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Associate Dentist

7 signs your practice is ready for a new associate

June 1, 2022
Bringing on a new associate dentist allows you to ease burnout while maintaining quality care. Here's how to prepare your practice and team for the new addition.

As your dental practice grows, you may struggle to keep up with treatment for existing patients or make room for new patients. Bringing on a new associate dentist allows you to ease burnout while maintaining quality care.

I hired my first associate more than 25 years ago. Now, in my role as chief dental officer of Apex Dental Partners, my focus is on recruiting and developing all practitioners at our 35 thriving practices. I have learned that successfully recruiting an associate greatly depends on timing and strategy.

One of the most common mistakes is recruiting before your practice is ready. I hope the following seven insights provide a useful guide to prepare your team and practice for a new associate before you hire.

A growing practice is a sure sign of success. However, the threshold to justify a new associate will vary based on your location, patient base, and other factors. Use these metrics as a guide to determine your goals and set a timeline for expanding your practice.

Hygiene room bookings

When it comes to assessing a practice's patient base, I first look at hygiene bookings. A hygiene calendar booked seven or more months in advance is a great sign of a healthy practice. This is not only evidence of growth but also evidence of high patient retention and a trusted team.

Action plan if your hygiene schedule falls apart: An unbooked hygiene schedule is a sign of poor patient retention and underdeveloped new-patient acquisition. If you have a growing patient base in need of six-month cleanings, take a fresh look at your patient reactivation program to find ways to get patients back in the hygiene chair.

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Monthly new patients

Any practice aspiring to grow should set the target to acquire at least 30 new patients per full-time doctor every month. However, depending on the type of practice, you may need that number to be significantly higher. A steady flow of new patients demonstrates demand and trust by your community. Consistently exceeding your goal or needing to turn new patients away due to availability may be an indicator you’re ready for an associate.

Action plan if you need to increase new-patient flow: Focus on building your referral network, online presence, and front desk protocols to improve the new-patient experience.

Strong referral rate

At least 40% of your practice's new patients should come from referrals. A high referral rate demonstrates your patients and professional peers hold your practice in high regard. If you find your practice is achieving your new-patient targets but your referral rate is weak, you may be investing too much in advertising while overlooking relationship building.

Action plan if your referral rates are low: Set aside time once a week for you to focus on networking and developing relationships with professional peers in your community. Also try building a program to encourage existing patients to invite their family, friends, and neighbors to your practice.

High treatment acceptance rate

A treatment acceptance rate of over 80% indicates your patients are loyal and trust your expertise. New dentists will typically have a low treatment acceptance rate, but this should improve as they gain experience and build their confidence with patients.

Action plan if your acceptance rate is low: Set goals and build a strategy designed to help you improve patient communication and case presentations. Consider ways to incorporate your team and work together to provide a better patient experience.

Monthly treatment room revenue

Benchmark your revenue per treatment against what others are doing in similar practices and similar markets. In many parts of the United States, practices average $30,000 a month in revenue per treatment room. If your treatment room revenue is high for your region, it indicates a strong practice with active patients and sustainable income. This is the position you want to be in when you bring on a new associate dentist. Of course, you should think beyond an absolute number. For example, how does that revenue balance with your expenses? Are there other ways to increase your treatment room revenue without involving another dentist?

Action plan to increase treatment room revenue: Analyze each treatment room’s revenue to identify if they are being used efficiently and at capacity, then make a plan to maximize your schedule and improve treatment to increase acceptance rates.

Room to grow

Do you have the physical space and infrastructure to accommodate a new associate? Take time to assess how another doctor would fit in your existing space. Your practice may be busy and hitting all the metrics, but unless you have room to grow, you are simply not ready.

Action plan if you lack space: Talk with your team and make a concrete plan to use your space more efficiently. Ultimately, you may determine there’s a need to acquire more square footage to accommodate a new dentist. In this case, you’ll need to determine if you can justify the additional expense.

Smooth running administrative systems

Consider whether your existing administration, billing systems, support staff, and clinical processes work efficiently. It’s extremely important to bring your new hire into a well-run practice to eliminate potential conflicts and to keep the focus on patient care.

Action plan if you struggle with admin duties: Even with excellent patient care, you cannot ignore having effective support systems in place. Discuss these concerns with your team to get the help you need in place before it’s too late!

Once your practice is able to provide the support, new patients, and revenue required for a strong start, you can confidently begin recruiting for your new associate. But keep in mind, this partnership works both ways. Hire a new associate with the intention of empowering them to grow personally and professionally, and together, your practice is sure to thrive.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the June 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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