Beyond Practice Management: The power of momentum

2013 05 10 13 33 36 839 Deems Don 200

In many ways, your practice is like a fine automobile: When it's purring along, it's fantastic. When it's broken down, it's draining, demoralizing, and frustrating.

For many dentists, our practices have felt broken down for years -- maybe a decade or longer. Many cite 9/11 as the turning point; others, more recent years, maybe after the changeover of presidents; and yet others, the broken economy, insurance companies, and even dental corporations.

Don Deems, DDS, FAGD.Don Deems, DDS, FAGD.
Don Deems, DDS, FAGD.

I hear "But the patients just don't have money," meaning that they either really don't have money, or they are using money as an excuse not to proceed with needed care. I don't know about you, but I haven't noticed people cutting back on discretionary spending; they're just not spending it on dental care -- right now.

Years ago, when a patient said they couldn't proceed with care because of money, a red flag popped up; what they were telling me was that they really didn't understand their dental needs and the importance attached to getting those needs taken care of in a timely way. Unfortunately, many big-name consultants have gotten on the bandwagon to say that money is now the No. 1 reason that patients are NOT pursuing care.

So, what I see is how dentists are just giving up. Or, some are taking very aggressive "selling" strategies, some are doing things they never would have done during "good times," and so forth. They're challenging their integrity and our profession. Are we losing our way?

Common denominators

I want to point out several items about what I've written thus far. Notice that one approach is that of the "blame thrower" approach, blaming everything else for the/their current situation.

The second is reacting to a situation. Everything is temporary, unless we choose to make it differently. Reacting is different than responding -- very different.

Next is apathy and giving up.

None of these is healthy or will move you out of your current situation. Face it: At one time, we dentists had it pretty nice without tremendous effort. Yes, I remember when a few patients each month wanted "full-mouth" dentistry and would even write the check in advance. I remember when I could take my team on trips for continuing education programs and not worry about expenses. I remember when I could give large Christmas bonuses.

That's the past, and this is now. What do you do?


"Most of life is routine -- dull and grubby, but routine is the momentum that keeps a man going. If you wait for inspiration, you'll be standing on the corner after the parade is a mile down the street." -- Ben Nicholas, Australian actor

Are you going to be standing a mile down the street because of how you're reacting to the current state of affairs? I hope not. Like our practices that I compared to fine automobiles, they need maintenance. As Nicholas said, there are also many things that are routine and dull -- and they need to be done.

What are you doing to keep your practice going, even during tough times?

5 starter steps

Not every practice is the same, and not all challenges are the same. Some of our colleagues are doing quite well in these times, and others have had to close their doors. The rest, which is the majority of us, are in between.

Even those practices that are flourishing have to keep the momentum going. The classic business example is the story of IBM, which is studied in graduate school business programs. If you don't know about what happened to IBM, read about it. Unfortunately, there are plenty more examples of the same problems.

Yes, we're not in the league of IBM, but we are in business, and most all of the same principles apply. Try these out:

  1. Get your practice in order. Each year, plan to reduce your overhead by 10%. You will have some choices to make, but it's do-or-die. Don't hang onto extra team members "just in case." Make sure everyone is doing his or her job completely. Yes, the list can go on and on about getting your practice in order, so do what you know to do or get help to get it done.

  2. Let nothing slip through the cracks. An unscheduled single-surface filling each day adds up to thousands in lost profits over the course of a year -- and it doesn't do your patients any good.

  3. Detail, detail, detail. Business is detail, and dentistry is "detail cubed." How is accountability accomplished in your practice? Are YOU accountable? Evaluate all systems, and if they aren't working for you, chuck them quickly and try new ones. As it's said, "You snooze, you lose."

  4. We can't go without leadership. Are you being a leader, a visionary, a person who shows the way for your team? Your team needs you now more than ever, and a business led poorly will fail.

  5. I didn't forget about marketing. Yes, it's important, perhaps overrated, although it does remain a fundamental of good business practices. "Magic marketing" techniques will not save you from failure without all of the above elements taking place in your practice.

Start by getting the momentum going in your practice. Build on successes and ditch losers fast. Work harder, think smarter, be braver, stay in your integrity, and get rid of the "blame thrower." You have the capacity to make your practice a viable business, but it will take work.

If your practice is humming along, keep doing the things that got you there in the first place, keep sharpening everything you do, and constantly look for opportunities. If your practice isn't humming along the way you want it, start now by making a plan and following through, one step at a time, from this point forward. That's what it takes.

"When you have that window of opportunity called a crisis, move as quickly as you can, get as much done as you can. There's a momentum for change that's very compelling." -- Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox

Dr. Deems, known as The Dentist's Coach, is a professional personal and business coach and a practicing dentist. Since 2005, he has been annually named to Dentistry Today's Top Leaders list and is the author of several books, the most recent titled The Dentist's Coach: Build a Vibrant Practice and the Life You Want. He can be reached at or 501-413-1101. He speaks regularly on topics of this nature both nationally and internationally.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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