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Staying ahead of the curve: Advice for owning a thriving, ever-evolving dental practice

May 1, 2020
Do you want to have the Netflix, Apple, or Amazon of dental practices? Dr. Timothy Anderson shares tips from his experience in this crash course on how to grow your practice for the long term.

From one business owner to another—reinventing your dentistry, using laser technology effectively, and creating value through the patient experience

Every dentist is unique—we’ve all had different journeys that have brought us to where we are today. In my case, I founded a start-up practice five years ago after working for a large dental service organization (DSO). I know we all have an opinion on DSOs, but I’m thankful for my experience. It was where I first learned about business and patient management. Most notably, though, my DSO was the stepping-stone that helped put me on the path to practice ownership. Five years later, my leap-of-faith start-up has grown to the point where we’ve been able to hire another dentist and will be opening our second office this fall.

Although I found out a lot about myself and the practice of dentistry during my DSO days, it pales in comparison to what I’ve learned in the last few years from real-life experience as a small private practice owner. Beforehand, I knew the fundamentals of patient management and understood technology, but once I ventured out on my own, I realized just how imperative both are to grow a successful business.

Your practice: The Netflix, Apple, or Amazon of the dental space

Although dentistry is vastly different from digital media, multinational technology, and e-commerce, there’s still a lot we can learn from companies like Netflix, Apple, and Amazon. They know who they are, who their customers are, and they continuously reinvent themselves—that’s why they’re thriving and staying far ahead of the curve.

Knowing who you are—What is your mission statement? Your answer is vital because it creates a strong foundation for your practice. When you have a clear mission statement, you, your team, and your patients align to share an understanding of how your business operates. Your team will know the standard of care to provide, and your patients will know what to expect.

The patient experience is the heart of my practice, and then comes technology. Here is my mission statement: Investing in the right technologies for the right reasons helps dentists work smarter, have more fun, and ignite the passion for their business, all while improving the patient experience and achieving better clinical outcomes. This philosophy was the impetus to investing in technologies such as the Solea dental laser, CEREC, CBCT, and 3-D printing. 

Reinventing yourself—Netflix started out by mailing DVDs to its customers. Now they have a higher-level business model that utilizes digital media, allowing customers to stream the latest shows and movies from the comfort of their homes. That said, their product has stayed consistent; what changed is how they deliver it. Furthermore, Netflix is continuously evolving to meet its customers’ needs. The company now creates its own media, so customers always have something new to look forward to. And they release full seasons at once because they know customers like to binge-watch their shows instead of having to wait for new episodes to become available. 

Making the connection to our world—I gained most of my experience in my practice residency, and I haven’t forgotten what I learned. For instance, think back to the core surgical principles that were instilled in us during our education. Today, we still apply those principles because they work. However, the delivery mechanisms have become upgraded versions of what they were. We were taught to use a high-speed drill in class II and other hard-tissue cases and the scalpel for soft-tissue surgeries. Now, we have laser technology, such as Solea (a 9.3 µm CO2 all-tissue laser), to replace the drill and scalpel. The laser enhances how we work, improves clinical outcomes, and caters to the patient experience. 

Going back to the Netflix example, think of the drill as the DVD and dental lasers as twenty-first-century digital media. When we use laser technology to transform the patient experience through reliably anesthesia-free cutting and improved clinical outcomes, we are reinventing how dentistry is delivered. 

Dentists who use lasers are always evolving because they find new ways to integrate their lasers into practice every day. Just as Netflix has added original content to its streaming services, dentists are adding new procedures to their practices. Netflix customers want to binge-watch shows, and patients want the same effect when it comes to oral health care. When patients are in the dental chair, they are getting their binge-watching fix through multiquadrant dentistry and treatment that is completed in one sitting versus multiple office visits.

Integrate technology to create value

Technology has the power to touch and change lives. As proof, there is a new iPhone introduced by Apple every year or so, reinvented for its customers with simpler functionality that makes texting, accessing social media applications, and connecting with people even easier than before. As dentists, we are fortunate to practice in a time when technology can alter how patients think and feel about dentistry.

When technology is used appropriately, the results will be powerful and long-lasting. If you choose to purchase technology simply to accelerate revenue, you may only have short-term success, but not the kind that’s sustainable. Whereas if you look at technology as an investment in everyone it touches—you, your team, and your patients—the possibilities will be endless because true value resides in the experience.

Define ROI: Look beyond the numbers

In the last five years, I have successfully integrated the Solea laser, CEREC, CBCT, and 3-D printing technologies into my practice. I specifically chose them because they improve the patient experience, increase my efficiency, and work well as a system. They make dentistry fun—which matters just as much—and they complement my mission statement, helping me perform dentistry that reflects the goal of my business. Practice philosophy and integration of vision are important considerations before making a purchase, as they both impact the ROI.

After three years, I was able to completely pay off the costs of all the technologies I purchased. I could do this because I invested in the right technologies—ones that I knew would be used every day and that would benefit my patients most of all—and that’s where the real ROI is. 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good of a dentist you are if you don’t strive to create value on a human level. In dentistry, we need to adapt to our patients’ needs, and many of these needs are influenced by factors outside of health care. For instance, your patients are the same Amazon customers who want convenient two-day shipping. When they are in your chair, they want dental care that’s fast, doesn’t hurt, and surpasses their expectations. Once you provide this type of care for them, they become inside referrals and practice advocates, and that’s what makes your business grow.

Move forward with a plan for success

Earlier in my career, I would have identified myself solely as a dentist. Now, I call myself a small-business owner first. Once you understand the business side of your practice, the dentistry becomes the easy part.

In my experience, there are a few actions you can take to achieve long-term success for your practice. First, look to the leaders in our field, but don’t let that stop you from seeking outside inspiration. For me, high-end chefs are a perfect parallel to how I run my business, with a focus on team, craft, and customer service.

Second, never assume there’s a magic trick to success or a miraculous consultant with a solution for everything. Neither one exists.

Third, review yourself. Start with these questions:

  • What kind of dentist and business owner do I want to be?
  • Why do patients come to see me, or why have they left?
  • Are my profits driven by overhead reduction and cost savings, or are they driven by patient value?
  • Am I making technology investments based on myself, my team, and my patients?

You really can have the Netflix, Apple, or Amazon of dental practices. Just as these companies prioritize their customers and use forward-thinking approaches within their businesses, you can do the same by differentiating yourself through patient value. You don’t have to be left behind like Blockbuster, Compaq, and Borders bookstores! If you invest in yourself, your vision, and your practice through dental lasers and other dental technologies, you will create the thriving, ever-evolving dental practice of your dreams.  

Timothy Anderson, DDS, founded his start-up private practice, Missouri River Dental, in Bismarck, North Dakota. A graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, he completed a general practice residency at Hennepin County Medical Center (Level 1 Trauma Center). He leverages CEREC, CBCT, 3-D printing, and Solea laser technology to deliver comprehensive, quality, patient-centered oral health care. Contact him at (701) 751-7177 or email [email protected].
About the Author

Timothy Anderson, DDS

Timothy Anderson, DDS, founded his start-up private practice, Missouri River Dental, in Bismarck, North Dakota. A graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, he completed a general practice residency at Hennepin County Medical Center (Level 1 Trauma Center). He leverages CEREC, CBCT, 3-D printing, and Solea laser technology to deliver comprehensive, quality, patient-centered oral health care. Contact him at (701) 751-7177 or email [email protected].

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