New make-over every year

Case Profile: This Detroit doctor, in general practice for 12 years, has bought into more "make-overs" than an aging starlet. Every seminar, book, and management consultant has sent him reeling in another direction. Twelve mutations in 12 years! The Dirty Dozen, squared. Like a sickly turtle on its back ... the practice twitches feebly every now and then, but doesn`t get anywhere. And the doctor`s most recent approach - going "front-deskless" - isn`t bringing the practice to its feet.

Sally McKenzie, CMC

Case Profile: This Detroit doctor, in general practice for 12 years, has bought into more "make-overs" than an aging starlet. Every seminar, book, and management consultant has sent him reeling in another direction. Twelve mutations in 12 years! The Dirty Dozen, squared. Like a sickly turtle on its back ... the practice twitches feebly every now and then, but doesn`t get anywhere. And the doctor`s most recent approach - going "front-deskless" - isn`t bringing the practice to its feet.

Symptoms: Patient retention is decaying PDQ, thanks to dreadful customer service. Financial insolvency is gaining momentum fast with over-the-counter collections of only 10 percent; accounts receivable at 2.5 x monthly production; and over-90-days at 28 percent of total accounts receivable.

Observations: Dr. Willy Nilly`s interpretation of "front-deskless" was as follows: installing computer terminals in each treatment room, allowing his two employees who fill in for chairside assistants to dismiss patients without moving an inch. What was previously the Doctor`s private office has been converted to a payment center, should patients be so inclined. The front desk has been replaced by a round table which sits in the middle of a glass-enclosed gazebo, looking pretty. You heard me right, a gazebo! Ludicrous as a jewel on a beggar`s coat.

Discussion: As patients enter - having been greeted by nobody - they appear like the tongue that seeks the missing tooth. Typically, they look around, fidget for a minute, sit down, get antsy ... then angry, and finally stand up and walk back to the treatment rooms to find a living being who might acknowledge their presence. Following treatment, the average patient gets up from the chair, finds his way back to the "no reception area" and leaves. Still other patients wander in the hall and ask, "Where do I go to pay?"

Treatment Plan: Considering the fact that the front desk check-in/check-out system wasn`t broken in the first place, we recommended a "no-fix" fix. The gazebo was sent home, where it was gratefully accepted by the doctor`s wife for her indoor rock garden. The front-desk area was restored to its rightful place opposite the door and overlooking the reception area. One of the assistants was told to scrap her scrubs and don business attire for her new position as business coordinator. The assistant was provided professional training in the art of asking patients for money. Between her new skills in increasing over-the-counter collections and reducing accounts receivable, this young lady became a very valuable employee, indeed. The dental assistant who hadn`t had the time or know-how to dismiss patients and ask for money was free to get back to her system of cleaning up the treatment rooms and getting patients seated. Terminals in treatment rooms now could be used for more effective treatment-planning, which would become even more important now that training also was provided in the art of presenting the treatment plan.

Sally Says: Although I`m obviously a proponent of seminars, books, and management consulting, I urge you to be selective not only in what you listen to, but what you implement. The best advice - although I can`t take credit for it - is, "If it ain`t broke, don`t waste your time fixin` it."

Sally McKenzie is president and chief operating officer of Dental Partners, Inc., a full-service, in-office dental management and practice-acquisition company. She continues to serve as president of McKenzie Management, a division of Dental Partners, Inc. She can be reached at (800) 288-1877; e-mail dentalpartners@dpi-mckenzie.com; or visit her Web site at www.dpi-mckenzie.com.

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