Secrets of today's best dental practices

July 1, 2009
This is a very challenging time for dentistry and the country.

by Roger P. Levin, DDS

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: economy, top 10%, goals, survey, benchmarks, attitude, action, systems, practice growth, advisors, Levin Group, Dr. Roger Levin.

This is a very challenging time for dentistry and the country.

Today's economy can make it easy to get discouraged about growing your practice, but this economic downturn isn't going to go away anytime soon. So, you've got to ask yourself — “What am I going to do in the meantime? Wait things out or take action toward overcoming these challenges?”

I'll answer that for you. You can't afford to wait things out. You must take action to rise above the economy, and you can. It all boils down to what you believe you can do ... and your practice depends on you to move forward.

There are practices who continue to do well — maybe not as well — but they are still experiencing positive growth. These practices are in the top 10% of practices. What sets this group of dentists apart is an ability to establish a vision, set goals, and implement systems to reach the next level in today's economy.

Rise above the economy

In the seminars I present nationally, I hear dentists say they are lucky to maintain their current production levels in today's economy. It seems self-evident to these doctors that setting higher production goals and reaching them in today's economy is nearly impossible. Almost any practice can grow a little, yet few practices ever reach their true potential. The top 10% of practices have figured out how to maximize their potential.

To measure your practice against others, begin by evaluating your status according to an annual practice survey. A useful tool is the 2008 Dental Economics®/Levin Group Annual Practice Survey. This survey creates an ideal opportunity for dentists to realistically compare their practices to others.

Among single and group dental practices in major metropolitan areas, large cities, medium-sized towns, suburbs, and small towns across the country, here are the positives and negatives found in the 2008 survey:

  • 52% of dentists surveyed in December reported an increase in “no shows.”
  • The 2008 average practice production for responding general dentists was $828,000, with a 3% drop in overhead, which represents $25,000 in savings.
  • Overall, the survey showed a 46% increase in doctors' stress levels.
  • 37% of dentists reported that the percentage of practice fees they are able to collect is decreasing.
  • The 2008 median gross hygienist production increased by $25,000, going from $125,000 to $150,000; however, that figure does not extend to practices with two, three, or multiple hygienists.

It is important for your practice to benchmark itself against other practices. In the business world, this is how top businesses discern where they stand. McDonald's knows exactly how many hamburgers it sells compared to Burger King. Southwest Airlines knows exactly how many passengers are traveling on Delta. Dentists must educate themselves in the same way.

Southwest Airlines is an excellent example of a company that knows the secrets of the top 10%. While other airlines created hub systems that kept them from growing in profit and led to a belief that they could not move more passengers throughout the country without acquiring other airlines, Southwest broke the mold. The airline does most of its flying nonstop between two locations, minimizing layovers and crowded hubs.

All of Southwest's airplanes are exactly the same, making them easier, cheaper, and faster to maintain, and passengers board their planes in minutes using a no-seat assignment system. This kind of “outside- the-box” thinking is critical to success in any industry, especially during times like these.

No action leads to paralysis

One of the secrets of the top 10% is they begin by focusing on what they want to do — not how they will do it. A big mistake that dentists make is getting stuck wondering how things are going to change while worrying if change is even possible. This can paralyze you at the outset. The top 10% move forward with a positive attitude, a vision, and goals to grow their practice.

Remember, the top 10% didn't have the answers in the beginning either. They were just as discouraged as you are now with declining case acceptance, high stress, and flat production rates. But, they overcame that frustration and began to take action by identifying what they wanted to accomplish. This question goes to the very heart of goal-setting. Forget about how — someone is always out there who can guide you. The main question is what.

The “what” is to know your objectives, and for an objective to become a goal, it must be:

  • Written in clear, specific language
  • Tied to a reasonable deadline
  • Measureable

Written goal-setting is far more effective than other, more unstructured approaches. Generally, people don't take the step of writing down their goals, choosing instead to keep goals in their heads. Following the three steps listed above allows for a much more focused approach to goal achievement.

For example, can your practice reach $1 million or even $1.5 million in gross revenue over the next 12 months? That depends on where you are today. However, having set a goal, it's easy to measure your progress, say by early fall of the target year. If your goal is to reach $1 million in production and you have produced $700,000 by September, you can realistically gauge the likelihood of achieving your target.

Revamp and revise your systems

The top 10% of dental practices understand that their business systems are critical to growing their practice in today's economy. Once dentists have clarified their goals, the next step is identifying outdated systems. Dentists must develop and document systems for every recurring procedure the office performs, including collections, patient communication, and recall appointments. Regularly, Levin Group consultants encounter dentists who are surprised to learn that outdated systems have been sabotaging their productivity and profitability.

Our consultants analyze the following systems as the essential “first steps” in moving clients toward their goal of creating A Levin Practice™:

  1. Power Cell Scheduling™
  2. Greenlight Case Presentation™
  3. Hygiene Maximizer™
  4. The Immediate Collections Process™
  5. Stage III Customer Service™

Keep in mind that as your practice grows, its systems must change to support its growth. Unfortunately, most systems evolve by default. These types of systems are often created for a new practice, but are only tweaked occasionally to address current problems.

When management systems are haphazardly retrofitted, bottlenecks and stress can result. Evaluating and documenting systems help team members operate the practice more efficiently. Periodically reviewing and revising systems enable your practice to handle changing demands as it expands.

Advisors can show you how

From the start, the top 10% enlist the help of advisors. These dentists recognize that they don't have all the answers. They count on their advisors to help jump-start practice growth and then keep it moving. Recently, Levin Group served as a consultant to one of the top dental practices in the country. This dentist used key advisors in finance, strategic planning, and management consulting.

Even while the doctor had spent a considerable sum in consulting fees, his multi-year return was in the multi-million-dollar range. His case illustrates an important point: Expert advisors can be far more valuable than any other investment practices can make. Few dentists ever make investments that result in multimillion-dollar growth, yet advisors can make this happen.

There is no question that the top practices surround themselves with advisors who can guide them to the next level. For example, even Warren Buffett uses advisors. They save businesses years of false starts and countless rounds of trial and error.

Are they smarter?

Are the dentists who head the top 10% of practices any smarter, quicker, more energetic, or more driven than you are? The answer is an emphatic no! Be willing to step outside your perceptions of what you think your practice is capable of. Start identifying the obstacles in your thinking and your business systems.

Remember, most practices can grow by 30% or more in today's economy when they tap into their hidden potential. The top 10% of practices have figured out how to do it. With a change in your mindset, updated systems, and the right advisors, you can too!

Dental Economics® readers are entitled to receive a 20% courtesy on the Levin Group's Total Practice Success™ Seminar for all general dentists, to be held Oct. 16-17 in Chicago. To register and receive your discount, call (888) 973-0000 and mention “Dental Economics®,” or e-mail [email protected] with “Dental Economics® TPS” in the subject line. For more information on Levin Group seminars and programs, go to

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Since the company's inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or at

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