Why are certain dental practices more successful than others?

By: Dr. Mayer Levitt
In October of 2014, my wife and I went on a bucket list trip to Berlin and Normandy to view the city’s transformation from the horrific times of Hitler and Nazi Germany to the welcoming and passionately transparent atmosphere that exists today. Beautifully designed memorials to the Holocaust, built in the most prominent areas of the city, ensure the sins of the past will never be forgotten.

When you actually view the 80-foot cliffs above the D-Day beaches that were heavily fortified by the entrenched German soldiers, it is hard to believe how these brave Americans – part of the “greatest generation” as described by Tom Brokaw – were able to advance.

What we didn’t know about were the hedgerows. A hedgerow is a fence or barrier formed by a row of closely planted shrubs or bushes. In Normandy, these hedgerows separated one small farm from another. Most shrubs were thick, dense, and often 20 to 30 feet in height.

The American war machine was ill suited to this maze of tiny enclosed fields and sunken lanes. The Germans turned hedgerow complexes into deathtraps by covering every road and trail with machine gun, mortar, and anti-tank artillery fire. Eventually the allied forces prevailed, but the hedgerows were a major impediment to the eventual success of the invasion.

For some reason as I was viewing all of this, it occurred to me that, metaphorically speaking, we as dentists create our own hedgerows or obstacles that interfere with our ability to grow and prosper.

Seven examples immediately come to mind.

1. Unfriendly hours of operation

8:30 to 5:00, Monday through Thursday are the most common dentist office hours. Consider patients who work during the same office hours at their own jobs. You can exponentially increase your income by offering earlier and/or later options for appointments on certain days of the week. Patient needs must be balanced with your own personal life. It is not a one-way street.

2. Limited payment options

People understand and usually try to work toward a budget. It is more necessary than ever to employ a dedicated, talented, and compassionate staff member who can sit down with a patient and navigate the intricacies of outsourced financing while coordinating payments with sequenced treatment plans.

3. Failure to delegate

Doctors always complain to me that they “don’t have enough time.” Yes, there are only so many hours in a day, but in my experience the most successful doctors are the ones who have figured out how to delegate everything possible to have the time to pursue what only they can do. To accomplish this, you may have to leave your comfort zone.

4. Consistently running behind schedule

This topic is a favorite of mine. To be a successful practice, you must figure this out. There is no compromise position. It is not an acceptable level of customer service to keep your scheduled patients waiting. The doctor is often the main culprit. Resist the urge to side-book small procedures seen that day in the hygiene schedule. Do not do definitive therapy for emergency patients. And please do not start complex treatment planning in the hygiene room. Watch the clock and stay on time.

5. Weak (or no) Internet presence

In this day and age, successful practices attract 30-35% of new patients from Google or Facebook. It must be a top priority to create or upgrade your website so that it positions prominently in your geographic area. Your website should be current, informative, and convey the distinctive personality of the practice.

6. Not answering the telephone over lunch

What would be the big deal to alternate the coverage responsibility for a live human staff member to answer the phone over lunch? For many working people, this may be the only time they can get to a phone. I am also a big advocate of call forwarding the office telephone number to a cell phone on the weekends. Pay a staff member to monitor this phone so that there is no chance for any important calls – especially from new patients – to be missed.

7. Not being HIPAA compliant

Did you know if you undergo a data breach, 40% of your patients will find a new dentist? Yes, patient data security is so important that it can affect your bottom line. HIPAA compliance helps dentists and other healthcare providers figure out what they need to do to secure that sensitive patient data. If you need help with HIPAA, read what I think about SecurityMetrics’ HIPAA compliance program in this blog post.

As you can see, none of these seven suggestions requires changing or enhancing your clinical expertise. These are basic principles that apply to any business. Cut down your hedgerows! Eliminate these easy-to-overcome obstacles that are unwittingly preventing your practice from reaching the next level of productivity and profitability.

If I have now hopefully motivated you to take corrective action, you might also want to read some of my thoughts on the importance of staff and customer service, based on almost twenty years of dental practice management experience.

If you are interested in additional tips for successful dental practices, please feel free to subscribe to my blog, published twice a month.

Dr. Mayer Levitt is president of Jodena Consulting, a nationally known dental practice management company. Dr. Levitt was in private practice for 29 years in Providence, RI. He grew his office from two treatment rooms to twelve, brought in two associates who became partners, and retired from clinical dentistry in 1996. He is now entering his 20th year of consulting and has worked with over 630 different dental practices helping them to reach higher levels of productivity and profitability.

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