Take Your Practice Apart

As readers of this column are aware, customer-service strategies can be the cornerstone of your management and marketing programs. However, before customer service and advanced marketing strategies can be fully implemented, the practice should document its systems to maintain efficiency and minimize overhead.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

As readers of this column are aware, customer-service strategies can be the cornerstone of your management and marketing programs. However, before customer service and advanced marketing strategies can be fully implemented, the practice should document its systems to maintain efficiency and minimize overhead.

When dentists interested in marketing ask me about The Levin Group`s consulting services, it tells me they want their practice to grow and are eager to implement a program. I tell them, however, that "jumping right in" would be a mistake. A major step must first occur - they must first create a blueprint of their management systems before they begin. In these cases, I usually persuade the dentists to enter a management consulting program initially. Therefore, once their business systems are strategically placed, marketing can grow faster.

Many dentists do not realize that a practice without outstanding, documented business systems will never reach its true potential. While the practice is strengthening its marketing efforts and adding new patients, the management systems, case acceptance, number of patients retained in the practice, efficiency and overhead can be neglected and ultimately weakened. In fact, the average practice operates at approximately 30 percent below its potential. Marketing is significant, but you must evaluate which changes in the practice come first.

Major management systems can be stratified into five categories:

- Scheduling

- Patient Finance and Collections

- Practice Financial Management

- Case Presentation

- Hygiene

Each of these systems is a key component of the dental practice, except hygiene for some specialty practices. All five systems are integrated, however, making it virtually impossible to change one system without affecting the others. For instance, scheduling affects practice finance and hygiene affects case presentation. They are all integrated, so how do you develop these systems to maximize their potential?

Unfortunately, most systems evolve by default. If the practice was opened from scratch, or is bought out, the systems only fit the practice`s present needs. These systems then are occasionally tweaked or changed to fit current times without any grand plan or redesign. Many professionals do not realize that as a practice grows, its systems have to grow with it. But, dentists ask, "How can I change my entire system and increase my production?"

Systems that serve a $200,000- or $300,000-per-year practice are very different from those that serve $500,000 plus per year practices. Most dentists do not understand that their management systems must change once they reach their growth target. If you often wonder why you hit a plateau and cannot grow, you haven`t identified what The Levin Group calls "financial break points." These break points are (approximately):

- $300,000

- $550,000

- $765,000

- $1 million

- $1.2 million

Each of these break points serve as a cue for you to revise your systems. Although a practice may offer a broad array of services, has a steady new-patient flow and a highly skilled dentist, most reach a plateau and cease to grow. The practice may, however, have a slight growth spurt due to a new service, but the growth will soon relapse without a solid system keeping the growth alive.

If a dentist is comfortable with his or her current profits, being at a plateau does not seem like such a bad thing. But many dentists do not realize their practice can stay exactly the same size and their profits still can increase by 20 percent or more. The management systems that most practices use do not fit the size or patient cycle of the practice. Instead, these systems have been dragged along with slight modifications, leading to a number of different financial and stress factors that the dentist/owner does not understand.

Put it in writing

In my last column, I discussed documenting job descriptions in your practice. Your systems also need to be documented. Compartmentalizing your systems forces the dental-team members to focus on the most efficient way to operate. It is incredible how quickly you begin to realize when certain steps are necessary, which others should be eliminated and when you may have the wrong people doing the wrong jobs in your office. These changes can make an incredible difference to the overall health of the practice and future profits.

Why am I so concerned about all of this? Because it is becoming increasingly difficult for practices to keep a steady pace. The truth is that in today`s dentistry, a practice is either growing or declining. There is no inbetween status.

Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at (410) 654-1234.

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