Dental Teams: Make the Most of Your Doctor’s ‘Great’ Ideas
Take cover dental staff! The Greater New York Dental Meeting recently concluded and thousands of dentists have returned to their practices with a zillion great ideas that they want you to implement today. Sound familiar? Ah yes, many dental staff have been the “beneficiaries” of the vicarious training experience. The doctor attends a conference and returns positively beaming with excitement, enthusiasm, and stories. Stories of dentists living in rural communities of 500 people doing FIVE MILLION DOLLARS in production! Stories of dentists working three hours a day, two days a week, and blowing the competition away. Stories of dentists with perfect schedules, ideal collections, and computer systems that not only spit out completely understandable reports, they predict the future as well! Oh-My-GOSH!
Now lest you think that I am not supportive of dental conferences, just the opposite is true. It is extremely important to take advantage of training opportunities and become involved in your professional organization. Just look at your dentist. She/he came back renewed and refreshed. And, agree or disagree, she/he probably did return with a few very good ideas. The challenging part is trying to implement them.
That’s where training programs come into play. Various organizations provide conferences of their own as well as offer access to numerous resources. Similarly, companies such as McKenzie Management offer specialized training opportunities specifically for dental teams at all levels, from beginner to highly experienced. And for those who simply cannot get away, there are onsite training options that can be completed in as little as half a day.
In the meantime, make the most of your doctor’s post-conference enthusiasm. Let’s say the dentist comes back and tells you that given the current state of the economy she/he wants you to figure out exactly how many patients the practice is losing and develop a clearly defined patient retention program. Now, don’t panic. This is your opportunity, take advantage of it.
Sadly, it’s very common for business staff to be virtually oblivious to patient retention problems for months before they manifest into serious scheduling/revenue troubles. The pace of the practice lulls them into a false sense of security. “Well, our schedule is full and we seem pretty busy so I think we’re doing ok.” But what most staff aren't considering are the piles of inactive records taking up space, be it on the computer hard drive or in every closet, shelf, nook, and cranny.
Case in point, I received an email from an office manager, Cari, from North Carolina. Cari writes: “Could you please send me information about how to track patient attrition?” After applying the formula I gave her (more on that later), Cari contacted me again because she wasn't sure how to interpret her findings. She had discovered that patient retention in her practice was at 53%. It was a figure she thought sounded alarming, and she was right. The practice was losing double the number of patients it was replacing with new business.
Cari, like thousands of office managers across the country, is doing the best she can - but without professional training, she simply doesn't know what she doesn't know. I recommended Professional Office Manager Training for Cari, as well as a Professional Practice Consultation for the office. As Cari emphasized during our conversations, she felt fortunate to work for a wonderful dentist and with some great people, but “lack of accountability, follow through, and specific systems” seemed to be holding them back. “We do so many things right. I just know that with some proper training, new updated systems, etc. we can function with less chaos, and be more efficient in our business.” It didn’t take long for Cari to realize that nearly all the elements are present for this office to become a highly functioning team. However, the one essential element missing is training.
Now, how do you monitor patient retention? Follow the following formula by answering these questions:
If the number of inactive charts is enough to open a second practice or if you answered “No” to question two and/or “Yes” to question three, you have patient retention issues. So what can you do right now to stop the patient exodus? Certainly, there are many steps to take, but chief among them is shake-up the day-to-day doldrums. More on that next week.
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Leadership Lessons from Tigergate
The world is buzzing about Tiger Woods’ fall from grace. It’s difficult to sort fact from fiction in all the tabloid fodder, but a statement on his website says he has "let my family down" and not been "true to my values." While I generally don’t think of athletes and sports figures as leaders – to be a leader you must have a vision and directly inspire others to work toward that vision – Tiger’s situation can be instructive for business leaders. What has been exposed is a disconnect between Tiger Woods the brand and Tiger Woods the person. His legacy has been tainted because he did not choose to act in accordance with the values he professed.
Clarity of values is essential in knowing our direction in life. It then takes courage to make the right decisions in moments that matter, moments when our core values are challenged. It is the difference between making a life and just making a living. Leaders, like sports figures and politicians, can justify or rationalize their “transgressions,” but values are reflected in what we do, not in what we say. Actions do speak louder than words. It is only when behavior aligns with values that true happiness and lasting success is possible.
The “it’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you do” principle directly relates to your practice. After all, the vision, mission and core values you adopt are the foundation, the roadmap for everything you do. However, the true test is whether you follow your values. Do your employees know the ways in which they contribute to the vision, mission and bottom line? What does it feel like to be a patient in your practice? The answers to these questions will expose your values, or the lack of them.
Core values define the culture and the unspoken rules of your office. Values drive decisions, conflict resolution policies, reward and recognition systems, compensation plans, and overall team process and dynamics. Core values reflect what is truly important to you within your practice. These are not values that change from time to time, situation to situation, or person to person, but rather they are the underpinning of how you run your office and your life.
