Do You Really Need to Hire an Associate?
You’ve decided it’s time to hire an associate. You’re just way too busy, and know you have more than enough patients of record to share with a new dentist. Hiring an associate will mean a reduction in the number of hours you put in and a lot less stress, and for once you can’t wait to begin the hiring process.
While the thought of bringing someone else on might seem like a huge relief, this new hire will only add to your troubles if you don’t do it right from the beginning. And that means making sure you actually need a new associate before you hire one. Sure, you might be so busy you can barely keep up, but is that because you have too many patients to treat, or because your systems are a mess?
Neglected systems throw practices into chaos, leaving dentists with the illusion that they’re too busy to handle it all on their own. They convince themselves it’s time to buy a new office, finish the extra operatories, or hire an associate – when in reality what they really need to do is get their systems in order.
Before you hire an associate, you must know without a doubt that you have enough patients to not only keep you both busy, but to support the two of you as well as the practice. A healthy solo practice sees 25 new patients a month, with 85% of those patients accepting treatment, according to industry data. So if you’re thinking about bringing on an associate, you should be attracting 30 to 35 new patients a month.
Once you determine that you actually need an associate, take the time to find the right one. Sadly, most of these arrangements don’t work out, and it usually comes down to unclear or mismatched needs and expectations. Many times hiring dentists see associates as extensions of themselves and expect them to fall in line and produce. Sorry, but it typically doesn’t work out that way.
Remember, any associate you hire is likely coming into the practice with about $250,000 in dental school debt they’re eager to pay off. New dentists want security; they’re not interested in taking unnecessary risks at this stage in their career. They want to work with a well-trained staff that functions well as a team. Associates look to their hiring dentist as a mentor, and see their time at the practice as an important opportunity to learn and grow.
All too often, “busy” doctors expect new dentists to step in and control the chaos. That’s why the doctor hired an associate in the first place – but it certainly isn’t why the associate accepted the position. The associate soon learns the practice doesn’t have the stability they’re looking for; instead it’s filled with chaos created by broken systems the doctor refuses to fix. The associate spends too much time putting out fires, instead of treating patients and enhancing dental skills. He or she certainly isn’t learning much or doing anything to boost practice production numbers, leaving both the associate and the hiring dentist frustrated with the arrangement.
Let me give you another scenario that often plays out when dentists bring on an associate. The senior dentist is ready to retire and only wants to focus on the cases he likes, giving the less pleasant cases to the associate. Not only that, the senior dentist has cut way, way back. At one point he had a thriving practice that brought in $800,000 a year, but now he’s only bringing in about $300,000 – with the same overhead costs. He’s not worried, though, because he expects his new associate to boost production and revenues as soon as he gets started. Unfortunately, the doctor is wrong, and this misguided assumption costs both the hiring dentist and the associate big.
Bottom line, bringing on an associate is unlike any other practice hire. It’s one of the most important career choices you’ll ever make, and isn’t something you should enter into lightly. Think of it as a marriage. The associate you hire could one day become your partner, making it vital that you understand each other’s goals from the beginning and share the same practice philosophy.
You will spend thousands of dollars on this arrangement, so take steps to ensure it will work. First, make sure you actually need an associate, then find the best fit for your patients and your practice. Not sure where to get started? Feel free to contact me. I’m happy to help.
Next week, 4 things every associate should ask before joining a practice.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Collect More at the Time of Service
Collecting money from patients for services rendered can be a struggle, which is why it’s so important to have policies in place and to properly train the team member entrusted with this important task.
To help boost collections and your cash flow, I suggest finding a way to grow Over the Counter, or OTC, payments – which are payments made at the front desk via credit card, cash or check for services provided that day. Taking these payments right away means you don’t have to bill patients later, saving time and the frustration that comes when patients forget to pay.
Sound good to you? First, you need to determine what percentage of payments should be made OTC. The industry standard is 45% of the month’s net production and the goal is to have patients pay the portion insurance companies won’t cover. Use this equation to determine exactly what your OTC payments should be:
Total insurance $ for the month / total of all $ for the month = % of insurance payments. 100% minus insurance % = patient payments.
Now that you know what percent your practice should collect over the counter, how do you determine which payments are made OTC vs. online, through the mail, by phone or walked in? You’ll need to track specific payment types and make sure they are posted properly so you can accurately calculate the percentage.
Here’s the formula you’ll use to determine your practice’s OTC payment percentage: Total of all the OTC payments / Net Production = % of OTC payments. You must generate two reports to get this information: Payment Summary, Collections Summary or Accountants Earnings Report, and a Production Summary, Monthly Daysheet, or Register.
Keep in mind, calculating the net production can be tricky. If your adjustments aren’t set up correctly, your net production probably won’t be accurate. Not sure how to calculate your net production? Reach out to your computer software support staff for help.
