What Does Practice Management Mean to You?

Many articles and courses devoted to Dental Practice Management (DPM) have attempted to offer advice laid out in a “cookbook” manner, where the various authors and speakers contend that their particular step-by-step approach will lead to great success. We believe that there is tremendous danger in thinking about DPM this way.

Last autumn, several dental industry advisors and experts, including the authors, travelled to Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Dentistry. Each was asked to give a presentation focused exclusively on DPM. After the weekend session was completed, and upon reflection of the many words of wisdom shared with the dentists and their teams who attended, one underlying theme seemed to emerge; namely, that collectively, dentists do not agree on a precise definition of what DPM actually means. Some believe it is the task of managing the day-to-day operations of a dental business, while others think it is the hiring of consultants to help them achieve such things as greater hygiene efficiency or overall profitability goals. Still others believe it is strategic planning for certain long-term objectives of the dentist, such as retirement.

Considering these and a myriad of other acceptable definitions, we can only suggest what DPM is not. We purport that DPM proficiency is not about being a disciple of the latest guru on the speaker’s circuit, determining the current “profit centre” in one’s practice and exploiting it to financial gain!

DPM involves planning, and although this is a relatively simple task, many of us fail to do it. One might suggest this is mostly due to a person’s fear of committing to a strategy that may not materialize, resulting in embarrassment over the decisions they have made. Real planners do not look at it this way.

In fact, both of us have made decisions we have later come to realize were incorrect; but part of our plan is to learn from them, forgive ourselves, move on, and try to plan more shrewdly the next time around.

We should all accept that we are allowed to make mistakes. After all, in order to profit, risks – although ones that are calculated and reasonable – must be taken. In the light of those risks, some mistakes will be made; but thereafter, one of the greatest learning tools we will have acquired is the ability to make better DPM decisions in the future. True, there is a lot of information out there upon which to base such a plan, and it comes from many sources – but it all has to be processed, if only to make the decision to “roundfile” – i.e., trash – it.

If you need some expertise to help with the processing, feel free: it is readily available in the marketplace. However, let us offer a word of caution on the use of DPM experts. Some of the pitfalls associated with using consultants is that they frequently attempt to fit the client into a pre-set programme of action. Further, their measure of success is too often the achievement of goals determined by someone else – often some perceived industry standard – and not by the dentist who requests the help in the first place. Each dentist has a distinctly unique skill set, and the DPM needs of one dentist are not necessarily the same as those of the next. There is never a “one size fits all” solution.

We have each worked with previously proud and satisfied dentists, who suddenly develop feelings of inadequacy when they see their practices compared unfavourably to certain “performance benchmarks” or “efficiency rankings vs. peers” in the same city, county or province. Our message is: you can be both happy and successful doing what you do, the way you want to do it! So, when you do seek advice, use the information given to guide the “life plan” for your individual dental practice style.

Once you have your plan formulated, stick to it, while continually being cognizant of the basics. What you do has to make sense for you. A dental practice is fundamentally a simple business enterprise. The core business systems employed by today’s dental practices are essentially the same as those designed over 100 years ago. Why continue to try to re-invent the wheel?

To us, Dental Practice Management should always be about achieving a comfortable and fulfilling balance between giving your patients the best care possible, in the most professional manner while making efficient use of time and other resources, all the while maintaining an empowered and loyal team of office personnel. It also means frequently taking the time to stop and smell the roses by enjoying friends, family and all the other good things we too often take for granted.

At this point, we have learned not only that DPM can include all of the aforementioned tenets, but much more. We challenge you to consider a definition of DPM as being the life-plan of your practice. We have all heard about short-term and long-term goal setting for years, and we all know we should do some sort of planning relating to all aspects of our lives. As business owners, it is incumbent upon dentists to process a great volume of information and advice to manage the daily, annual and lifespan objectives of their practice.

So now let us ask you: What is your definition of DPM? How much DPM advice have you received lately? What are the various sources of this advice, and have you considered the motivations of those sources? Are you following the hottest new DPM trend of the month, or again, are you sticking to the life-plan of your practice? In other words: are you doing what is right for you?

In closing, reflect on the words of American author, Gertrude Stein, (1874-1946): “Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”

Co-authored by Dr. Jeff Williams

Ontario Dentist – January 2004