Tell it like it is!

Sept. 1, 2004
I'll admit it: As an advisor, speaker, and writer, I am just as big of a conflict-avoider as most dentists seem to be.

Rick Willeford, MBA, CPA, CFP

I'll admit it: As an advisor, speaker, and writer, I am just as big of a conflict-avoider as most dentists seem to be. We want to be liked, to not hurt any feelings, and certainly we don't want to push our clientele (patients, clients, customers, etc.) anywhere near the edge of their comfort zone. So, I tend to "watch" as dentists flounder with their financial life, similar to the way some dentists watch an old MODXYZ amalgam. We both are hoping that the miracle of atomic fusion will somehow make things better on their own.

But just suppose I had the nerve to tell it like it is for a change. What would I say?

First of all, I'd tell dentists to stop whining! You are in a marvelous profession. You are the envy of most other health-care providers. Sure, you have to put up with insurance companies, patients, and staff (and the staff could say the same about putting up with doctors!), but you can do something about all those things, within reason. Aside from the responsibility of being the boss, you also have the authority to define your environment. Someone said, "The best way to predict your future is to design it yourself!"

So, quit your collective pity party at your study club, or whenever two or more colleagues gather. Develop a concrete plan to get rid of the thorns in your path. You may not be able to totally get rid of insurance, but you sure can learn how to manage it and minimize its impact. Check out the tapes of Lois Banta ( at last year's Hinman or catch her live this coming year. She, among others, has a great message with practical tips on dealing with the monster.

When it comes to patients, quit confusing effort with results or busy-busy with production. Remember, you can suggest that patients seek treatment elsewhere. Why let a few sorry patients poison the entire office and steal your joy? When it comes to both patients and staff, one popular author put it succinctly when he said, "You can't change people." You are stealing time and energy from your good patients and good employees when you mistakenly invest too much in trying to "fix" the bad ones. You know it's true, but you hope it will just go away. I know three dentists who fired their entire staff and started over, so nothing is impossible! (Staff, you can't change doctors either, so don't stay too long in a bad environment.)

Part of your plan may include a general attitude adjustment, and that may mean you need to hang out with new "can-do," positive thinkers. The American Academy of Dental Practice Administration would be a great place to start (

Second, I would tell you that if you are working four days per week, have been practicing over 10 years, and are not grossing at least $400,000 per year, then get a job! (Fact is, you really should be doing closer to $600,000 after about five years, but I didn't want to depress you too much.) The 90th percentile for solo general dentists is about $800,000. In spite of the fact that many articles make a million dollar practice seem routine, that level is still pretty special.

If you need to brush up on your clinical or business skills, do it! There are many reputable consultants to help with communications, systems, staffing, marketing, etc. If you are committed to a change (and you are sick and tired of being sick and tired), then bring in a consultant. If you can't afford one, go borrow the money! Most consultants should pay for themselves many times over.

Third, if you have not critically studied your fees and your procedure mix, then a no-brainer is to go through Dr. Charles Blair's Revenue Enhancement Program ([email protected]). A lot of folks can talk fees and give you fee schedules to the nearest three blocks, but Charles' unique background as a business person and a dentist uniquely qualifies him to get under the hood and really analyze your insurance coding and the relationship among your protocols, as well as how to design a proper fee schedule.

These are just a few of the things I would say if I really had the nerve and didn't mind pushing a few buttons.

Raymond "Rick" Willeford, MBA, CPA, CFP, is president of Willeford & Associates, CPA, PC, and Willeford CPA Wealth Advisors, LLC. As a fee-only advisor, he has specialized in providing financial, tax, and transition strategies for dentists since 1975. Mr. Willeford is the president of the Academy of Dental CPAs, an associate member of AADPA, and a member of Linda Miles' Speaker and Consultants Network. Contact him by phone at (770) 552-8500 or by email at [email protected].

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