Taking Care of Business

Sept. 1, 2012
When you elected to own your own practice, you hopefully made a conscious decision to assume all the responsibilities that come with ownership.

by Alan Richardson and Debbie Richardson

When you elected to own your own practice, you hopefully made a conscious decision to assume all the responsibilities that come with ownership. You can’t act like an associate when you are an owner. If the aspects of ownership are unclear to you, then get clear and get clear fast. As an owner, you are taking responsibility for the oral health of your patients, the livelihood of your staff, and the financial health of your family.

The most important asset of your business, above all, is your patient base.

Maintaining the patients you have while adding additional patients is essential for practice survival.

There are three areas that require your constant focus. Take care of these areas and success is inevitable. Ignore any of them at your peril.

The three areas that require your constant focus are:

  1. High-quality, state-of-the-art dentistry
  2. Outstanding customer service
  3. Practice profitability

These three areas require you to take ownership. Ownership means management. Ownership means taking on the role of the executive of your own business. Ownership means leadership. Ownership means taking accountability.

High-quality, state-of-the-art dentistry

Defining what high-quality, state-of-the-art dentistry means to you is important as it creates the groundwork for clinical care. High-quality, state-of-the-art dentistry provides you and your team with certainty to care for your patients.

  • Ensure that the techniques and materials you are using are regarded by the leaders in dentistry as tried and true. State-of-the-art dentistry is not experimental dentistry.
  • Ensure that your equipment supports your techniques and the outcome you need for quality patient care.
  • Invest in the best continuing education for yourself and your team to ensure optimal results.
  • Verify that the hygiene department in both the general dental office and the periodontal office is uncompromisingly and appropriately managing patients’ periodontal issues, with major emphasis on the patients’ overall health.

Outstanding customer service

It is essential that the doctor and team be clear about their collective belief systems regarding customer (patient) service. The ranking of priorities must be:

  1. Patient
  2. Team
  3. Self

The goal is to consistently make the patient No. 1 by addressing their needs and wants and creating an emotional impact on them. The individual needs of the doctor and team members are subordinated to the needs of the team, and the team needs are subordinated to the needs of the patient. The moment that self is put above the team or patient, the service collapses. When the PTS priority is in place, the individual then, by definition, is taken care of by the team. Everyone’s needs are met.

A second belief must be that the patient’s time is more valuable than the doctor’s or practice’s time. Be clear who is paying the bill. These basic concepts are essential:

SOOT – Start Out On Time
SOT – Stay On Time
GOOT – Get Out On Time

Timing your procedures is critical. Work endlessly on designing your schedule. Request that the clinical team review the schedule two weeks out to ensure that it will still work for both patients and team. Be sure to block schedule for productivity. Ensure that your morning huddle focuses on pinch points and opportunities in the schedule. Patients who are seen on time, get out on time, and have their emotional needs met will refer.

Work endlessly on team training so that all communication is patient focused and elegant. Tell your patients what you can do for them, not what you can’t do. Your patients need to hear “My pleasure,” and “I’d be happy to,” and “Yes, we can do that.” Do away with all the “rules and punishments” you have for your patients.

Regard your patient base as your most valuable asset. Work endlessly to ensure that all your patients have at least one or more appointments. Do not let them fall out of your cycle of health due to your neglect.

Keep your patients in the “Practice Wellness Wheel”

The purpose of the Practice Wellness Wheel is to ensure that every patient has at least one appointment. The Wheel allows you to focus on those areas of your practice that need attention in order for you to achieve the objective of every patient having an appointment. Keep your patients within the Wheel. Follow the arrows and the path of your patients. Use reactivation to put those patients who have fallen out of the Wheel back on the wellness track. Your practice cannot help but grow and be successful when you focus on the Wheel. Your patients will benefit with health and well-being.

Some of your patients would describe what you do to them as unpleasant or worse. Even if a patient has never had an unpleasant experience, there is that constant fear that “this visit could be the one time that I will experience pain.” What your patients don’t accept is a poor emotional experience. It takes only one expression, one comment, poor psychology, or lack of “being there” to undo all the good that was previously done. You are in a competitive environment where patients have multiple choices of dental offices and where to spend their money. With social media becoming pervasive, a patient has the opportunity to write negative comments and damage your reputation and business. In review of these comments, they almost always deal with negative emotional situations.

It is good business sense to build, preserve, and protect against the loss of patients. It can be relatively easy and inexpensive to keep satisfaction high.

You must invest endlessly in team training on emotional behavior and elegant communication skills to the same degree that you invest in clinical training. Never assume that your business will improve by taking a more advanced clinical course while neglecting the customer service component. This is short-sighted and foolish.

When referral to a specialist is needed, the general dentist must have met with the specialist and agreed upon a philosophy and the communication necessary to provide the patient with the best of care. The general dentist must have also visited the specialist’s office, met the staff, and communicated the expectations of service for their patients whom they refer. The general dentist may indicate to the specialist that when these conditions are consistently met, they will exclusively refer to them. In this way, the general dentist creates a “Circle of Excellence” for patient care.

As the specialist, approximately 80% of the referrals come from 20% of the practices that refer to them. Build great relationships and “lock up” the 20% by providing and committing to superior responsive service. This will solidify the referral base.

