The 4 principles of practice success

2016 10 24 15 35 17 421 Marshall Curtis 400

Do you remember when you got your first cellphone? Or for those of a certain age, your first Sony Walkman? Maybe you can even recall your first computer, or when you first listened to music using an app instead of a CD.

Curtis Marshall.Curtis Marshall.

Technology has changed so many things in our lifetime. It seems like there's some new must-have device or software program nearly every time we turn around. Now, we have cars that can talk and even drive themselves. Our watches not only tell the time, but they also monitor our health, our sleep, and the total number of steps we take each day. Instead of subscribing to cable, we stream our entertainment.

Technology is part of almost everything we do, think, and experience. Dentistry has not been excluded from this high-tech revolution. In fact, clinicians and office team members now use powerful hardware and software solutions to provide better care and to manage their practices more effectively. What an amazing time to practice!

4 principles of practice success

I had a recent experience with technology that reminded me of four important principles of practice success. We bought a Tesla and have had fun with all the cool tricks it can do. One of these tricks is something called "smart summon." Using this feature, you use your mobile phone to direct your car to move from a parking lot, for example, to where you are standing nearby. Very cool, right?

My wife has been hesitant to use this feature because of fears about safety. But as she has observed our car arriving without incident each time we summon it, those fears have begun to fade. What does this have to do with running a dental practice? I'm glad you asked!

At Dental Intelligence, we work with more than 8,000 dental practices that use practice analytics to provide better dentistry to their patients. Instead of relying only on what they think is happening, dental professionals can see and understand what's working and what isn't working. This is done by following a four-step formula that helps them assess current performance to identify what they're doing well and discover needed areas of improvement.

Here's that four-step formula:

  1. Facts: Practices use key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify where the practice is performing well and it is falling short. This information provides them with a position on a map -- a point of reference so they know where they're starting from.
  2. Meaning: Practices then must determine what these facts mean in relation to patient health and practice performance. For example, if patients are canceling scheduled appointments and not rescheduling them, what does that mean for the practice?
  3. Feelings: Using these facts and their meaning as a starting point, doctors and teams discuss how they feel about where they are. For anything to change, they must make an emotional connection to what is happening and then decide what needs to happen.
  4. Action: Armed with clarity, a practice now can act to move the needle in the areas that matter to them.

To circle back to the example of my wife's concerns about our Tesla's self-driving feature, as she has used this formula to process her feelings, her fears have been replaced with growing appreciation for this feature. Her self-evaluation helped her reach a place of clarity about what she was feeling and why so she could change her position about using this feature. This is powerful.

It's so easy to think things are going well, especially when you are busy. Or you may be having a slow month and think your practice is about to fall apart. In either case, knowing what's really happening requires data to discover what is really going on. Only then can you take appropriate action.

Rely on data, not feelings

I was recently talking with Robyn, a vice president of operations over a group practice in Minnesota about this principle, and she shared a great example of how it applied in a conversation she'd had with a doctor. Robyn was visiting with him about how many active patients his practice had. The doctor told Robyn his practice had around 2,600 active patients. However, she had checked his practice management software and discovered that 1,100 of his "active" patients weren't currently scheduled. Almost half of all his patients didn't have an appointment!

Don't be too hard on this doctor. He was doing what we all do: making reasonable assumptions based on limited information. "If my schedule is full, all of our patients must be scheduled for treatment, right?"

Having the facts can be transformative. Rather than relying on what you think or feel is happening, discover the facts and take action after you've followed the process I outlined above.

Sometimes, dentists and administrators may disengage when they hear someone talking about data, numbers, KPIs, and metrics, thinking, "What does any of that have to do with the health of patients?" This is understandable. But as the dentist mentioned in the example above learned, knowing what is really happening and which patients are falling through the cracks directly impacts patient health and team performance.

Measuring numbers in your practice is important, but it's also insufficient. Raw data may tell you how many of your new patients rescheduled treatment but not what can be done to improve that metric. Or you may know that case acceptance is low but not what can be done to increase it.

These insights happen when your team discusses the meaning of the information, how you feel about it, and what your plan is for acting on the data. This is when the value of those metrics can be fully realized.

Facts. Meaning. Feeling. Action. This formula can go a long way toward helping you move from what you hope will happen to changing what will happen. Success in your practice is in your hands. It takes hard work, of course. But think of how great it will be when you can look back and see how much your practice has grown and know exactly how you got there.

Choosing the right technology

If you are looking at adding new technology to your practice, here are some principles to guide you through that process:

  • Principle No. 1: Spend time identifying what your current key issues are. Don't focus on a solution until you have enough data to validate your concerns.
  • Principle No. 2: Evaluate solutions through the filter of patient care. Ask yourself, "How will this new device or software application help me improve my patients' health?"
  • Principle No. 3: Implement your chosen solution and then commit to frequent, thorough evaluation of its impact on patient care and team performance. Understanding which performance metrics matter and why they matter is especially important.
  • Curtis Marshall is the director of partner operations for Dental Intelligence.

    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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