by Louis Malcmacher, DDS, MAGD
As I lecture around the country, I meet many interesting people, most of whom work in the dental industry. I am always amazed at the number of practice-management consultants that are around. It almost seems that every former offi ce manager, dental assistant, and dental hygienist is a practice-management consultant in one form or another. This tells me that dentists have a GREAT NEED for managing their practices, whether it's setting fees, controlling overhead, and/or hiring and handling staff members. The other issues that often seem to completely befuddle dentists are patient management, treatment presentation, and getting the patient to pay for treatment.
Since I am a practicing dentist as well as a dental consultant, I can fully appreciate the complexities of running a dental practice. Unfortunately, we dentists were trained to be dentists, not businesspeople. Many dentists I run into are poor businesspeople and have little clue how to run their offices efficiently and successfully.
Five simple rules
Here are five thoughts on whether a practice-management consultant will work for you and what to look for:
1) Consulting is not a magic wand -- Many dentists hire dental consultants thinking this is the silver bullet or magic wand they have been looking for, but it does not work this way at all. When you hire a dental consultant, you are going to have lots of homework to do as a result. Initially, it's going to be added work for you, but you will greatly benefi t in the long run. Remember, consultants are not magicians nor do they have fairy dust they can sprinkle over your offi ce to make it instantly a high-producing, highly successful office.
2) You need to be committed to change -- I have consulted with dentists for the last 25 years and I can tell within the first two minutes of our conversation whether or not a dentist is really willing to make the changes necessary to build a successful office, or whether he or she is simply not interested in doing what it takes. A dentist recently called me about possibly consulting with his office. Because I own a general dental practice and do weekly lecturing, I have limited time for dental consulting and can only take on 10 to 12 comprehensive consulting clients per year. The caller was a dentist who has been in practice for 20-plus years and is not even close to producing what he is capable of, nor is he nearly reaching the potential of his office. He sat there for five minutes blaming just about everything possible for his lack of success -- his location, his staff, some of his new pieces of technology, etc. I asked him when the last time was that he looked in the mirror because none of these things were a problem. I quickly identified five reasons why his location is actually stellar, then told him that he was the problem. His attitude was holding him back and nothing else. He told me that he couldn't change himself. I simply replied that he could, but he just didn't want to. No dental consultant can help if you are not willing to make the changes necessary for success. Most of the time, that change begins with you.
3) Clinical skills alone will not take your practice to the next level -- I know that statement does not make many dentists happy, but I regularly consult and talk to many who have taken the absolute top levels of dental education. They have gone through all kinds of institutes and are highly trained dentists who still only produce full-time $25,000 to 30,000 per month. They cannot understand why their clinical skills have not launched their practices into the stratosphere. I am sorry to burst this bubble for so many dentists reading this, but your patients really have no way to judge the level of your clinical skills. If you sit them down for a comprehensive 90-minute exam, most patients don't see this as a higher level of skill. They wonder why you are so slow doing this simple exam when the last five dentists they went to completed this whole process in about 10 minutes! I am not saying that clinical skill is not important, but by itself, clinical ability will not guarantee a successful practice.
4) Practice-management "systems" are not the complete answer -- Now at this point, you are probably scratching your head and wondering where I am going with this. We have made practice management a very convoluted topic in dentistry. You read these lengthy articles on how to motivate patients to proceed with treatment, how important it is to have a staff review every three months, and all kinds of very complicated topics that are actually very, very simple. I have seen dentists go through two year programs with dental consultants and get nothing out of it because the systems are too complicated, too bulky, nobody understands what his or her position is, and the dentist just gets frustrated spending a lot of time and money. Practice systems alone are helpful, but they are certainly not the answer.
5) Finally, the big secret -- It is the combination of smart clinical efficiency and easy practice-management skills and systems that will take you to the next level. You may listen to lectures from top-level clinicians who know nothing about the practice-management side of your practice. They may have very unique practices where they only do full-mouth reconstructions or 28-unit veneer cases, and will only practice on people who can afford them. I would venture to say that is not like your practice, and most practice-management lecturers know nothing about the clinical side of your practice. In fact, most practice-management consultants are not even dentists.
Are you willing to change?
What I teach my coaching clients is this big secret -- the key to a successful and highly profi table dental practice in 2007 is general dentistry with high clinical efficiency combined with the right practice-management skills to hire good staff, attract the right patients, motivate patients to treatment, and then get paid. The formula is just about that simple. Throw in the right attitude and you can take your $25,000 to 50,000 per month practice and double it or more, but are you committed to making that change?
Dentistry is an extremely rewarding profession, financially and personally. You get to help people look and feel good about themselves. Don't hire a dental practice consultant if you are not ready to change some basic areas of your practice and yourself. Do hire a dental consultant if you are ready to make some meaningful changes in your life so that you can really reap the rewards of what dentistry has to offer -- for you, your family, and your patients.
Dr. Louis Malcmacher is a practicing general dentist in Bay Village, Ohio, and an internationally known lecturer, author, and dental consultant. He works closely with dental manufacturers as a clinical researcher in developing new products and techniques. His group dental practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead since 1988. Contact him at (440) 892-1810 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can see Dr. Malcmacher's lecture schedule at www.commonsensedentistry.com where you can also sign up for his monthly practice-management teleconferences and free monthly e-newsletter.