by Roger P. Levin, DDS
Over the last 22 years, I have been asked repeatedly by attendees at seminars to name the single most important aspect of practice success. My answer has never wavered - systems, systems, systems!
As important as systems are, many dentists have a tendency to downplay their significance. A majority of doctors beginning Levin Group consulting programs are under the incorrect assumption that their systems are in good shape. These practitioners will often tell us, “I’m doing well financially, so our systems can’t be a problem.” The truth is that many dentists in extremely high-volume practices have poor systems and don’t realize it.
The problem is a case of misperception. Doctors see the high volume as a sign of success and the stress as merely the cost of doing business. However, this unremitting stress will eventually take its toll emotionally and financially on the practice. It’s only a matter of time.
Why effective systems are so important
Why do systems matter as much as they do? Remember that dentists depend on the dental team. What does the team rely on? Systems! If team members do not have efficient, updated systems to rely on, stress and chaos will likely occur. At some point, stress is going to wreak havoc on you, your team, and ultimately your profit potential.
How does stress drag down a practice? Inevitably, the performance of a stressed doctor and staff will decline. As the practice’s efficiency takes a downturn, practice production is affected. This, in turn, leads to even greater stress for the doctor. Only effective systems can stop this disintegration from occurring.
Like the best businesses in other fields, top performing practices understand that the time it takes to put step-by-step systems in place is critical to long-term success. Even though it may require extra work on the front end, there are many rewards. Levin Group maintains that practices regularly updating their systems can increase revenue by millions of dollars over a 20-year period! We have seen this demonstrated routinely as dentists transform their practices into highly systemized and organized businesses.
Practices that can implement effective systems gain the following:
- Improved production, profit, and efficiency
- Lower stress and a more enjoyable work environment
- Time for the doctor to focus on leadership and team-building without distracting from patient care
- A motivated team that enjoys learning and is willing to advance
- Higher levels of patient satisfaction
- The ability to train new team members more quickly
- The capability of adapting to change faster
Where to begin
While the practice is run by many systems, three are of paramount importance:
- Financial management
- Case presentation
The schedule will determine the production and profitability of the practice - key factors in practice success. The schedule also is a barometer for the level of stress in the practice. Remember, stress and inefficiency go hand-in-hand. In most cases, a highly stressful practice is directly proportional to the level of inefficiency in the systems. The problem is that many doctors will attend practice management or scheduling courses in an effort to tweak their schedules and systems, only to find that little progress is made.
You cannot tweak systems to succeed. You must replace them! While there may be many good parts to your current scheduling system, the reality is that the overall system has to be replaced to take the practice to the next level.
Don’t complicate scheduling. It is merely time management, and time is quantitative. Consequently, a schedule can be broken down into a series of mathematical formulas that allows each practice to design an ideal schedule. Your goal is significantly higher production from your schedule - 30 percent is not unrealistic!
Such a goal can seem impossible for dentists who feel they are extremely busy and even overwhelmed. Remember, you are not tweaking your schedule to see more patients, but rather changing the schedule so that the practice can reach its true potential.
In too many cases, the schedule is the system that restricts growth of the practice and creates a false sense of believing that you cannot handle any more patients on a daily basis due to the nature of the schedule design.
Of all the systems in a practice, scheduling will have the single most dramatic impact on practice growth. Once the schedule has been redesigned, the practice will immediately notice an increase in overall production.
Financial management of the practice focuses on production, profit, overhead, collections, collection/production ratio, average production per patient, average production per new patient, hygiene to doctor production ratio, and a host of other numbers. Once the financial parameters are set, tracking at first may seem like a challenge, but one that is well worth the effort.
While it is not a good idea to overwhelm the practice with too many statistics to track, certain key performance indicators should be monitored on a weekly basis to get a sense of the financial health of the practice at any given time.
If the practice is off-track in any one of these key performance indicator areas, then specific steps can be taken to rectify the situation.
Although it is the most difficult system, case presentation can easily be broken down into steps and scripts. As an example, there are more than 70 steps to the new patient process leading to case presentation and case acceptance. Each step needs to be clearly defined and mapped out. The more closely each step is followed, the more likely a patient is to accept treatment.
During the last 22 years, Levin Group has seen many practices dramatically increase their case acceptance rates, simply by changing their approach to case presentation. How is this possible? One critical aspect to this kind of success is the use of a five-phase exam that includes separate phases for periodontal, tooth-by-tooth, cosmetic, implant, and occlusal examinations.
As each of these phases is evaluated, not only will the diagnostic focus increase, but also patients’ understanding of potential treatment. The five-phase exam is organized into five separate components (named above) of a single appointment. Effective scripting helps patients understand that each phase promotes a potential improvement for oral health care.
Case presentation also is about energy and motivation, which can be incorporated into your system as well. There are dentists who need to increase their energy level and ability to motivate patients. When the dentist and team come across with higher energy and motivation, patients are much more likely to accept treatment.
This is especially true in the areas of cosmetic, implant, and other elective services - areas where team-building is particularly important! Every one on the team needs to feel excited about all of the services offered and to understand how to discuss each service and answer questions from patients in an energetic and motivating manner.
Systems have been and will be the key to any successful business or organization, whether it is McDonald’s, Nordstrom, NASA, or a dental practice. As the NASA expression goes - “All systems are go.” When someone at NASA says this, it means that systems are in place and they have been checked and rechecked. A dental practice should be no less diligent in addressing its vital systems which affect production, profitability, and efficiency.
How important are systems? Many dentists have “dream practices.” They go to their offices every day and find very little stress despite being highly productive. They add new services on a regular basis and either change or add team members with little effort. How? Their practices have a solid foundation of effective systems. So can you!DE® readers are entitled to receive a 50 percent courtesy on a Levin Group Premium Practice Plan. To schedule an appointment, call (888) 973-0000 and mention Dental Economics® or e-mail [email protected].
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Since the company’s inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or at www.levingroup.com.