Suffering the Mid-Career Squeeze?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Mid-career, mid-life, mid-term. You’ve reached the middle, the halfway point. It can be a time of great prosperity and satisfaction or one of significant anxiety. For some dentists it means they are hitting their stride and are right in the middle of the excitement, the challenge, and the thrill of their chosen profession. They are at the top of their game, enjoying the fruits of their labors, and looking forward to what the future holds. For others, mid-career feels more like being stuck in midstream, floundering somewhere in between the beginning and the end. It’s too late to turn back, but there’s not much promise in what lies ahead.
Behind them is the first 15-20 years of their dental career. They’ve invested a fortune in time and money in both dental and continuing education. They should be reaping the rewards, but they’re not. They are burdened by the monetary pressures. The lean months are growing more frequent, and it feels as if the financial tightrope they are tiptoeing across could snap at any time. They are supposed to be the leaders of their practices, yet the personnel struggles, the revolving door, the sheer challenge of just keeping a group of people together, let alone building a team is wearing them down. Is it any wonder that they find themselves asking, “Is this all there is?” Where’s the excitement, the enthusiasm, the career satisfaction!
Consider your position on this mid-career path. Are you enjoying the view from the pinnacle of success? Or are you frozen in place, stuck somewhere between merely average and truly excellent? And, if you’re not where you want and feel you should be, are you willing to take the necessary steps to change it? Look at it this way, if the roof were leaking, you would have it repaired. If your car weren’t running properly, you would take it to the mechanic. It stands to reason that if the area of your life that has the greatest impact on your personal and professional happiness and satisfaction isn’t delivering what you expected, you wouldn’t hesitate to fix it. Right? The question then becomes where to start?
You’ll need to look at key systems starting with the two critical areas that are most likely to be sending your practice, and consequently you, into a mid-term slump: patient retention and poor customer service.
We see this routinely in mid-career practices. Everyone is busy. The schedule appears to be bursting at the seams. Hygiene is typically booked out six months. A couple thousand patient records are on file. Therefore, the doctor is convinced that patient retention is perfectly fine. “Busy” is as “busy” does, and busy is one of the great illusions of the dental practice, a perception that is not only deceiving but also costly. In fact, most dental teams are stunned to learn that 80% of dental practices are losing more patients than they are bringing in new. But upon hearing such statistics the crew will simply turn and tell each other that they must be in that select 20% group because, well, you know, they are crazy with work. Just how crazy? Find out.
If the number of inactive records is enough to open a second practice, you have patient retention problems. If you have not increased hygiene days, you have patient retention concerns. If your hygienist’s salary is more than a third of what she produces and if you haven’t converted 85% of your emergency patients to loyal patients, you have more patients leaving your practice than you have new patients coming in.
While misery loves company, it doesn’t require you hang around this pity party indefinitely. Patient retention is an area in which you can take prompt steps to improve and see immediate results. In most cases, patients have simply drifted away because the recall system, if it exists, is weak. Put recall to work and patients in the chair.
Generate a report from your computer of all patients past due for recall appointments in the last twelve months. Your objective is to reconnect with these patients using a defined strategy that will enable you to set goals and track the results of your efforts.
First, assign a member of the business team, typically the patient coordinator, to take the following steps:
- Contact a certain number of past due patients each day. The coordinator should use a specific script that she/he uses as a guide in making the calls. In addition, she/he should check the patient records to identify a treatment concern noted in the patient’s chart that she/he could reference in the phone call.
- Everyone needs goals, and beyond just making calls, the coordinator should be expected to schedule a specific number of appointments, and follow-up with patients to ensure that a specific number of patients complete treatment.
- The coordinator also assists the hygienist in meeting production objectives by scheduling the hygienist to achieve daily or monthly goals as well as managing a specific number of unscheduled time units in the hygiene schedule per day.
- Finally, the patient coordinator monitors and reports on recall monthly at the staff meeting.
You will find many patients who are more than willing to schedule an appointment. They do so because you’ve demonstrated to them that you value this patient relationship and want them to return. Next week…improving your customer/patient service.
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