The Naked Dentist: Stopping the problem first

2016 10 24 15 35 17 421 Marshall Curtis 400

Imagine you see a baby with a sippy cup tipped upside down, and the cup is dripping onto the floor. What do you do? When I recently saw this happening I asked my 10-year-old daughter to clean up the mess. My daughter got the cleaning supplies and started to clean up the floor. But she was cleaning up the floor as the sippy cup was still dripping.

Curtis Marshall is the vice president of marketing at Dental Intel.Curtis Marshall is the vice president of marketing at Dental Intel.

This is the Naked Dentist. Now, I'm not a dentist nor am I naked. I use an intelligent practice analytics tool to take off the clothes, accessories, and distractions within a dental practice to discover the key actionable items. This results in better patient care, better team performance, and more practice profitability.

One of the most common frustrations within a practice is an incomplete schedule. Today we're going to link the example of a dripping sippy cup and your incomplete schedule. We'll then create an action item for your practice to be consistently full every day, week after week.

Status quo

Dr. Green in Oklahoma reached out to me because she was spending thousands of dollars on marketing in an attempt to get more new patients to fill her empty schedule. After months of spending, she still had holes in her schedule.

Together, we stripped all the emotions and guesses out of the practice to discover where they really needed to improve. The findings were shocking and at first a little embarrassing. I reassured her that we were not going to use the results as a weapon, but, instead, we'd use what we found to know where the practice was so she could create specific action items to improve.

Here is what we discovered:

  • In January 2017, she had 2,004 active patients. In October of the same year, she had 2,109 active patients, a gain of 105.
  • From January to October 2017 she added on average 50 new patients per month for a gain of 500 new patients.
  • By this math, in October 2017, she should have had 2,504 active patients (2004 active patients in January plus 500 new patients).
  • The reality is that she lost 395 patients (2,504 minus 2,109).

Practices lose patients for one of two reasons:

  1. Patients get marked inactive because they died, move, don't want to see you anymore, or you don't want to see them anymore. This should not be more than 8% to 10% of your active patients annually.
  2. Patients who are marked active but have not been in the office for more than 18 months. Only 5% patients who haven't been in the office for 18 months will return.

What would be your action item if you saw this within your practice? You will never guess what Dr. Green's actions item were.


When we looked at the data, the team saw how many patients were being lost and acted quickly. The ultimate goal was to not lose patients. That is a fantastic goal, right?

“They now look for the cause of the mess and create an action item to fix the cause.”

With this information, the team decided to call all patients who did not have an appointment. Additionally, they wanted to send a "come back" letter to the patients who hadn't been in the office for 18 months. Both action items are great. With that being said, I felt as if I were watching my 10-year-old clean up the floor as the sippy cup was still dripping.

As humans, we want to fix problems -- when we see an issue we try to clean up the mess. But it is more effective if we first take the time to step back to see how to reach our vision and fix the problem, not just clean it up.

My daughter wanted to clean up the mess on the floor. She grabbed a towel and started cleaning. Although that is a great action, the floor will never get cleaned. She will work and become stressed without accomplishing her goal. Until you determine and fix the source of the problem, it will just repeat.

Now that you know the status quo and the vision of Dr. Green's practice, what is the first action item you would implement within this practice?

Action item

After the team made its phone calls, we noted that 20 of the 100 patients called picked up the phone. Out of the 20 patients who picked up the phone, 80% of them scheduled. Which means that out of 100 phone calls, 16 patients were scheduled.

I then asked the team if they enjoyed making phone calls. The team member who made most of the calls, quickly said she did not. When asked why, she replied, "I feel like I am wasting my time calling these patients."

Was it really a waste? Sara got 16 patients back onto the schedule. If the average production per visit is $300, then Sara brought back $4,800 into the practice. And every phone call (answered or not answered) was worth $48. She wasn't wasting time, she just felt as if she were wasting time. Why?

My daughter who was cleaning up the floor also felt as if she were wasting time.

When this team member and my daughter stepped back to see the cause of the mess, they both came up with a brilliant action item. That action item was to stop the mess from growing. Then the cleaning would be more productive.

My daughter's first action item was to take away the sippy cup from the baby, then to clean up the counter, and finally to clean up the floor. Each step is now simple and easy.

The team member's new action item was to make sure that every patient leaves with a future appointment. For those who don't, she is going to create a task to call them on a specific date.

To take it a step beyond, for those who don't have an appointment and don't have a scheduled follow-up, she is going to call those patients or send them a postcard. Where she and the team were looking at the mess and trying to fix that first, they now look for the cause of the mess and create an action item to fix the cause. This can be done with appointments, case acceptance, collections, and even cleaning the floor.


In their morning huddle, Dr. Green and her team now focus on how many patients left the office and why. By focusing on cause and creating an action item, Dr. Green's patients are getting better care and the team is performing at a higher level, which means that the office is producing higher profits.

Do you want to take better care of your patients, improve team performance, and increase profits? The answer is obvious. So start by stripping down your practice to find the true cause of any issue and then create an action item. By doing this, our practice will look the way it should.

Curtis Marshall serves as the vice president of marketing at Dental Intel. If you would like your practice to be in the next Naked Dentist column and have your practice undressed, contact him at [email protected] or 801-380-7070.

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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