Business insights from playing NBA Jam

It’s important for dentists to understand what’s going on in their practices financially now so that they can plan for their financial future appropriately. That’s where a dental CPA and/or financial planner can help.

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Daniel Richards

Looking back on my growing-up years, I can honestly say that I played a lot of video games. Of course, I spent plenty of time playing cul-de-sac street hockey and basketball as well, but we logged more than enough time pioneering “esports”! It was an epic time for gaming: NHL 95, Jordan vs Bird: One on One, and the emergence of John Madden Football. But when NBA Jam was released in the mid-90s, something changed.

A now legendary two-on-two basketball game, NBA Jam had a unique feature. If your player scored three unanswered baskets, your ball would catch fire! Until your opponent scored a basket, you pretty much wouldn’t miss a shot. In other words, make three consecutive buckets and you’d become superhuman.

Essentially, there were 3 steps that when performed well would catalyze your performance and produce superhuman results. Here are 3 simple things that, when performed in sequence, can help your dental practice catch fire!

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Increase the speed of your essential key performance indicators

We live in an age of unprecedented information flow. We can track and analyze everything. Your toothbrush tells you if you missed a spot or if you are brushing too hard. Your watch tells you to stand up or take deep breaths. Your car tells you that you brake too hard or accelerate too quickly. A device the size of a hockey puck can tell you virtually anything you ask. Then there’s your practice, an engine of patient care upon which you’ve invested countless hours of time, loads of money, and your family’s livelihood. What does your practice tell you?

Don’t get me wrong—all practice management systems have reports that can tell you what you want to know. But compare that to the speed of information previously mentioned. Running reports in your practice management system is like asking Alexa what the weather will be today and getting a printout of weather patterns for you to read. It’s time to change the way you see your practice and process information. That begins with fast, clean data on the financial and operational pulse of your practice.

We recommend using software like Quickbooks Online or Xero to speed up financial data and build automatic reporting. Use patient communication tools like Weave or Lighthouse to not only speed up recare, but to “job cost” the time spent on these tasks. Integrate that with an analytics tool like Dental Intelligence, Practice by Numbers, or BlueIQ. There are many of these types of tools out there, with more emerging all the time. The trick is to find out what works best for your specific needs.

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Track what matters, table what doesn’t

Once you have real-time data at your fingertips, that doesn’t equate to immediate growth in your practice. Sometimes, this will only mean we ignore the information sooner than we otherwise would have. Plan to pinpoint three metrics to consistently track, and monitor progress for a specific period of time. That could be production per hygiene visit, percent of case acceptance for restorative procedures, perio diagnoses, etc. As long as these things parallel your short-term goals and enhance your long-term vision for the practice, then everything else can wait.

Once you feel like those three areas are being optimized and no longer require immediate attention, move onto others. We watched a practice add $35,000 of hygiene-related production in six months just by tracking daily recare ratio, intraoral camera use, and asking patients to help describe what they see. They had virtually no increase in fixed overhead cost, but more same-day dentistry and stronger patient retention.

Start with a path to action

I’ve participated in hundreds of boardroom-style planning meetings. Some of them were incredibly productive, others not. The determining factor in any of those meetings was never the length or location. It was always what happened after the meeting. Who does what and by when.Once you have fast, reliable data and you know what to change, make a plan for who takes the first step, second step, and steps thereafter. Have a reasonable deadline for completion and check in often to ensure results. Without a definite plan to make improvements upon the data you track, it is useless to track it at all. Don’t count on consistently improving performance by simply tracking results.

The takeaway

There are many practices across the country already doing these things: tracking their essential key performance indicators (KPIs), focusing on their KPIs in groups, and taking action to improve performance. Yet, when a practice does this sequentially and with regularity, the results are exponentially stronger.

Peter Thiel writes in his book Zero to One about widening the margin of competitive advantage.1 In order to do this effectively, a practice must first understand where they are competitive and where they are not. This begins with measuring operational and financial performance in real time and using that data to improve. More than anything, practice owners want to provide exceptional dentistry for every patient. This set of tools greatly enables practices to do just that.


1. Thiel P, Masters B. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. London, United Kingdom: Virgin Books; 2014.

1812deric M01Daniel Richards is an expert in dental practice operations support and has been consulting with dental practice owners for more than 10 years. He speaks exclusively to study groups and supports practices nationwide. He is owner of CFO Dental Partners, a virtual outsourced CFO and business analytics support company based out of Eagle, Idaho. To learn more, reach out at or call (208) 297-3921.

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