Get back to basics...and practice growth

Feb. 1, 2011
In spite of a challenging economy, dentistry as a profession is in good shape, especially compared to many industries.

Roger P. Levin, DDS

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: practice growth, goals, team training, practice production, Dr. Roger P. Levin.

In spite of a challenging economy, dentistry as a profession is in good shape, especially compared to many industries. According to the 2010 Dental Economics®/Levin Group Annual Practice Survey, nearly 60% of respondents said they expected their gross production to increase compared to the prior year.

However, many dentists are rightly concerned about their ability to maintain and grow a highly productive practice. At a recent seminar, a dentist asked me, "Is it possible for my practice to grow in this economy? I've tried radio ads, setting up a Facebook page, and offering discounts for new patient exams, but nothing seems to work for long."

My answer was yes, practices can grow and continue to grow if they have the right targets. Despite the current economic conditions, many Levin Group clients are increasing their annual production by 15% to 20% or more, which means growth is certainly possible.

And while advertising, social media, and special pricing all can be viable marketing strategies, they rarely work as stand-alone measures. Instead, they must be incorporated into a comprehensive practice management approach using systems and targets.

For dentists who want to return to practice growth, the best place to start is a return to basics, which include these key management principles:

  1. Set goals to achieve specific performance targets.
  2. Implement high-performance systems.
  3. Train the team on practice systems.
  4. Manage by targets.
  5. Use Key Practice Expanders™ (KPEs) to measure performance.
Set goals to achieve specific performance targets

To be effective and motivational, goals should be written, measurable, and deadline-driven. Deadlines are critical - they create commitment. They motivate the dentist to work on solutions, opportunities, and insights on how to achieve the goal. If a dentist has forever to achieve a goal, then he or she is in no hurry to absorb information to help achieve it.

That is why Levin Group recommends practices have daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals based on specific performance targets. The goals act as the timeline, benchmark, and directional process to improve practice performance.

Doctors who set goals are clearly focused on where they want the practice to go and when they want to get there. They want to make their practice vision a reality. Many dentists operate under an assumption that their teams will automatically know how to work toward the vision.

This is generally not true. Instead, the team will accept the vision and become frustrated when no progress is made. To help your team understand where you want to take the practice, provide goals with step-by-step targets for achieving the vision.

Implement high-performance systems

Documented systems set the stage for immediate growth and long-term practice success. Unfortunately, many practices are operating with outdated or inefficient systems. It is only high-performance systems with step-by-step targets that allow practices to reach their growth potential.

Most dentists will say, "I have systems." But are they the right systems? Do they allow the dentist to ...

  • Continually increase production?
  • Continually increase patient referrals?
  • Continually increase profitability?
  • Maintain a low-stress practice?
  • Enjoy high professional satisfaction?
  • Reach financial independence sooner?
The more inefficient and outdated the systems, the harder the practice has to work. But no matter how hard the practice works, it will never reach its potential without effective systems.

In a strong economy, many practices can get by with poor systems because the schedule is full due to a very high demand for dental services. But in a slow economy, inefficient systems are exposed for what they really are - barriers to practice growth and success.

What is missing from most practices is a series of step-by-step systems that allow the office to consistently attain performance targets. Implementing new systems may seem challenging, but living with outdated systems day-in and day-out is a far greater challenge, and one that is far more costly in terms of time and money. When practices implement the right systems, managing the office becomes much easier, more enjoyable, and rewarding.

Train the team on practice systems

Training the team is one of the best investments dentists can make in their practices.

Implementing a training regimen will help practices develop their teams to their fullest potential. Systemized training helps turn a group of individuals into a highly functioning team. Dentists who create strong teams experience increased efficiency, production, and profitability.

Training should include step-by-step procedures on how to follow systems and attain specific performance targets. When a practice has documented systems and a quality team trained in those systems, dentists can focus on what they do best - providing exceptional patient care and generating production for the practice. Training allows a team to operate at its full potential, which positions the practice for continual growth and greater success.

Manage by targets

Determine realistic performance goals based on the past 12 months of practice production. In general, Levin Group finds that most practices have a growth potential of 30% when high-performance systems are implemented. Annual goals should be converted to monthly and daily performance targets that the entire team can successfully monitor and achieve.

Establishing production goals requires reserving time in schedules for high-production procedures. Unfortunately, single-tooth treatment still dominates the schedules of most practices. In addition, according to the 2010 Dental Economics®/Levin Group Annual Practice Survey, only 20% of treatment is elective services, which indicates cosmetic dentistry represents a huge area of opportunity in most practices.

For an office to achieve its true production potential, the dentist must use a series of targets that challenge and motivate the team, and the doctor, to take the practice to the next level.

Here are some of the key targets that our clients use to dramatically improve practice performance:

  • Reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations to less than 1%.
  • Increase hygiene production by 15%.
  • Schedule 99% of active patients.
  • Schedule 98% of all prospective patients.
  • Schedule 100% of new patients for consults within seven days.
  • Increase doctor production by 25%.
  • Increase case acceptance to 90% for all services.
  • Increase elective production to 25%.
  • Collect 99% of all monies owed.
Use Key Practice Expanders™ to measure performance

Key Practice Expanders™ are the building blocks of any measurable practice management system. All practices have Key Practice Expanders that accurately reflect the health of the practice and its systems. These indicators help dentists evaluate and grow their practices, identify areas of improvement, and measure the practice's ability to reach performance targets.

Monitoring Key Practice Expanders provides revealing information about the financial health of a practice. Even more important, using Key Practice Expanders saves time because only the most relevant information is analyzed.

Key Practice Expanders measure performance targets in these and other critical areas:

  • Overhead
  • New patients
  • Accounts receivable
  • Case acceptance
  • Doctor production/hygiene production
  • Average production per patient
  • Average production per new patient
    • This information allows dentists to measure the effectiveness of their systems and whether practice targets are being met.

      Tracking performance ensures that the practice is on the right course to achieve the doctor's vision. Remember, as management guru Peter F. Drucker once said, "What gets measured gets done."

      A strong management foundation

      Practice growth requires having a strong management foundation in place that allows dentists to reach challenging performance targets. During difficult economic conditions, that foundation takes on even more importance. It is your rock and protection. By getting back to practice management basics, dentists can get back to growing their practices.

      Visit Levin Group's Dental Resource Center at for a wide range of educational materials, including tips, newsletters, and white papers. You can also connect with Levin Group on Facebook and Twitter (@Levin_Group) for tips, news, and ideas.

      Roger P. Levin, DDS, is chairman and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Levin Group can be reached at (888) 973-0000, or

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