Dental practices are businesses and generally follow the same basic principles that all businesses use to be successful. The difference is that business entrepreneurs start out with an idea or product and hope they do well enough to survive the early stages and then become successful. Dentists, on the other hand, have the advantage of knowing that when they open or purchase a practice, they will have some level of success.
However, there is a point (and this happens many times in a dental practice career cycle) when the practice plateaus and growth becomes difficult to achieve. Frequently, dentists will simply ask why they aren't growing and then attribute it to external factors, such as location, dental insurance, type of patients, or the economy. While any of these could be valid in a specific situation, more often than not they aren't the actual reasons for lack of growth.
What we know about business systems
The best way to understand what you might not know about business systems is to start with what you do know. We know that businesses run on systems, and the better the systems, the more successful the business.
For most entrepreneurial companies with a good idea or product, it's the systems that eventually allow them to grow, move through the entrepreneurial stages, and achieve ongoing levels of success. The same is true for a dental practice.
Those systems need to be documented, proven, and designed step by step. Here's why:
- Systems need to be documented so that the current dental team and new team members can access them. If systems aren't documented, they simply exist in different team members' knowledge base. This means that many steps could be forgotten, skipped, and taken away if current team members leave and all that knowledge goes with them.
- These systems exist in many other practices and have been proved to be successful. Having proven systems will avoid wasting years of trial and error.
- If systems aren't designed in a step-by-step format like an instruction manual, then they will be of no help to the team. For example, if you go online to find out how to fix something not working on your smartphone, you will typically find solutions in a step-by-step format like an instruction manual. This is how people learn best, and especially new hires who may have less dental experience and need to be able to learn as quickly as possible.
Now for what you don't know about systems
Systems are a powerful way to help grow a practice; however, they can be equally as powerful in holding a practice back from any future growth. This means that the same systems that allowed you to achieve the success that you have today become the very thing that prevents you from going farther.
Systems are just like cars. The newer the design and better the technology, the faster a car will go. But remember, it will not exceed the design and technology that allows for the next breakthrough in cars and speed.
I rarely meet the dentist who considers the fact that the practice's systems are holding it back from growth. Dentists may recognize that new systems might allow for growth, but they often can't completely see the whole picture because they don't know how to design the new systems or what the new breakthroughs could actually be.
In an attempt to quantify this, we find that almost every dental practice has a 30% to 50% growth rate in about three years. In fact, we have seen many practices increase production by approximately 18% per year for three to four continuous years by implementing newly documented, proven, step-by-step systems.
Putting systems into practice
Let's look at a few examples of the improvements that systems can make in a dental practice:
- Reducing no-shows to less than 1%
- Increasing doctor production time by eight weeks every year without working any longer
- Increasing hygiene production by 20% without lengthening appointments or stressing the hygienist
- Increasing production more rapidly by focusing on scheduling of new patients, emergencies, and large cases
- Increasing the number of active patients scheduled to more than 96%
These are just a few of the many ways to increase practice production, but systems must be designed to make this happen. For example, with no-shows, we recommend a three-step system with appropriate scripting that helps patients understand that missing appointments isn't acceptable while maintaining a positive relationship with them. This can help reduce the average no-show rate in dental practices to less than 1%.
Systems are a powerful way to stimulate practice growth, but they can also hold a practice back. If you design and follow systems exquisitely, then you will have growth, up to a point. The absence of documented, proven, step-by-step systems is the No. 1 reason that dental practices reach plateaus and don't move to the next levels of success.
Dr. Roger P. Levin is CEO of Levin Group, a leading practice management and marketing consulting firm. To contact him or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit LevinGroup.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.