The foundation of success

Sept. 1, 2009
There are dentists in south Florida and Michigan — a couple of the hardest–hit economic areas — who are still thriving and growing despite the economy.

by Gene Dongieux, CIO, Mercer Advisors

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There are dentists in south Florida and Michigan — a couple of the hardest–hit economic areas — who are still thriving and growing despite the economy. These same doctors are still on track to their financial goals for retirement, despite significant losses in the market. It is no accident. These doctors live within customized, integrated systems, personal infrastructures that keep them on track to their goals.

We've been hearing a lot about infrastructure this year. Your personal infrastructure is your routine, your behavior. In your practice, you have a routine for when you get to work, how you answer phones, organize your operatory, collect payment, seek out new patients, buy supplies, reinvest in the practice, and update technology. In your personal life, you have routines for eating, sleeping, saving money, paying bills, keeping house, and maintaining your house and cars.

These routines are usually not integrated. Often, they spring up as a reaction to an external need: you get a bill, you pay the bill; the phone rings, you pick it up. When your life is pieced together this way, it stands to reason that if you put some conscious effort into it, you could improve the way you do things and how things work together synergistically.

There are three reasons we don't often get past these thoughts (if we get to them at all). One, there are other things we'd rather think about. Two, routines are fulfilling our basic needs; bills are getting paid and phones are getting answered, so there's no sense of urgency to fix something and no real sense of where new effort could make a difference. Three, changing your behavior is hard and takes you out of your comfort zone.

For many of us, it's only when things quit working on a critical level that we really look at how we do things. Some of you have seen signs of the current economic problems in your practices. You may have big holes in your schedule where patients have cancelled treatment or just not shown up.

You may have collection problems, case acceptance problems, or formerly chatty patients who no longer talk to you. This spills over to your personal life, where your fixed expenses have not changed but your income has, and credit is no longer so readily available.

If you don't have any of these problems, do you know why? If you don't, there is a problem out there somewhere with your name on it. Do you really want to wait for it to crash into you? The way to prevent becoming a “cautionary tale” is to understand what you need to be doing, then create an overarching, integrated system that supports those actions by tracking, measuring, and reinforcing the right behavior.

Good systems can show you where your effort is best spent and can get all of your actions supporting the same goals. Then they keep you on track by preventing short–term deviations from becoming full–blown bad habits. Built into a good system are not only the routines you need, but a reporting mechanism that tells you if the routines are being followed.

For example, you've probably read or heard about good, better, and best ways to answer the phone. A good system connects your front desk person's telephone procedures to calendar, case presentation, front desk compensation, expenses, profit, personal savings, years to retirement, and your next vacation. It might measure number of calls, number of rings per call, specific dialogue per call, and appoint rate per call, then link that to the source of business, type of cases from each source, and acceptance rate from each source.

With information like this over time, you can make projections about your income and personal financial goals, and plan reinvestment in your practice. Moreover, knowing how just this corner of your practice works shows you where your efforts can pay off the best, like improving front desk performance, aligning performance with compensation, and which new–patient sources to cultivate.

Hard times make it easier to reimagine and reinvent how your world could be better, but you don't have to wait until you become a “cautionary tale” to start. Tap into the revitalizing energy around you and make this the year you get your life organized, integrated, optimized, and on track.

Gene Dongieux of Mercer Advisors is the author of “If You Have It Made, Don't Risk It: A Physician's and Dentist's Guide to Investing.” Mercer Advisors offers integrated 360° Planning™. Dongieux has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and Investment Advisor magazine. Contact him at [email protected].

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