice, to the time they leave, is important to see how successful the practice is …. or isn’t.
Another area to invest in is the introduction of technology into the practice. Is your staff trained on the technology you use and do they do use it correctly? As we all know, technology is constantly changing. It is important that the doctors and staff in your practice are well trained. This can be accomplished by continuing education courses that are offered by various companies. Do you take your staff with you on these educational courses? The benefits of a highly informative hands-on workshop can out weigh the time blocked off from seeing patients and the loss of production. Do you know how many practices I go to and see equipment that has already been purchased, sitting in a cabinet or up on shelf, collecting dust? Or an office that has some type of digital radiography system but the assistants take horrible x-rays that are non-diagnostic quality, or images that have cone-cuts or half the tooth is missing? This impacts how the clinician can diagnose treatment or if the insurance biller can send the images to the insurance company for payment or pre-approval by the insurance company. Maybe a training on sensor placement is needed. Do you have CAD/CAM technology in your practice but you and your staff are having problems with your restorations, such as a design or cementation issue? Maybe a course with you and your clinical staff on restoration design solutions and/or using the correct cement with different types of restorations is needed to cut down on production, overhead, and to save chair time.
Lastly, take a look at what your patients are saying about you. What are your patients saying about your practice on Instagram, Yelp, and Google? Do you have any negative or less than great reviews? Look at those reviews and comments and address any problems or issues within the practice. Maybe a weekly meeting with your office manager about what patients are saying about you and your practice might identify any weak areas that exist within the practice that might need attention. Was a particular staff member continually being rude or unprofessional to patients? Or are your patients waiting too long in the waiting room to see the doctor or hygienist? Do they feel frustrated by what they were quoted as their estimated patient portion by your financial coordinator or office manager, but it was not actually their portion when they received a statement from your office? Or was treatment not explained to the patient accurately so they understood what was involved in the treatment and how long it was going to take? Taking an honest, hard look at these problems and identifying the issues is the first step. I would suggest that after you have identified the weak areas, you and your office manager meet with a professional dental consultant and come up with a plan on how to eliminate these problems with your existing and possible future patients.
In closing, make sure you have well-trained office staff who can handle day-to- day patient flow. Having systems and office protocol in place for daily, weekly and monthly practice management is essential. Make sure your clinical staff can take great digital images, are well versed in educating the patients on the dental treatment the doctor has proposed and are trained thoroughly on the use of the digital technology that’s already in the practice. Make sure any negative patient reviews have been identified and a system is in place to solve them. Then you are ready to take the next step in building up your practice and investing your hard earned money into marketing your business for future growth. •