By Bill Blatchford, DDS
In changing times, there are pockets of growth, as well as areas of double-digit unemployment. Because dentistry is practiced mainly in single offices, communication among dentists is spotty, at best. You could create an artificial scenario of outside reasons for your lesser production. If your practice is slower — even for one month — do not call your best friend to commiserate or see if your dental laboratory knows what other dentists are producing. When a practice slows, look within and be accountable. This is the time to take action.
Take the extra time to read and think about the direction in which you are moving. When you are busy, the practice "just happens" and a zoo atmosphere results. We also take for granted that we will always be busy. The result is a slackening of excellence.
Take time to define yourself and make the corrections to create your dream practice. Help your staff create new goals by dreaming together about where your practice will be in five years, and then 10 years. Take the time to talk with patients, ask questions, and form a tighter relationship. Put into place systems for block booking and patient financial arrangements; then, serve each patient well. Learn skills in selling by scripting and role-playing with each other.
Use time to your advantage. Become known as "Dr. On Time." What type of team communication and requests need to be in place for each guest to be seen on time, the work completed as planned, and the procedures completed on time? Create a solid structure within your team for excellent, on-time behavior to repeat itself every time.
If your new patient numbers have slipped, do something! Every year, 20 percent of Americans move. You have the opportunity to reach those potential new patients. A face-to-face contact is so much more valuable then a "Dear Occupant" postcard with a coupon. Make it a rule to have lunch outside your office with different people twice a week. Mix in the community. What do you need to do differently to meet two new people every day outside of your practice?
Become involved in an organization that supports a cause near and dear to your heart. Find your cause and get involved. Break out of your routine. Invite someone new to go to lunch with your golf gang. Strike up a conversation while in line at Starbuck's.
If you are more comfortable eating at the office, reading or working on your computer, be aware of the fact that you are making a choice to be alone. Is there a connection between the slowdown in your practice and what you are (or not )doing? Say yes ... and then do something about it now!
Network with other business people who might associate with the type of people you want as patients. Any business person welcomes a mutual referral opportunity. Be a real friend to your clothier, hairdresser, financial planner, travel agent, realtor, masseuse, and/or personal fitness trainer. Exchange business cards; then, send a referral to them first. Be sure to acknowledge a reciprocal referral quickly.
When you're not as busy, it's easy to let slip many of the team agreements and systems that make a practice successful. Keep block booking in place. Do not allow emergency patients to take precedence over a scheduled patient. "Code Red Emergency" need not become your motto.
Keep communications strong by holding meaningful morning meetings that start with optimism. Coach your team to achieve a daily goal. Avoid the chance to micromanage your staff's every move. Weekly staff meetings with themes of building skills and self-esteem are essential. Agree to avoid discussions of the economy, terrorism, and rumors. Become purveyors of optimism, even if you have to fake it.
By taking action in your office and your community, you may even find you are a more interesting person. Make your time count. It may not come again.
Dr. Bill Blatchford, a practice-management coach only to dentists, has developed a distance learning coaching program utilizing conference calls, personal phone coaching, the Internet, and email. Minimizing the travel requirements, Blatchford coaching is now available anytime and anywhere. Based in Sunriver, Ore., Dr. Blatchford is speaking at the Chicago Midwinter, Profitable Dentistry's Destin Seminar, and Discus Dental's Las Vegas Seminar in 2003.He can be reached at (800) 578-9155 or visit his Web site at www.blatchford.com.