by Roger P. Levin, DDS
With the recent recession causing approximately 75% of all dental practices in the United States to decline, Levin Group developed its “Three-Step Method” to help practices grow in the new economy. This process transforms practices into extremely well-run businesses and enables them to significantly increase production. In the face of this game-changing economic recession, practices can thrive by following these three steps:
- Set targets with deadlines.
- Implement systems to reach these targets.
- Use Value Creation Scripting™ to influence patients.
Obviously, this method depends on setting the right targets in the first place. One of the most important targets is for dentists to spend 98% of their day on patient care. This is a goal that every dentist must pursue in the postrecession economy. Unfortunately, many dentists mistakenly assume that they are already reaching this.
The importance of doing what only you can do
In the world’s most successful businesses, CEOs devote their time to those tasks that only they can perform. Their efforts are channeled into areas where they can have the greatest impact, while delegating all other activities.
This same principle is vital to the success of the modern dental practice. Each dentist must arrive at an accurate answer to the question, Are you spending 98% of your time directly involved with patient care?
Most dentists will respond with an emphatic “yes.” However, studies by the Levin Group Data Center™ clearly indicate that general dentists spend only approximately 78% of their time directly involved in patient care. Why the discrepancy?
Our studies show that dentists can hold onto old habits for far too long. They are too busy to stop and think about how their time is being used. The practice grows and evolves, but there are no time logs to determine how much of the dentist’s schedule is actually devoted to generating production through direct involvement with patient care. As a result, the definition of “direct involvement” gets distorted, and what feels like a 98% involvement is really less than 80%.
Begin by logging the dentist’s time
If a dental practice is to grow and production is to increase, how can this be done without putting a greater burden on the dentist’s schedule? The solution is to analyze the schedule to see how much of it is actually devoted to direct involvement with patient care. Conversely, this will also reveal how much time is being misspent on administrative tasks that can be delegated to other team members.
The first step is to create a time log. For a six-week period, an assistant should note what the dentist is doing every 15 minutes. Once the activities are logged, the assistant should go through the entire list, color-code the activities, and use a different color for each of the following:
- Procedures professionally and/or legally restricted to performance by the dentist
- Procedures or activities dentist performs better than other staff, but can be handled by others
- Procedures or activities that can be delegated to staff
- Procedures or activities that should be delegated to staff
- Open time in the schedule
After all entries are coded, the assistant should add up the amount of time spent on each color-coded category. Only the first category should be counted as direct involvement with patient care. Most dentists are surprised to find that they spend far less than 98% of their time on these dentist-only activities. As indicated earlier, the average is just 78%.
This is actually good news in the sense that the dentist’s schedule can accommodate more patient care without having to increase the hours of operation.
Power Cell Scheduling™ and the power of delegation
When considering how to increase dentist production, the schedule is usually the best place to start. The production potential can be increased significantly by adopting the multichair, Power Cell Scheduling™ system — a scientific concept that uses mathematical analysis to generate maximum production from the dentist’s time.
However, no schedule can maximize a dentist’s production if he or she is engaged in the wrong tasks. In the business world, it is routine to ask, “What is the most important thing I can be doing at this time?” For dentists, the answer is to spend 98% of their time directly involved in patient care rather than on administrative matters.
To identify activities that can and should be delegated to staff members, scrutinize the time log to see exactly what the dentist is doing at every moment of the day. Then ask these questions:
• Is there a misconception about what the dentist is required to do? In one analysis, Levin Group reviewed state regulations affecting dental practices. We found that most dentists did not even know which activities they were legally required to perform themselves and which could be legally delegated to staff. They had been performing many of these activities from the time they entered practice, and continued to do so out of habit. Without giving any further thought to it, they believed that these activities represented direct involvement in patient care. All along, other staff members could have been handling those responsibilities without violating legal requirements, freeing the dentist to use his or her clinical skills and time more productively.
• How much time is the dentist not spending chairside? Obviously, there are certain business responsibilities that the dentist, as practice owner, must handle. However, most dentists also spend time performing lower-level administrative, managerial, and even clerical duties that others on staff are fully capable of performing. If anyone else can do it, then that team member should do it. By assigning management, marketing, and additional nonclinical responsibilities to other team members, production can be increased without placing greater demands on the dentist’s schedule.
More production, not more time
When I speak at seminars about increasing dentist production, I get initial “push back” from some dentists in the audience. They feel that they work hard as it is, and the thought of adding more to their busy schedules disturbs them.
However, once they understand that the objective is to relieve them of unnecessary tasks so they can practice more clinical dentistry with less stress, they embrace the idea completely.
Unfortunately, it is still far too common for dentists to get buried in paperwork. Many of them take charts home to fill out after hours. Others routinely stay late at the office to finish clerical tasks they could not complete during the normal workday. Some even use days off to try to catch up on administrative work. None of this is necessary. With the right approach to delegation, virtually all of the dentist’s time can be devoted to direct patient care.
Focus on patient care
As the primary producer for a dental practice, the dentist should work toward a target of 98% of time spent directly on patient care. Any dentist time not spent on production is lost forever, so the value of analyzing and improving the dentist’s use of time cannot be overstated. Creating a time log and then analyzing daily dentist activities will result in a far better understanding of how to make the practice more productive without adding stress and without rushing. Once production capacity is increased in this way, an effective patient marketing program can be put in place to add more new patients and grow the practice.
To learn how to run a more profitable, efficient, and satisfying practice, visit the Levin Group Resource Center at www.levingroup.com/gp. It is a free online resource with tips, videos, and other valuable information. You can also connect with Levin Group on Facebook and Twitter (Levin_Group) for learning strategies and sharing ideas.
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