Top 12 Best Practices for the Year [January Issue of Dentaltown Magazine]

Posted on January 22, 2014 by Sandy Pardue

As one year ends and another begins, it is a perfect time to reset your practice management style to ensure you get the absolute best out of the New Year ahead. No practice is static, no matter how high your production or how long the practice has been around. You have to constantly work on it. When you have been in practice for a while, it is easy to fall into patterns of doing things the same way because you have always done it that way.

As you start out your new year, learn from the 12 most valuable lessons I’ve learned over decades of consulting practices. These 12 tips should help guide you to work on the areas offering the biggest gain. Even if you decide to pick two or three of them to get you started, you never know where they might take you.

1. Grab the year by the ears. Look back at 2013 and learn what worked and what didn’t work in your practice. Look at your successes and identify your failures. Envision what success looks like in 2014 and set goals. Map out how you’ll achieve them and what resources you will need.

2. Keep score. I am amazed at how few practices have any idea of the daily, weekly and monthly numbers and trends in their offices. Tracking key statistics doesn’t mean you have dollar signs in your eyes and are putting money before patient care; it means you are watching your business. You don’t have to have an MBA to know which numbers are the most critical to the health of your practice. Inspect what you expect from your team. By tracking these key statistics, you will learn early enough to know when there is a down trend and still have time to turn the situation around. Use the following statistics to improve your business.

Ask your staff to report the following to you: Gross and Net Production by Provider Total Office Collections Total Office Adjustments Number of Calls Out and Appointments Made from those Calls Number of Broken Appointments for Doctor Number of Broken Appointments for Hygiene Percentage of Time Filled by Provider Number of New Patients (D0150) Number of New Patients – Emergency only (D0140) Accounts Receivable Balance – Break down by 30, 60 and 90 days. The total A/R should never be over one month’s production.

3. Sharpen your skills. Avoid wasting time and money trying to reinvent the wheel. Attend continuing education courses that provide effective tools for you and your team. Make sure implementation of what you learned becomes top priority.

4. Zest up your office. Take a good look around you. If your office is dirty, outdated, dingy and disorganized or old, get busy giving it a facelift. People make decisions about where they want to do business based on the feeling they get when they are there.

5. Become a better leader. It is easy to get preoccupied with the everyday challenges in the practice and not spend enough time in your leadership role. Many dentists tell me they want to be a better leader, but they aren’t sure about how to do it.

The first step to being a good leader is earning the respect and trust of your team. Do what you say you are going to do. Be honest. Arrive on time. Appear strong even on tough days. Never tell a lie. Be ethical. And don’t talk behind others’ backs. They have to know they can count on you.

Effective leaders are confident and they acknowledge others’ strengths and accomplishments. Good leaders share their knowledge and encourage others to do better. Giving up control and delegating is a sign of a good leader. The most successful leaders embrace change and encourage others to do so by recognizing opportunities and detecting potential problems. Good leaders create inspirational environments with good communication, happy teams and positive energy.

6. Manage your time to reduce stress. We each have approximately 168 hours during the week. We all make individual decisions about what to do with our time. It is wise to set priorities. Without a plan, that precious time will slip away and you will never get it back.

You are probably doing several things you can delegate to someone else. Maybe you think it is quicker to do it yourself. In the long term it is better to teach someone else what you want done in relation to tasks which don’t have to be done by you. Supervise the person until he or she can do them appropriately. This may use some of your time at first, but in the long term this will free up more time for you.

Try to arrive at least a half hour before the first patient to complete any admin tasks. Become aware of time wasters by keeping a log of everything you do during the day and do this for at least a week. Eliminate time wasters. Be more efficient in the way you do things. Make time outside of work more important and instead of saying you are too busy for a social life, make it a vital part of your week.

7. Improve patient retention. Patient retention is averaging 50 percent in practices. This means approximately half of the patients are not returning. This is due to the fact that many practices lack solid recall protocols that are standardly followed by staff. Develop a recall process, put it in writing and insist that staff follow it.

Get some of the overdue patients back by communicating to them via postcard. It’s still the best way to get their attention. Change up the postcard for this mailing. Send one to each person with a last visit date between January 2010 and July 2013. Mail the card to the same group two months in a row. This will be very effective in getting them back in.

8. Develop an effective team. Having a cohesive, productive and efficient team is no accident. Improve performance by clarifying common goals and provide direction for attaining them. Sit down together and create goals with your team. Clarify the role of each person. Paint a clear picture of what success means for the practice. Insist on this meeting being a positive one.

9. Have morning meetings. Make your morning huddles more effective by following a protocol that provides valuable information to make the day more predictable and productive.

Review the following:

  • Open time
  • Unconfirmed patients
  • State of lab cases
  • Emergency patient time slots
  • New patients coming in
  • Patients needing pre-med
  • Patients with birthdays for that day
  • Patients with collection issues
  • Patient’s health concerns
  • Patient photos needed
  • Outstanding treatment
  • Patients due for additional X-rays
  • Other family members due
  • Two things that went well the day before

10. Improve communication skills in the practice. Have each team member write down the most common questions asked by patients. As a team, create the proper responses. Role play these until each member of the team knows the responses and they are communicated naturally. Continuously work on phone skills.

11. Put some marketing actions in place. Happy patients who refer their friends and family will always be the best new patients. This is why now more than ever you need to make sure you and your team are giving them plenty to talk about. The only thing your patients have to compare your office to is their previous dentist. Never doubt the power of internal marketing and improving the patient experience. Remember, every member of your team is in the new patient business.

Consider engaging with your patients online, utilizing a user-friendly website, Facebook and search engine optimization for better Internet presence.

12. Schedule more efficiently. Start by appointing someone to be your scheduling person. This person creates the day and makes sure patients show up. She is the person that makes it happen. Her focus is on making today, tomorrow and day after tomorrow as productive as possible.

If you struggle with staying on schedule, take a closer look at how much time you are allowing for each procedure. In some cases you could easily see more patients per day by shortening certain procedures. This is a quick and easy way to increase productivity.

Using a stop watch, start timing each procedure type making note of the time the patient was in the chair and the time the doctor was in the operatory. You will now have a more accurate account of how long procedures take. Effective scheduling is also good for the morale. Staff will be a lot happier and feel more fulfilled if they are busier.

Many practices count on luck for a full schedule, less stress and higher collections. If you want anything good to happen, you have to make it happen yourself. You have to make your own luck by constantly seeking to improve your situation. You can’t sit around waiting for your luck to change.

If you want to take your practice further this year, you need to focus on these 12 things. Our data shows that taking these steps are effective in increasing success. Keep in mind that time is your most valuable asset. You will never have another opportunity at making 2014 the best year ever. The weeks and months fly by, so plan your time wisely and don’t waste it. Best wishes for a productive New Year and spend it generously with the people who matter.