10.8.10 Issue #448 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Practice Profitability and the “New Normal”
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill

Certainly, the challenging economy is presenting its share of difficulties and opportunities for dental teams. As our nation gradually crawls through this recession, we hear repeated references to the “new normal.”  The pundits refer to a “new normal” in terms of unemployment percentages, homeowners vs. renters, saving vs. spending.

So what’s the “new normal” in the dental practice? Likely, it is unwavering attention to the business details. In my 30+ years of working with dentists, I have never before witnessed a time in which it has been more critical to evaluate practice management systems and immediately address weaknesses. The inefficiencies that dentists could ignore three years ago are now crippling some practices and doing serious damage to many more.

There are 22 systems that directly impact your success and profitability, and each should be carefully evaluated and scrutinized for effectiveness, starting with the following six:

1. Patient Retention
78% of the 128,000 general dentists in the United States are solo practitioners. If you have been in practice for 15-30 years and are still a solo practitioner, that should be a big red flag. Some dentists have had 2,000 to 3,000 people come through their offices and never return. The question you have to answer honestly is:  Are you losing more patients out the backdoor than you are gaining new patients coming in the front door?

One of the most common misconceptions dentists have is that patient records in the computer or in the files constitute active patients. In actuality, only those patients that have been in the practice for a hygiene recall appointment in the past 12 months can be counted as active patients. The recall system, or lack thereof, is a huge factor in patient attrition - but more on that later. I recommend running a computer report and comparing the number of patients that are scheduled for recall appointments in the next year and the number of records in the computer system or the files. Most likely, you will find that there are far more patients in the records than there are appointments in the schedule.  

2. Don’t Skimp on Treatment Recommendations
As I’ve said many times before, regardless of the whims of the economy, patients still need dental treatment. Dental care has a direct and proven impact on the overall health of the patient. Do not minimize the care that you deliver. If treatment acceptance for necessary dental care is below the 85% range, this system needs immediate attention.

Continue to diagnose patient needs according to your practice philosophy. You should be aware that the patient may not be comfortable pursuing a larger treatment plan beyond what is immediately necessary - at least not yet. Continue to educate patients. Emphasizing the importance of oral health and its impact on overall health has never been more important. Communicate with patients regularly through periodic email newsletters that reinforce the value and necessity of preventive oral health care.

3. The Most Important and Most Ignored System - Recall
Too many dental teams take it for granted that the patient will return, but when they don’t, no one follows up with them to get them back on the schedule. Practices that pre-appoint six months in advance are assuming 100% retention, but they don’t have 100% retention. Pre-scheduling three and four month recall is reasonably effective. But the six month recalls are usually not. It is essential that if your practice pre-schedules patients six months in advance, patients are educated and business staff must follow-up with them to confirm. An effective recall system ensures that your practice has no more than .5 openings in the schedule on any given day.

In addition, communication between doctor and hygienist and with the patient must reinforce the need for ongoing care. It is not uncommon for the dental team to refer to the hygiene appointment as a routine checkup, thereby trivializing the importance of what you deliver and confirming the patient’s misperceptions that these six month visits aren’t all that important.

Practices need to be proactive in bringing patients back into the office. Call those patients with unscheduled treatment plans, those that have missed appointments, recall patients. They need to know that you care about them and you are concerned about their oral health and wellbeing.

Next week - three more systems that impact your “new normal.”

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com. Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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