Oct. 1, 1999
Have you sounded the call for help from a consulting firm? The firm you select should help you achieve long-term, measurable increases in productivity and profitability.

Have you sounded the call for help from a consulting firm? The firm you select should help you achieve long-term, measurable increases in productivity and profitability.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

To maximize success, dental practices need to establish ongoing business relationships with accountants and attorneys who have strong track records in dentistry. These types of consultants can provide vital resources to help you run your practice.

However, you may not realize it is just as important to have a practice-management consulting firm. A good one literally pays for itself by boosting your practice revenues by as much as $5-7 million over the course of your career. A management consultant also can serve as your coach and guide throughout the years, making your work more productive, more satisfying, and less stressful.

Where do you find firms that engage in these types of management partnerships? How do you know which one will best serve your needs? The process requires a thorough search for the right arrangement. The goal is to find a management-consulting firm that truly can facilitate lasting, positive change within your practice.

Selection criteria

To save time, it`s usually best to begin your search by checking with peers, professional societies, and other contacts within dentistry for their advice about potential candidates. However, before you make your final selection, make sure you find out the answers to the following key questions:

1. Does this firm provide complete written documentation of the business systems it develops? The systems and ideas might be great, but if you can`t apply them to your practice, as well as recreate and modify them as the years go by, you haven`t made a good investment. Be wary of firms that don`t provide complete and detailed systems documentation. It`s essential for you to maintain written manuals describing each of your major business systems.

2. Can this firm offer help with all major business systems, not just a few? A well-run dental practice is like a living organism. If one part of your system isn`t functioning properly, then all parts suffer. An integrated approach to practice management is recommended. You need to be cognizant of all your business systems - major and minor - across the life of your practice. Look for a management-consulting partner that offers a total solution, not a piece-meal approach. At the very minimum, the firm selected should provide comprehensive programs and written documentation for the following systems:

- Scheduling

- Case presentation

- Practice budgeting

- Overhead control

- Patient-financial management

- Dental-insurance management

- Verbal communication skills

- Customer service

- Team-building and leadership

- Promoting elective/cosmetic services

- Dental hygiene, where applicable

3. Will this firm make the long-term effort to coach you and your staff through the lasting changes occuring in your practice? Watch out for quick-fix programs that deal with only one or two areas in just a matter of weeks. To get comprehensive results, look for an intensive program lasting at least 12 months. You can`t change just one thing in your practice and expect a significant or enduring impact. Any practice may have one obvious trouble spot, but to really get results, you need far-reaching solutions.

4. Does this firm have a team of expert consultants with extensive backgrounds in both dentistry and management? The last thing you want to do is commit your practice to being completely dependent on one individual. A dental practice is a business. No one person can possibly have all the knowledge and experience necessary to optimize your entire organization. If this were the case, you wouldn`t need any consulting help at all.

Look for a firm with a broad base of operations and range of expertise, specifically in dental-practice productivity and marketing.

5. Does this firm offer a complete program, not just an accounting review? Numbers measure important aspects of your business success, but they offer an incomplete evaluation of the totality of your practice. Look for a firm that offers a comprehensive program, including financial monitoring at regular intervals (at least monthly). A practice-management-consulting firm is not a substitute for an accountant. Your practice also needs access to management and marketing expertise. Choose a firm that helps you integrate all of your business systems, rather than a company that just double-checks your accountant.

6. Can this firm help you create and manage lasting change in your practice? It may be useful and convenient to have a consultant drop by your office once or twice a month. But this type of support cannot possibly give you the opportunity to bring your entire staff into a comprehensive program, dedicated to improving your practice for the long haul.

Choose a firm that offers training in a retreat-style atmosphere outside your office. If you want real results, you need a program that makes the effort to to teach all team members how to build a strong practice. You need to demonstrate your commitment to success to your staff. Also, look for a firm that offers additional training opportunities for new staff members so that, regardless of personnel changes, your whole team always is part of something great.

7. Finally, can the consulting firm help you build the elective/cosmetic side of your practice? As health-care management in the United States continues to change - and pressures from sources outside dentistry continue to try to force down profits - elective/cosmetic services can become the lifeblood of your practice. Choose a firm that understands your practice and has the expertise to work with multiple dental disciplines, including the complex dynamics of referring patients. Look for specific programming that shows you how to best promote your most profitable services - your elective/cosmetic services!

Hiring a partner

To get the most from your investment, be open and trusting with the consultant you choose. That way, you`ll cultivate a long-term, reliable resource for business guidance and support as your practice continues to grow. Strive to treat your consultant as an extension of your practice, viewing each other as members of essentially the same team. As new needs arise within your practice, you`ll have someone to call on who`s already familiar with your needs and who will be able to add value at once.

Before you make your final decision, find out as much as you can about the potential management partner that you`re about to select. Talk with other dentists or specialists across the country that have used this particular consultant`s services. Encourage these peers to recount their experiences for you - in as much detail as possible - so that you can get a clear idea about the scope and quality of the service they received. Ask them what specific services were offered? How long did it take to see results? Did the consulting firm deliver on its promises? Was it easy to do business with this firm?

Investigate the consultant`s business history as well. Ask about the projects they`ve done that were similar to yours. If, for example, you`re looking for a management consultant for an oral- and maxillofacial-surgery practice, then give first priority to those firms with demonstrated success in supporting other OMS professionals.

Finally, look for a service-oriented consulting team whose main focus is understanding the unique goals and objectives of your practice and helping you to grow. Commitment to communication is a must. Good consultants never hide behind their technical jargon; they`re able to explain clearly each of the benefits and potential impact of their work upon your operations.

A practice-management-consulting firm should help you achieve long-term, measurable increases in productivity and profitability. The firm also should decrease your stress levels and supply successful, documented management and marketing programs. No dental practice can afford to be without this type of practice-management partner.