Q&A with ACT Dental's Kirk Behrendt on how dentistry can adapt to a changing landscape

By David Rice, DDS, DrBicuspid.com clinical editor

June 19, 2020 -- Many of my colleagues will agree with me that, once our practice doors reopened, there was more to figure out than just ensuring we had the right kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE). We also had to figure out how we were going to run a successful business in a world that had changed completely.

With that in mind, I thought I would reach out to Kirk Behrendt, the founder and CEO of ACT Dental. Kirk's experience in the industry and his company's wide range of clients make him a great resource to ask about best practices for dental businesses moving forward and what he is hearing from practices around the U.S.

I started our interview with a question we're trying to figure out in my upstate New York practice -- one I'm sure many of you are trying to figure out as well.

David Rice, DDS: What does it take to get loyal patients back on the schedule and start filling it up with those raving fans?

Kirk Behrendt
Kirk Behrendt.

Kirk Behrendt: I think one of the things to understand is as a team, as a dentist, this is a time where you really have to rally as a leader. And it isn't just like, "Let's just do everything." There were some things that you weren't good at before COVID-19 that you probably have to get good at now. And then there were some patients where you probably would have been better off if you freed up their future prior to this, right? While we've never been through pandemic training, what a great opportunity this is to make some lemonade and say to your team, "OK, how do we think about this business and get better week by week?"

As a practice management coach, the thought before the pandemic was that I can double your production. We'll take every single patient you have on the schedule for the next six months, and then we'll organize them in red, yellow, or green bricks. And we're only going to put back the green bricks. Well, everyone could do the math on that. With those green bricks only, you would double your production. The joke was, "Well, no one could ever do that." Now there's a legitimate case that you could do that because there's no schedule at all.

While that's probably not entirely true, it is something to think about for dental practices. You have all these bricks that you pulled from the schedule and you're putting them back, so it's important to identify those loyal patients. We're looking for people who value what you do, because there are people in your database who value what you do and are your biggest fans.

When it comes to the schedule, I am hearing that dentists and team members are feeling overwhelmed with the idea of putting together a whole month's schedule. So we're telling people, look, we don't know how this will work moving forward. None of us has ever been through pandemic training. Let's just take it week by week. Let's take a look at what works this week, and then sit down and at least review how it went at the end of the week -- figure out what worked and what didn't and what needs to be adjusted before next week.

Dr. Rice: I love that. I think we as dentists have to be an A+ in that leadership category, but it's also about the willingness to adapt.

Behrendt: Absolutely. There are other things, when you talk about filling the schedule, that we have to get better at, and some are things that we've never even tried before.

A lot of people are doing no-touch payment with QR codes in the operatories. It's really quite brilliant if you think about it, because those are procedures we probably should have been working on in the past, but the clinical team members said, "I don't touch payments." Now, because of necessity, team members are discovering it's really easy.

Let's think about how we're going to move forward -- and maybe not wish that it just goes back to the way it used to be. Let's embrace this because I think we're just going to improve weekly over time. And a good mantra that we live by internally is that perfection is not a good goal. All we're looking for is just getting a little bit better every single week.

Dr. Rice: I'm going to switch topics on you. One thing that I've heard, and you may have heard from your clients as well, is obviously a lot of things have changed with insurance. And patients are coming in who may have been laid off or furloughed, and all of the sudden their insurance has changed. Does that impact the filling of the schedule in your mind, or what do we need to be doing about insurance in that conversation even before the appointment happens?

Behrendt: Great, great question. I think the same principle applies. You have to remember almost 20% of the country is unemployed. A lot of people are losing their benefits. So the first thing I think as a leader is just to make a decision about what you're going to decide to do on a week-to-week basis. I love the idea of using data. Pull your reports and give your team members a weekly strategy. Create a list of people who have to get back in and are also on those insurance plans that are most desirable. Of course, there are some plans on the other side that are less desirable. This might be a great opportunity not to chase those less-desirable insurance plans.

Now, it's important to understand that you have to be an insurance-friendly practice. It doesn't mean you accept everything, but, at the same time, you don't want to come across as super naive in some of those respects.

Consider implementing a membership plan and build the practice that way. It's a great opportunity you may be missing in your practice! If you don't have a membership plan, this could be an awesome time to discuss it and decide if it would benefit your practice, your team, and your patients.

Also take a look at the different plans that your patients participate in, and you may choose, as a leader and as a team, which ones you are going to proactively pursue. Again, you're going to be more intentional with the schedule, even when it relates to insurance. That same principle of building the best schedule for your business applies here. You now are going to be making room for who you want in the schedule.

I think the biggest thing that people forget is that you are a business provider in the United States of America. You get to choose how you spend your time and with whom you spend it. And while you're treating everybody with dignity and respect, you can choose who goes in your schedule. This is still America, and it's still the greatest country ever. Don't lose track of that.

Dr. Rice: Kirk, like me, I'm sure you're a big believer that every obstacle is an opportunity. This really is like a reboot. This is done over time. This is a brand-new start. And we may never have a better opportunity moving forward to evaluate, assess, and improve every system that really matters right now.

Behrendt: No question. I think it requires a lot of good self-talk too. Let's face it: This is hard. However, by surrounding yourself, whether it be a study club, talking with friends from dental school, or a good online meeting, you can realize how to take advantage of this opportunity.

You may look back and think, "Hey, the pandemic of 2020 wasn't the greatest for my business. But you know what I did that was different? I started to let go of the things I didn't like. And I started embracing the things that I was really good at, or I knew I needed to get good at. And you know, it was a turning point for us, because the country was all in the same place."

Look, we have all had to pivot, but it is a great opportunity. That's how we have to view this, whether it comes to our schedule, to insurance, or whatever it might be. It's been hard but, in the end, great things can come from it.

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.


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