I hope I’m not the one to break the news to you, but dentists have a reputation for being cheap. So when we made “lean dentistry” our cover story this month, I wanted to be sure to set the record straight right at the beginning: lean dentistry is not just about spending less money.
At its core, the lean movement asks businesses two simple questions: (1) How can you create more value? and (2) How can you reduce waste?
A common way to think about value is to compare quality to cost; i.e., quality of oral health outcome to the fee for the service provided. If you find a way to lower your fee and still maintain the quality of care, then you have created more value. If you find a way to improve the quality of care while maintaining your same fee, then you have also created more value. But value should also be thought of as meeting other needs of the patient, such as convenience and an experienced clinician.
Waste, like value, should also be considered beyond the obvious. Our minds immediately race to spoiled inventory and pools of unnecessary bonding agent that have been carelessly dispensed. Those examples certainly qualify as waste, and we should strive to reduce them. But what about disorganized operatories that contribute to longer appointments, or poor AR systems that allow potential income to stay uncollected? Dental practices, like other businesses, are surrounded by waste.
As you can see, lean thinking is more interesting and nuanced than just lowering your expenses. Anyone can buy cheaper materials and get better pricing from vendors. Lean managers think bigger. They think about return on investment, value creation, and squandered resources. They implement systems that invite continued improvements to their various operations.
So, let’s create more value for our patients and reduce the various kinds of waste that can destroy profit and make us inefficient. Let’s get lean.
Chris Salierno, DDS