What every dentist should know before investing in a consultant

May 1, 2004
Shopping for a consultant can be an overwhelming decision. It's a time-consuming, often stressful decision. Partnering with a consultant is a major investment and should not be made without careful deliberation.

Andy McKamie, DDS

Shopping for a consultant can be an overwhelming decision. It's a time-consuming, often stressful decision. Partnering with a consultant is a major investment and should not be made without careful deliberation.

During my 21 years of practicing in Bethany, Okla., I've worked with 12 consultants. I started shopping for my first one a year after I started practicing. At the advice of one of my supply reps, I participated in a practice-management seminar. I knew the lone business class I took in dental school was insufficient to prepare me for the challenges of running my own company — yes, a dental practice is a company — and this was the push I needed.

After attending the seminar, I was motivated. I felt I could be one of those doctors who really excels at running the business. My motivation was contagious, and we doubled our production within months. I then became a practice-management junkie, always searching for more knowledge.

I'd like to offer a few tips to help guide you in making a consulting decision that could ultimately change your personal and professional life.

• "In–office" means implementation — As motivated as you seem to be after a day-seminar or weekend retreat, it is difficult to implement what you've learned. That is why it helps to choose an in-office consulting company that will train your staff and visit your office regularly (weekly or monthly) to follow up and make necessary adjustments.

I worked with one in-office consulting company that gave us a to-do list after our initial meeting. They came back three months later to find we hadn't accomplished anything on the list. So, they added to our to-do list and told us they'd be back in another three months. This doesn't work. It is simply too challenging for doctors to make changes when they have to be working at the chair eight hours a day. Everyone knows that to make money, we have to be spinning the drill; yet, at the same time, we're still expected to lead and manage. An in-office consulting firm will help share that responsibility and coach you to success. Their services will pay off while your company becomes more efficient, and, therefore, more profitable.

• Test the waters with an in-office evaluation — An in-office evaluation will help you determine if the consulting firm is a good fit for your practice. It also is an opportunity to hear the consultants' perspective and expectations for your growth. It helps you learn about their philosophy and to make sure they're compatible with your team. Make sure the consultants are centered on your goals and not just focused on cookie-cutter results. An in-office evaluation is worth the money to get an objective opinion, especially when you've invested so much into your practice. (Some consulting companies offer this as a free service.)

• Look for a consultant who teaches you how to track — Crunching numbers helps you know where you're doing well and where you're doing poorly, and how to make adjustments accordingly. Certain consulting companies teach you and your team how to appropriately monitor the practice week to week. Tracking gives you more answers and allows you to tackle the problem before it escalates. Remember — knowing the "why" is part of finding the solution. Tracking also helps team members take ownership within the practice.

• Do your research — Check references. Every consulting company will tell you that their best compliment is a referral, and satisfied clients are more than happy to tell you about their success with a particular company. Talk to other dentists about their experiences with consulting companies and discuss the issues in this article — this will tell you a lot.

• Older usually does mean wiser — Look for a consulting company that has significant experience working with hundreds of practices. The more experience a company has, the more likely it has worked with a practice similar to yours and has taken them to where you'd like to go.

• You get what you pay for — Usually, there is a reason why a company charges significantly less than others. Also, be sure to factor in travel costs when looking at the total amount. Some companies may have a reasonable fee, but require you to pay your travel expenses to visit them for regular seminars or appointments. Most in-office consulting companies will come to you, eliminating travel expenses and offering added value and convenience.

• Don't be afraid to branch out — You're not locked into one consulting company forever. Until you've discovered that long-lasting relationship, it doesn't hurt to explore other options. As a dentist, your driving force is always changing.

Right out of school, my driving force was to get out of debt. Now, my driving force is to have more freedom in my schedule and time to spend with my family and friends. Look for a consulting company that complements your driving force.

Dr. Andy McKamie is a professional speaker for Pinnacle Practices (www.pinnaclepractices.com) and has had a private practice for more than 21 years in Bethany, Okla. He has worked as a part-time clinical instructor at the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, where he earned his doctorate in dental science. He lectures regularly on practice management and advanced aesthetic and restorative dentistry. Dr. McKamie has advanced his clinical knowledge through continued instruction at the Las Vegas Institute and the Pankey Institute and under the prestigious instructor, Dr. Pete Dawson.

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