Is treasure hidden in your practice?

March 1, 2006
The snow has melted, the daffodils are sprouting, and dentists, their staffs, and patients are contracting spring fever.

The snow has melted, the daffodils are sprouting, and dentists, their staffs, and patients are contracting spring fever. At times like this, it’s easy for a team to become complacent, losing sight of the strategies, goals, and vision for the year. The challenge is to find innovative ways to keep the team focused, excited, and continually improving. To complement the Easter egg hunts and refocus everyone on the practice, we suggest a “systems treasure hunt.” This is a powerful tool our doctors use to examine and improve the practice. The hunt uncovers a rich bounty of strengths and challenges which are then used to reinforce success and set priorities for improvement.

At your next staff meeting, start the hunt for buried treasure. Break your staff into smaller groups. Give them 10 minutes to gather and make copies of key documents of your systems, including:

Five random daily schedules
Five patient charts
The practice’s written financial guidelines
Two completed financial-arrangement forms
Two completed telephone-information slips for new patients and emergencies.

Also include a new-patient welcome packet, vision and philosophy statement, and treatment presentation and acceptance monitors if you use these documents in your practice.

Once the team members have copies of these essential documents, they should analyze the materials as if they were outside consultants, discovering successes and challenges to reach the practice’s vision, values, and goals. Here are some clues to look for when treasure-hunting in these documents:

The schedule - Are you scheduling every day to reach production goals? How accurate are the times allocated for procedures? Are preblocks used daily to meet production goals and to schedule new patients in a timely manner? Is there a mix of flexible and captive appointments to accommodate emergencies without causing chaos? Are patients kept waiting more than seven minutes? Are cancellations and no-shows kept less than five percent?

Patient charts and communication - Is there unscheduled treatment lurking in the charts? Is information legible, complete, and consistent? Are patients debriefed before they leave the operatory, so they understand the importance of their treatment and the next appointment? Do your treatment presentation and acceptance monitors show that patients are accepting treatment and following through?

Financial documents - Do you consistently collect at your goal? Are payment options such as loans, dental charge cards, and payment plans discussed with patients? Is there a private place for these discussions? Are there written financial guidelines? Is the insurance-tracking system effective?

New-patient welcome and care - Do new patients hear about your philosophy on their first call? Is the welcome packet current and is it used consistently? Is full information on new patients and emergencies, including their motivators and concerns, recorded on a telephone-information slip?

Vision and philosophy - Does your written statement directly support your goals and strategies for the year? Is the staff aware of the vision and aligned with the journey to get there? Is the vision and philosophy compelling and motivating to you, your staff, and patients?

Once you and your team have examined your documents, discuss the strengths to be reinforced and the improvements needed. Have each person list three priorities generated by this systems analysis. Then combine everyone’s list into a master document of items to address. Prioritize, gain the group’s commitment to making needed improvements, and establish timelines for accomplishing them.

The treasure hunt can be the most effective staff meeting you’ve ever had. According to Dr. John Scanlon, a general dentist in Boylston, Mass., who recently completed a treasure hunt, “We went over everything to figure out what we had, what we didn’t have, what we were using, what we weren’t using, and who knew what a form was used for and who didn’t. It was a lot of fun, and it opened our eyes to what we needed to do to improve.”

This spring revitalize yourself and your team with a treasure hunt and see what hidden bounty you can uncover to improve your systems and take the practice up a notch.

Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the practice-management firm that helps dentists better their lives by mastering the business side of their practices. For more information on Pride’s seminars, management study programs, products, or to ask Amy a question for this column, call (800) 925-2600 or visit

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