Systems and your dental team

Dec. 1, 1997
Dentistry is different from other businesses. Many nondentists unpretentiously attempt to tell us the best way to run our practices. Unfortunately, the business knowledge acquired in other industries often is inadequate for dental practices. The difference between dental practices and other businesses include:

Roger Levin, DDS, MBA

Dentistry is different from other businesses. Many nondentists unpretentiously attempt to tell us the best way to run our practices. Unfortunately, the business knowledge acquired in other industries often is inadequate for dental practices. The difference between dental practices and other businesses include:

- The CEO (dentist) also is the producer.

- There are no extra staff members to carry out functions that others would have you believe are essential for your practice, such as statistical analysis.

- Dental practices do not have directors of finance or CPAs on staff for continual financial monitoring.

- Most dental practices will grow at a reasonable rate and are unlikely to double or triple in any given year.

These are only a few of the reasons why so many strategies that work well for other businesses damage dental practices. Many people misunderstand the stress and intensity of practicing dentistry and running a practice while attempting to keep up with changes taking place in our profession.

Systems are the key

The key to a successful dental practice is to have outstanding, repeatable systems. Anyone who attempts to help you fix your staff is wasting time. Most behavioral psychologists will tell you that it is extremely difficult and time-consuming to change people.

While viewing your staff, you may notice certain individuals who do not belong in a service business. While you certainly can try to change this person into the professional you desire, chances are that you will not succeed. This is not simply a negative point of view, but as the behavioral psychologist said, "It is a very difficult process."

The key to building a successful dental practice and maintaining growth is having outstanding systems. Dental practices must implement the most efficient systems possible and then ask the staff to follow. Inevitably, we are not creating robots, but are allowing our staff to operate more successfully because they know the protocols of the practice.

What should scare you?

- You should be afraid of the staff member who has been there for 15 years and does not want to change.

- You should be afraid of the person who thinks he or she knows exactly how to do his or her job.

- You should be afraid of yourself if your practice is not changing.

- You should be afraid if you do not have documented systems in usable manuals for training new staff.

You should be afraid because a practice that is not changing in today`s environment is in trouble. It is not that you are necessarily operating at sub-par performance. It is simply that many better ways exist today to operate dental practice systems.

For example, I rarely see a practice that enters our Management Consulting Program that does not have a schedule that is at least 30 percent below capacity. These practices - including practices that are filled, booked out six weeks and have no idea where to put an emergency - have a great potential for lowering stress and overhead.

Too many people spend time trying to fix the staff. You should certainly train and coach your staff - a good leader identifies those with potential. However, optimizing the management systems in the practice is what creates the best opportunities for these people to grow. I have been involved in dental consulting since 1985. In the past 12 years, I have taken our consulting programs through a number of evolutions to offer the highest chance of success to each client.

Today, The Levin Group has found that the development of documented business systems, which are tracked and followed by the staff, is the best method for achieving results. Systems allow you to run your practice exactly how you think it should run while making continual improvements. Without systems, the changes you make are hit or miss and usually are made to solve an immediate problem. Many of the systems used in dental practices should be revised completely based on expertise in achieving the highest level of productivity and profitability.

I often meet dentists who say that certain types of systems do not work. I explain to them that I can show them 300, 400 or even 1,800 practices that use certain systems effectively. Unfortunately, some dentists simply have a perception about what will and will not work, even though they have not fully explored the potential.

Your goal should be to establish documented systems for your practice. I offer one challenge: I spoke to a dentist yesterday who said to me, "Roger, I have been following you for years. I love your ideas about documented systems. We keep starting them, but we never seem to get them done."

Get them done.

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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