Welcome to the final installment of the “The ABCs of a Successful Dental Practice.” As we close out this blog post series, I want to impress upon the reader that there are approximately 200 key performance indicators (KPIs) that should be monitored and evaluated monthly through dental practice analytics.
With that said, and as an owner/operator, I am all too familiar with the time constraints we face as professional colleagues and friends. However, analogous to a pilot who is commandeering a beautiful Boeing 787 aircraft, while monitoring critical KPIs (air speed, jet fuel, altitude, etc.) from the cockpit, it is critical for today’s “dental businessperson” to possess the knowledge and business acumen to navigate their operation while soaring to new heights. This begins with learning how to diagnose your business through the use of KPIs and any corrective actions required to stay on budget and meet or exceed your goals and objectives. I refer to this process as “keeping your finger on the pulse.”
The following recommendations are based upon more than 35 years of business and clinical experience as a clinician, owner/operator, project manager, practice management consultant for solo and large-scale dental organizations and five-star hospitality customer service mentor, as well as completion of a rigorous Master of Business Administration curriculum with an emphasis on health care. As I stated in the previous post, these suggestions are more than simply anecdotal thoughts or ideas. They are based upon the science of business.
In this blog post, we will focus on the letters “R–Z,” presented in the hopes that each respective reader will glean a pearl or two.
Recall: A well-designed dental recall system will ensure that at a minimum, 85 percent of active patients (active is defined as any local patient who is seen in your office within the past 18 months) are scheduled for continuous treatment somewhere within your dental practice at all times. Yes, 85 percent (the national average is 42 percent). In other words, each respective patient should have an appointment in your office at any given time, hygiene or restorative. The most successful marketing and greatest potential to grow your business is through your existing patient base and by learning to ask for internal referrals. People buy from people whom they like, and they also refer their friends and colleagues to people whom they like.
Your patients have already chosen you and/or your associate, and now it is up to you and your excellent and highly trained team to maintain this relationship. Every dentist should know how to access the number of active patients and percentage scheduled from their practice management software. If not, ask your front office staff to show you how. This is a critical metric that should be monitored monthly. If we can’t diagnose the problem, we can’t treat it.
Scheduling for your success: Maintaining a consistent and smooth flow of patient appointments while meeting daily production goals (dentist and dental hygienists should have daily production goals tied into an annual budget) is one of the most challenging issues that your front office personnel encounters. By incorporating 10-minute blocks of time, required time per procedure (based upon your top 25 Code on Dental Procedures and Nomenclature procedures), per clinician, a short-call/VIP list and learning to schedule to 70 percent of daily goals before lunch is at the heart of developing predictable and consistent patient schedules that ensure financial health for your business, while decreasing stress for all. There is no quicker way to burn out a team, destroy employee morale and induce anxiety than to “put the patient anywhere in the schedule.” Remember, being busy does not translate into being successful. Scheduling for your success is an art and science and should be respected as such.
Treatment planning: One of my mentors, Dr. Bill Robbins, taught me to call it the way I see it, and that there is no such thing as “we will just watch it.” In other words, do not pre-judge your patients, and try to evaluate if they can afford your proposed dental treatment. Call it the way you see it! Your treatment plan is predicated on the condition of the patient’s oral cavity, not yours, and seldom are there two patients who present with the same needs.
In today’s dental economy, it is my experience that the most successful way to gain patient acceptance to your proposed treatment is through the use of intraoral cameras and by involving the patient in what is commonly referred to as “co-diagnosis.” For example, ask your patient, “Mrs. Jones, what do you see?” as you display a fracture or an area of occlusal decay on 42-by-50-inch screens at the 6 o’clock position of your treatment room. Then listen and say nothing. Let the patient answer. Silence is golden. Then, send the patient home with pictures of his or her teeth, soft tissue, calculus accumulation, etc. By the way, most patients will gladly accept your treatment recommendations because you are no longer having to sell your services. Now you need to have your financial coordinator provide financial options so he or she can convert the case right? Excellent systems are the key.