You might ask why not compare OTC collections to total collections. If you’re successfully collecting old debt, this month’s collections could be higher than your net production. This indicates there was more money coming into the practice that was not OTC as a result of production. It will reflect a lower % of OTC than it really is.
OK, now you know how to determine what your OTC should be. Here’s how you can improve it:
Re-educate your patients: If your patients have been sending in their payments or paying online for years, they’re not just going to automatically start paying at the time of service just because you want them to. You’re going to have to change the way things are handled at the front desk, which means training your Scheduling Coordinator.
When scheduling an appointment, the Scheduling Coordinator should say:
“Mrs. Smith, here is your appointment card for your next visit. Your portion of payment at that time will be $180. I wrote it down on the back of your appointment card as a courtesy.”
This is a subtle way of telling Mrs. Smith you will be asking for the $180 at the next visit. Now, of course, this doesn’t guarantee she’ll pay, especially if she’s not used to it. This also means training your Financial Coordinator, who should say this when checking Mrs. Smith out at her next visit:
“How did everything go today? I understand the doctor completed tooth-colored fillings for you. Your portion today is $180.”
Determine how much you should ask patients to pay. Some team members might be uncomfortable collecting payment from patients before they know what their insurance will cover. How will they determine what the charge should be? That’s simple. They guess. Don’t waste time with insurance statistics and trying to figure out the exact amount. I suggest basing the patient’s portion on 30-35% for fillings, perio and extractions, 60% for crown and bridge and 90-100% for preventive. Throw in an additional $50-$100 at the first of the year for a deductible for everything except preventive.
Here’s what your Financial Coordinator should say after giving patients the estimate:
“I really don’t know how much your insurance is going to cover. How about you and I agree your portion today will be $180 and if there is any difference after I hear from your insurance I will let you know. Does that sound good to you?”
This tells the patient that your Financial Coordinator is doing her best to determine the correct amount, but because you are not insurance experts, there’s a chance you might be a little off.
Collecting more money over the counter is a great way to increase cash flow and reduce stress associated with collections. Determine what your OTC should be and follow these tips, and you’ll soon find more patients willing to settle their bills at the time of service.
Email Communication System for Dental Practices
Most of us spend a large part of our day composing and reading emails. In light of that, many of us have developed a communication “style” that becomes recognizable to the people we routinely communicate with via email. Some are very formal with a proper salutation and close, while others just start typing and don’t close. Many people want the short and sweet version, not the long wordy one – especially in a business setting. If you aren’t aware of the content and intent of your communication, messages can become confusing to others.
Technology today is requiring many patients to access your website and be able to contact your practice via email to set up appointments and get relevant information. The email communication between multiple providers involved in a patient’s care has become standard for the majority of practices. Being able to send referrals, pre and post-operative reports, biopsy reports and digital images immediately instead of relying on “snail mail” not only has improved the timeliness, but also the accuracy of record exchanges.
To write effective emails in a dental practice setting, first ask yourself if you should be using email or if it’s better to pick up the phone. If a patient has contacted you via email and requested a specific time to be scheduled that doesn’t work for you, would it be prudent to email back with other available times, or to call? Since email is usually not synchronous, it would be better to call.
Many people avoid the phone because it is just not as convenient as email, but customer/patient service may be hindered in the process. There is often the assumption that someone has received and read your email, when in reality they haven’t. In one practice, a patient had indicated on her intake form that she wanted to be reminded of her appointments by email only. When she did not respond with a confirmation email answer, it was assumed she would show for her appointment. She did not show up. When she was called, she apologized and said she doesn’t always check her email.
Representing the dental practice is just as important via email as it is on the telephone. Emails are a reflection of your professionalism, as they are from the doctor and the practice. Well-written emails that are concise and to the point, polite, and instruct the patient as to what is expected of them are important to building rapport. Absent from email is assessment of vocal tone, body language, and facial expressions – necessary components for “reading” a person’s intent. Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation and capitalization can be misinterpreted without visual and auditory cues.
For instance, the following email demonstrates how a person may think this person is angry:
Compared to this email:
Hi Mr. Brown,
When you don’t use a professional salutation or close, it shows lack of respect and professional attention. The use of all capitals can signify anger or “yelling” in text and should be avoided.
When sending several related points or instructions to a patient, use bullets points and write the paragraphs in small, well organized units to make it easier to read and understand. It is wise to always maintain a professional demeanor by avoiding jargon, slang and inappropriate abbreviations like FMX or PFM, as the patient does not know what the initials stand for.
Proofread your emails carefully before hitting the send button. Make sure to review the following:
1. Ask yourself, is it better to phone this person? Is the information complicated?
For professional dental business training, call McKenzie Management today for a customized training program for your practice.
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