Whether you’re opening your first dental office – or fifth – it’s an exciting and ambitious endeavor that demands a unique balance of clinical expertise and business knowledge. As a dentist, you already have the skills to provide exceptional oral care; unfortunately, as many dentists already suspect, the path to a thriving dental practice involves more than just clinical proficiency.
One of the critical factors you might be tempted to ignore amid the excitement is the business planning, operating, and control aspects of your dental practice (which is not part of a dental school’s curriculum, unfortunately). Even if you might consider hiring a business manager, you might want to at least understand the basic concepts of running a dental office so that you, as an owner, can control your dental practice instead of the other way around.
As a successful practice owner or manager, you might want to leverage the use of proven processes, tools, and automation resources specifically designed to support, assist, and streamline your business planning, operating, and controlling so that your staff can stay focused on providing top-notch dental care while driving the profitable growth of your practice.
Actionable Business Analytics
The most important metrics for a business include:
- Production: New patients and cases and as a potential revenue amount.
- Backlog: Current patients and cases in treatment and as a dollar amount.
- Receivables: Procedures and treatments billed and not yet collected
- Cash Flow: namely, collections
An important tool for any practice owner is access to a Balanced Scorecard, which allows you to assess, at a glance, the current health of your practice as a business.
If your Practice Management software is not equipped to automatically generate reports with these key metrics, you might want to consider alternate, perhaps more laborious means (manual data entry using spreadsheets, etc.)
What is even more important than obtaining a static report with these key metrics (which becomes stale the moment you print the report) is the ability of your software to generate dynamic, “live” reports with the ability to “drill in” many levels deep to fully understand, instantly. For instance: Which patients are late in their payments or have not been active since last year? or Which insurance companies are chronically late with their payments?
Operational efficiency lies at the core of a successful business and dental practice. To that effect, you might want to invest in tools that allow you to do more with less (staff and time, that is), avoid non-value-added activities (busywork), and automate as much of your practice operations as possible. A few of these may include:
- Staff Support Tools: automated time clock, payroll reports, office planner with schedule templates, holidays, multiple schedule books per office and per provider, etc.
- Patient Traffic Flow Management (Lighting): Minimize patient wait and help manage patient flow using integrated timers (per patient and averages)
- Integrated imaging (2D and 3D): Use one-step capture through built-in bridging for all of your X-ray, cameras, and optical scanning equipment (ex: intraoral, 3D, and facial pictures)
- Integrated Financials: Automated patient ledgers, patient/responsible party/family financial statements, built-in payment acceptance with posting to ledgers, accounting review with export to QuickBooks or any other accounting system
- Automated Patient Engaging Tools (Email and SMS): Appointment reminders with actionable patient controls (confirm/cancel/reschedule), missed appointment notifications, patient recall notifications, etc.
- Online Patient Self-Service Tools: self-schedule, self-reschedule, self-register, make payments through a secure patient portal, electronic forms, electronic signatures, etc.
A solid and growing patient base is the cornerstone of any flourishing dental practice. Successful business managers use the following tools:
- An Original Website: An aesthetically pleasing, inviting website that showcases you, your friendly staff, what you do, and your best “before and after” success stories to catch the eye of patients. Too many such websites, however, have become commoditized via a “cookie cutter” website design firm – usually endorsed by the ADA or the AAO- and have difficulty standing out from competitors. The key to success here is not necessarily fancy graphics or videos, but content.
- Convenient Scheduling: Make it convenient for new patients to schedule their first appointment by integrating your practice management’s scheduler within your website – if supported by your practice management software, that is – or via a third-party patient self-service linked to your practice management software, like ZocDoc. Only having an appointment request form on your website with one of your staff members calling the patient back is less than ideal, but it’s still better than nothing.
- Paid Search: Supplement and promote your website through SEO, Google Paid Ads, Facebook ads, etc. Here the use of a competent third-party digital marketing agency might help because of the need to select the right search keywords relative to your geography, and to constantly generate relevant content to drive new traffic to your website.
- Request Social Media Reviews: Solicit social media reviews from your patients at the appropriate time in their treatment. If you are an orthodontist, do not ask your patients to rate you when the braces go on (they will be in pain and discomfort at that time) but wait until the braces come off so they can see their new smile in the mirror and give you an excellent review. Bad reviews will sink ships – you want a constant stream of overwhelmingly good reviews so they can overpower the occasional disgruntled patient who is out to get you. You should look for a practice management software that can automate this process.
As you embark on the journey of opening and operating a new or expanded dental practice, consider upfront planning and careful attention to detail to understand all of these dimensions before you take the leap so you can avoid all the common pitfalls and be in control of your successful practice instead of the other way around.