Every dental practice has at least one area of inefficiency.  Discovering, identifying and modifying these areas usually means increased productivity, a higher volume of patients and lower overheads.

Most practitioners openly admit they are aware of the aspects within their practices that need improvement.  The dentists I speak with know exactly what is wrong and usually know what to do about it, but many fail to take action.  Why is this?  What prevents us from making the difficult decisions that can make our business more productive and a better place to work?

Problem Employees

The first area often lies in communication with employees.  Confronting and dealing with a problem employee is never easy.  How do the successful practice owners deal with the issue?

One solution is to hire a practice management consultant who specializes in dealing with the public.  Consultants are particularly good at troubleshooting with staff because they enjoy the anonymity of limited emotional attachment, and can maintain a prudent and unbiased position throughout the consultation process.  On the other hand, this lack of a long-term, invested position may threaten or intimidate staff.  Many consultants use comparisons to other, more effective practices as a method of relaying advice.  On occasion, the staff may become obstinate towards the recommendations of the consultants, thus making matters worse.

The other solution is to seek out specific training for staff management and learn how to deal with these matters on your own.  [Courses are readily available at the annual ODA meeting or other conventions.]

Budget Control

The second key area of inefficiency with a dental practice is habitual over-spending.  Each week I examine the financial records of different dental practices and I continue to discover a common thread that affects profitability – a serious lack of budgeting.  Dentists believe that if they need a new piece of equipment, they will find a way to pay for it.  It is up to the owner to set an annual spending limit, regardless of the potential uses of the ‘latest-and-greatest’ income-producing device or technique.  Spend when you have to, but budget accordingly.  Watch out for impulse purchases, you usually regret them later.  When I meet with dentists at their offices I often see unused equipment collecting dust.  One dentist told me he has trouble saying no to suggested purchases because the supplier has been very good to him over the years.  This is honourable, but imprudent.  Careful budgeting should result in a higher annual cash flow, less unproductive equipment, increased goodwill and a practice that is more saleable.

Information Management

The third area of concern in many dental practices is lack of information management.  The typical Canadian dental practice has roughly 1,200 to 1,500 active patients.  Assuming 20 patients pass through the office each day, the practice will process up to 1,000 data entries each week.

Consider the data flow: 1) A patient calls and books appointment.  2) The practice calls and confirms appointment.  3) Some patients cancel or re-schedule the appointment.  4) The practice calls once or twice to confirm the final appointment.  This is the three or four staff duties and data entries before the patient has even arrived in the office.  Once the patient arrives for his or her appointment, treatments are recorded, fees are calculated, insurance is submitted via EDI (in most practices), patient pays fees, another appointment (recall or other) is usually made and the process begins again.  In short, one patient can mean 10 data entries for each appointment.  Considering the average practice you can see how the number of actual data entries may exceed 25,000 each year! How do successful practices do it well?  They employ the best staff and they train them regularly.  They use computer software and train themselves and the staff how to use it properly.  And most importantly they pay attention to the immense number of minute detail in the practice.  Not an easy task for some, but very much a necessary duty of the owner.  If you don’t do it, no one will do it for you.

Troubleshooting begins with employee communications, moves onto spending patterns and ends up with data management.  Train yourself to visit these basics on a regular basis.  Your practice will experience fewer troubles and should become more efficient, profitable, valuable and saleable.  Isn’t this the kind of dental practice you want to own?

Ontario Dentist – September 2004