Working with a dental consultant can be the greatest thing since the proverbial sliced bread. On the other hand, if you don’t have the right consultant, it can be as painful as…well, you know.
So, what makes some consulting relationships work and yet dooms others to end in blame, regret, and wasted time and money? In this article we identify when you should and should not seek a practice management consultant, the pros and cons of consulting firms, and what you can do to create a foundation for success.
The first major consideration is you. Before you sign a contract or even consider signing a contract, you need to do some soul searching about who you are as a leader, what you really want to accomplish, and how much you are open to change.
When not to spend money on a consultant
- If you’re convinced the problems in your practice are solely due to your lousy staff, patients, insurance, location, economy, etc.
- If you want your consultant to work independently to “fix” those issues
- If you took countless CE classes on those topics and you’re amazed they didn’t help
A heartless truth
A mentor of mine once told dentists that everything in their practice is there because they put it there. The bad patients, insurance, team—you had a significant role in putting or accepting these things in your practice. A skilled consultant will not only help you make changes in your practice systems, but will also—and most importunately—illuminate the leadership choices that led to the issues in the first place. This is essential because, without insight into your own behavior, you will repeat this pattern despite the consultant’s best efforts. If you genuinely want to know “How did I end up in this situation and how do I fix it?” you are ready for consulting.
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Identify what you want to accomplish
Ideally, a consultant will begin your relationship by asking three diagnostic questions:
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Why do you want that?
- How will you measure success?
A great consultant will then help clarify your answers so that you can both be clear about what you’re really looking for. This conversation is essential. You may work with patients who have already diagnosed their problem and have helpfully created their own treatment plan and have decided what it should cost.
On the other extreme, you may see new patients who don’t express any goals for their dental care and simply want a “check-up.” A vital first step of every dentist/patient relationship, just like every dentist/consultant relationship, is identifying the real issue and then the right solutions.
Before you hire a consultant, list your goals and define what success will look like to you. Be specific with quantifiable benchmarks. This will help you know if consulting was a success.
- I want less stress.
- I want better organized systems.
- I need higher production.
- I want to leave work by 5 pm every day, work 185 days a year, and feel increased energy.
- I want my scheduling system to accommodate two new patient appointments per day, meet my daily production goal 75% of the time, and accurately reflect my procedure time.
- I want to increase total office production by 15%, with case acceptance averaging 85%.
How to decide on a dental consultant
You need to make an initial decision about whether you want to work with an established consulting firm where you’ll be assigned to a consultant or a team of consultants, or a solo consultant who does it all.
I have a unique perspective because I’ve worked in both scenarios. In fact, I have a long list of pros and cons both for working with a consulting firm and for going solo.
What you should expect from your consultant
Of course, you decide your priorities, but a skilled practice management consultant should offer the following (at a minimum):
- Insights about your practice’s financial statistics that both reflect and determine the changes you need to make
- Specific action steps for you and your team to implement
- Training on verbal skills so your team can support the new systems
- Perceptive feedback about your efforts so you can grow
- Accountability and follow-up to ensure that you can and do implement
- A sense of humor that matches your sense of humor helps
The bottom line
Ultimately, I recommend that you search for a dental consultant who matches your values and your communication style and who demonstrates expertise in your issues. Ask your potential consultant challenging questions, not only about their success stories but also about their less-than-successful stories. Make sure this is a person or firm that genuinely cares about you and your growth. Partnering with the right consultant can mean you accelerate your growth as a leader and reach your practice goals faster, so choose wisely.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the July 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.