Uniformity: Providing a consistent product and service that creates value for each and every patient is one of the biggest challenges facing any business. As dentists, we are the primary revenue producers, and unfortunately, we seldom serve on the front line and interact with the patients when they are paying for our services. Your financial coordinator or whoever collects monies on your behalf needs to be trained and supported with proven financial systems to protect the financial health of your business. If the patient deserves continuity of care, then the business owner deserves uniformity of payment. However, without proven systems, your financial health will be jeopardized.
Voicemail: National data suggests that 80–87 percent of new patients who call today’s dentist and are greeted by voicemail will hang up and go to the next dentist on their list. That means that you will lose 80 to 87 of every 100 prospective new patients if your practice’s unanswered calls go to voicemail during regular business hours.
We need to teach our team members to smile, answer the telephone within two to three rings, and make all patients feel welcome and believe they have called the finest office in their community. Case conversion begins with the first patient touch point, and that is usually the telephone. Two weeks ago, a colleague of mine called his office nine times and informed me that on all nine instances, his call went to voicemail. Enough said?
Website: The days of expecting patients to call to make an appointment or walk in your dental office are gone. Print media is on a continual decline and is expected to continue. Print media that promotes your services based upon price only serves to promote dentistry as a commodity, which leads to patients believing a dentist is a dentist is a dentist. There is a place for print marketing (your best patients, approximately 20 percent of your business). However, after tracking hundreds of clients’ data sets, it is minimal at best. When today’s consumer needs a dentist they will find them through referral (from a friend, family member, coworker, employer insurance, etc.) or turn to the world wide web.
However, just having a website is not sufficient. Today, consumers (including new and existing patient base) are glued to their smartphones, tablets and laptops. The typical user is continuously checking their email, updating their social profiles, searching for a destination (your office) and, on average, spending five to six hours per day navigating their device. According to Pew Research, 64 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35 percent in spring 2011. The ability to “stay in touch” has changed from a luxury to a necessity for all types of users. We are truly a people “on the go.” Patients expect you and your website to be great. If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist, and if you have a website and the consumer doesn’t like what they see they will bounce (bounce rate) right off of your page and move to the next.
X-rays: A full-mouth series of X-rays (FMX) and a panoramic X-ray, or cone beam computed tomography, for new patients are still the standard of care. I see more and more colleagues failing to order the appropriate images (because insurance won’t pay for it) necessary to evaluate the head and neck area for which we possess tremendous knowledge. The panoramic X-ray has fantastic value, and when displayed and presented to the patient on large screen monitors, it serves as a wonderful education tool that builds rapport, value and trust. The ability to evaluate the patient for intra-osseous pathology, elongated Styloid processes, internal carotid plaque, temporomandibular joint disorders, sinus pathology and much more warrants acquiring a beautiful panoramic X-ray. With respect to FMX or bitewings, we need to hold our team accountable for acquiring diagnostic images so we can do what we do best. I see hundreds of images that would not pass the test in dental school for either the dentist or dental assistant.
Yearly budget: As we close 2016, there is no better time to prepare your annual or yearly budget and start off the new year with clear financial goals and objectives. I am fortunate that I had the pleasure of developing budgets for years with Hilton Worldwide global hospitality company, and so I am accustomed to same. With that said, and if you need help, reach out to someone who can help you (a bookkeeper, certified public accountant or colleague who is experienced in preparing a realistic budget). Creating a well-thought-out budget is the first step to accomplishing your financial goals while creating a blueprint for 2017.
Zest: Dentistry is a profession that enables each of us to serve our patients and colleagues, as well as give back to our community and family. Let your zest be the inspiration that helps lead your team to a successful and happy new year in 2017.
Duke Aldridge, DDS, MBA, MAGD, MICOI, DICOI