Practice profitability

The basics of practice profitability are:

Pay all your current costs
Pay off outstanding business debt
Pay off any student debt
Reinvest in the business with training, equipment, and facility improvements
Pay yourself
Pay off personal debt
Accumulate wealth
Provide a desired lifestyle for yourself and family

These goals are accomplished by endlessly monitoring and measuring the performance of your business. You cannot change what isn’t measured.

Daily, weekly, and monthly monitoring of the primary components of the practice, especially production, collections, receivables, and new-patient flow is a must. With your team, establish who will deliver reports to you on a timely basis so that you are constantly fed good information in order to make sound business decisions. Daily review of the end-of-day reports, the final schedule, and deposit slips takes moments to do and is vital to your financial success. Don’t ever get lazy about your accountability to pay attention – daily – to these reports. Doing so will protect you and your team from potential embezzlement.

With Internet banking and software programs like Quicken and QuickBooks, a continuous tracking of the financial performance must be routine. You must know how much you need to collect monthly to cover expenses. Review your profit and loss statement continuously. Do not wait for your bookkeeper or accountant to provide you with a profit and loss statement. In too many cases this doesn’t occur until long after the month has closed. Use your accountant for tax planning and financial big-picture guidance.

You must know at any moment in time where you are financially. Calculate your net worth so you can celebrate your financial success. Make this a monthly routine.

Now that you know the three primary areas on which to focus for success, who do you need to be in order to get the best results? Yes, you guessed it – you must become a great leader who manages with accountability.

Leaderability – It’s in every one of us!

Leadership + Accountability = Leaderability

Two words we hear a lot these days are leadership and accountability. To put a different spin on these words, let’s combine them, resulting in “leaderability.” Simply, it’s the ability to lead and be accountable. Leadership and accountability go hand in hand – it’s about being a leader in work and in life.

Being a leader is simply doing the best every day and taking accountability. Being the best you can be is crucial to the success of the practice, resulting in excellent patient care and having a feeling of gratitude and fulfillment.

Here are some thoughts about how to become a role model of leaderability.

• You must have a vision. A leader must be able to communicate the vision. Your vision needs to be in your mind every day. Reevaluate it occasionally so it stays current. Your team must be as involved as you in keeping true to the vision. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself.

• Your employees want a passionate leader. If the leader doesn’t have passion, it’s difficult to be a great leader. It’s also difficult to have a team believe in you. Passion is infectious. When you have it, others will feel it.

• Be a great decision maker. Be quick, not hasty. Gather enough good intelligence to make great decisions. Don’t overanalyze. You will make wrong decisions from time to time. It’s okay; your team can live with that. It’s the lack of decisions that is difficult for them.

• Trust is the force that connects people to one another. Without trust, there is a huge gap between the team and the vision. Without trust, people will stay off the bus. However, if people trust the leader and one another, they will hop on the bus and help move the bus forward toward the vision. Honoring your word and remembering the intent of others build trust.

Leadership is not just about what you do – it is about what you can inspire, encourage, and empower one another to do. How do you inspire your team? How do you inspire the patients?

Leaders bring out the best within others by sharing the best within themselves. Give your team responsibility and don’t micromanage – make yourself available for them to be coached. Always let your team know your expectations. Continue to grow as a person. The more you know and experience, the more you can share and inspire others. Do something huge once a year that you have never done before such as skydiving, learning a foreign language, volunteering, traveling to a foreign country, or learning about a different culture.

Rules without the relationship lead to rebellion. As a leader, you can have all the rules you want, but if you don’t invest in your people and develop a relationship with them, they will rebel. It’s all about relationships. What are you doing to invest in your team?

Lead with optimism, enthusiasm, and positive energy; guard against pessimism and weed out negativity. Choose words to support communication that moves you forward, not words that keep you stuck. It’s amazing to watch the impact positive words can have. There are 1,000 words to describe positive feelings and 3,000 words to describe negative feelings. Eliminate all stinkin’ thinkin’ and negative self-talk. Stay with the can-do attitude. Create a winning environment so people can grow. Take the time to recognize good work.

• Leaders inspire and teach their people to focus on solutions, not complaints. Implement the no-complaining rule. When masterminding, focus 10% on the problem and 90% on the solution.

Great leaders do not compromise values or standards. Great leaders maintain high standards and hire the best people to achieve excellence in all areas. A great leader needs a high performing, self-managed team to support the vision and the practice culture. Steve Jobs said it best: “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful – that’s what matters to me.”

Alan Richardson was educated at King’s College and the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. He and Sandy Richardson created The Richardson Group, providing consulting and management services to the healthcare industry. A lecturer, writer and executive coach to many of North America’s leading dentists, Mr. Richardson draws on his strategic strengths and experiences to coach dentists, both professionally and personally. He can be contacted at [email protected] or toll free 888-495-3623.

Debbie Richardson coaches many of the nation’s leading dentists. Her excellence in coaching is enhanced by her extensive business experience from a fifteen year career with United Airlines, during which she visited 32 countries worldwide. Debbie serves on the Editorial Board of Debbie’s vitality, energy and commitment to her client’s success create exceptional results for them. Coaching is Debbie’s passion.

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