Discovering the benchmark

Feb. 20, 2014
It's no secret that businesses seek success by looking for the most effective ways to make their goals a reality.

By Rick Workman, DMD

It's no secret that businesses seek success by looking for the most effective ways to make their goals a reality. In order to learn that information, businesses must continually evaluate themselves, their competitors, and their industry. A measure of success must be set. A benchmark is a point of reference by which things may be compared or assessed. Benchmarks show businesses what best practices to strive for, what is necessary to maintain a competitive edge, and what actions are necessary to adapt to the needs of their customers. Benchmarks should not be confused with quotas. Quotas are specific goals, and if not met often have a negative consequence.

In dentistry specifically, benchmarking may not be as valued as it should be. Information is seldom shared between colleagues because many dentists practice alone, and there are no large associations that share information that could be used to establish or compare benchmarking data. However, dentists should value the importance of creating an open environment where information is shared for the sake of building upon individual successes and identifying areas where one may appear to be an outlier among thousands of other dentists.

This is where benchmarking comes into play. For example, most dentists feel that patients should receive complete exams. My experience says that 90% of dentists believe all their patients have had complete exams. My experience also tells me when dentists actually check the data, they'll find less than 100% of their patients actually received a comprehensive exam. If you're a dentist, I invite you to print a list of your new patients over the last six months, and determine what percent received a complete oral exam. Then, determine if that percentage meets with your expectation. This is the beauty of benchmarking. It provides feedback to measure oneself against your peers and your expectations.

Benchmarks help businesses achieve better, more predictable results for their participants and customers. We can assume all cell phone manufacturers understand what the benchmarks are in their industry. Innovation occurs to meet these benchmarks at a lower cost or exceed them at the same cost. The bottom line is that customers benefit from that benchmark and innovation cycle. I believe that benchmarking in cancer therapy or cardiac therapy helps physicians and institutions provide more consistent processes and care, which yields better outcomes for patients. Results are shared and changes are made to therapies and processes to improve results.

Heartland Dental has studied the practice patterns of thousands of affiliated and nonaffiliated dentists for 15 years. When the data is shared with dentists, they can determine how their individual and practice results compare with thousands of other dentists. The profession as a whole could benefit greatly from a broad and transparent creation of benchmarks that could provide useful information for both solo practices and DSO-supported offices.

Leaders need to have clear written goals. As the leaders of their teams, they need to set the vision of their offices. They must communicate these expectations and follow up with team members to ensure success. As legendary coach Lou Holtz said, "Don't be a spectator. Do things. Just decide what you want to do and then ask the question, ‘What's important now?' What do I have to do to achieve this? And that will tell you the action you have to take. It's not a wish list; it's a set of things you want and need to accomplish."

There is no substitute for strong leadership. Leadership can be reinforced through the use of objective data (benchmarking). Objective feedback is equally, if not more important than subjective feedback. Many practices today base success simply on how the dentist feels. Is the dentist happy? I agree that the subjective feelings of a dentist are important; however, as a fellow dentist, I also feel objective data needs to be considered when evaluating whether a practice is fully achieving its mission.

There are methods to measure all aspects of a practice activity. Patient satisfaction can be benchmarked with health-care performance improvement companies, such as Press Ganey. By receiving the results on their offices and comparable offices, dentists and team members have a much broader method for identifying areas of opportunity. In addition, employee engagement can be measured using personal/professional development courses such as Bell Leadership.

Whether one is setting practice goals for clinical results, financial results, or patient satisfaction, a plan of action must be developed from data. Goals without objective feedback are not as attainable as goals supported by objective feedback. Dr. Gerald Bell of the Leadership Institute teaches that great leaders build great companies, and great leaders understand the value and relevance of benchmarking.

Rick Workman, DMD, is founder and chief executive officer of Heartland Dental. After practicing full-time, Dr. Rick Workman created Heartland Dental, a world-class dental support organization offering affiliated dentists nonclinical, administrative support. Heartland Dental has over 530 affiliated dental offices in 26 states. Dr. Workman may be reached at [email protected].

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