Core values also are the compass for how you form patient service policies, your hiring decisions and the way employees treat one another on a daily basis. Core values impact the integrity of your practice. They create the ground rules that allow you to measure business and employee performance. Dental offices that are anchored in values use them as core business principles. The following are just a few ways you can lead a value-based practice.
Once you discover and define core values, speak them and live them. Weave them into your office environment so that every employee has a reference point for business practices and individual behavior.
Conduct a “core values review” with your staff. Ask employees to identify specific behaviors that support the core values of the practice. This is especially important if you have high employee turnover and poor morale. If the vision, mission and values are represented one way and played out another, how they are experienced carries weight. For example, if ‘trust’ is a practice value, then following through on what a person says they are going to do is a measurable behavior throughout the office, from employee to employee and from practice to patients.
Hire employees who are aligned with your values and build a vital support base. When you interview job applicants use experience-based questions. If ‘trust’ is one of your core values, you might ask, “How did you demonstrate trust with your coworkers in previous work experiences?” The bottom line is that employees whose values are in conflict with yours either pose a problem for the practice, or the practice poses a problem for them.
Identify behaviors that support your core values. This will allow you to recognize employees when they model those. Valuable rewards come in the form of praise, letters, special privileges and other non-monetary forms. Likewise, new employees who understand the ground rules in your practice know what is expected and tend to do better than those left to figure it out on their own… akin to negotiating cultural landmines.
Regardless of your affiliation, this is a spiritual time of year. At first glance, pairing spirituality and leadership might seem incongruous or perhaps even dissonant. However, spirituality is about finding meaning. I respect what Tiger Woods has accomplished in golf and I am saddened by his current predicament. But it should serve as a learning moment for all of us. If nothing else, this scandal of the day gives us yet another opportunity to examine our own values and those of our society. During this holiday season, may you reflect on the things that are truly meaningful and important.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
Stepping Up to the Plate
The 2009 New York Yankees opened their new ballpark in a fashion befitting their proud history, winning their 40th American League pennant and their 27th World Championship. Their on-the-field stardom was complemented by a good move off the field: the new Yankee Stadium offers the expected ballpark food choices such as garlic fries, hot dogs and deli sandwiches, but in a break with tradition, a seventh inning stretch can include fresh fruit.
Fans who feel threatened by non-lethal eating options at the ballpark need not worry; they can still get barbecued ribs at Camden Yards, Philly cheesesteaks at Citizen’s Bank Park, and crow at Wrigley Field. However, the presence of green fresh food in such places, blasphemous as it might seem, is a sign of the times, and a good one. People are taking more responsibility for their health.
It only makes sense. The calorie count for a basket of Nathan’s cheese fries is almost 1,350. A Budweiser is 290 calories, and a foot-long hot dog sets you back 500 or so. For some people that’s a snack before the bottom of the fifth, and moreover, a financial investment of nearly $25, which, combined with the Yankee ticket prices, ought to give the average guy an ownership share in the team along with indigestion. A nectarine runs about 60 calories and costs $1.50, and they’re available along with several types of apples, pears, bananas, oranges and peaches from old-style wooden pushcarts at Gate 4. By the late innings, they’re sold out. There’s a lesson here for dentists.
Dentists and Diet
So Americans are paying both individually and as a nation to get, live with, and remediate the problems we swallow, and we’re feeling the pain in our wallets as acutely as we do in our legs when we’re walking up the stairs to the cheap seats in the ballpark. We aren’t waiting for more evidence - we want better choices, better information, and better advice now, even when we’re out having fun. As healthcare practitioners, dentists must be seeing the effects of the obesity epidemic close-up. Those of you who see the opportunity here as well as the symptoms can be helpful counselors to your patients. Do you detect anything in my mouth that signals a problem? Can you earn my trust with a few words of encouragement and advice on my overall health and fitness? If we’re looking for fresh food in a ballpark we’re probably looking for fresh thinking anywhere we can find it. The dentist’s office might as well be at the top of the list.
The American Journal of the Medical Sciences explains: “The cost of obesity-related medical care has increased astronomically since 1987, in addition to lost productivity and income. Novel multidisciplinary, preventive, and therapeutic approaches, as well as social changes, are necessary to address the complex interplay of biologic, genetic, and social factors that have created the current obesity epidemic.” That seems obvious to you, perhaps, but being a patient, I’m far more likely to read the sports section than I am to see a scientific journal, and I’ll see the effects of the obesity epidemic on my own waistline before I comprehend the big picture. I need all the novel preventive approaches I can get.
Be My Coach
The mouth is your turf, and it’s where my cholesterol count, my body mass index, and my blood sugar all begin. If I’m a good groundskeeper, I’m healthier, wealthier, and perhaps even wise enough to choose a banana over a cheeseburger. I need you on the team.
On behalf of McKenzie Management, David Clow consults with dental professionals on practice culture, case acceptance, and patient expectations.
David Clow is a writer/consultant for Fortune 100 companies. His book, A Few Words from the Chair, is the first book written by a patient for dental professionals and students and is available here.
Hear David Clow’s FREE podcast – HERE
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