Beyond Practice Management: Production down?

By Don Deems, DDS, FAGD

October 20, 2011 -- When things are good, they're good, and we think we're doing everything right. John A. Simone Sr. said, "If you're in a bad situation, don't worry -- it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry -- it'll change."

That thought may bring some comfort, or a heck of a lot of anxiety!

Depending on whether things are good or bad for you likely determines whether you're reading this article or not. Chances are you're reading it because things are down for you and you're looking for answers. Good for you! If you're reading this article because things are already good, then bravo for you too!

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomfort. Our profession is feeling discomfort these days, and if there is one thing that moves people to action, it's discomfort! Depending on your personal degree of discomfort, that will be the determining factor of how deeply you will look to make changes. For future reference, before you're feeling discomfort again, focus on warding off the negative effects of discomfort by being proactive with change. That's for another time, because you're looking for change NOW.

What can you do about "down" production? Because there are as many ways to practice dentistry as there are dentists, it would be ludicrous to give you a formula that fits your practice -- and you should run from anyone who tells you differently!

Nevertheless, there are many areas for you to evaluate your practice and decide where you need help (such as a coach), where you can make changes without help (leadership), and where you might need to make some minor tweaks (skills development):

  1. Your team: If there is one area that most dentists overlook, it's the value of your team. Do you have a team member grossly underperforming who in your opinion is not interested or capable of being a productive team member? Let that member go. What about the rest of the team? Are they on autopilot? How is each member contributing to the success of your practice? Have a personal conversation with each of them on this topic and get them refocused, accountable, and productive. Set a time line for a review a month or so after that conversation. You've got the time, so use it wisely.

    Keeping an "extra" team member in case someone is out sick? Think again: You're spending a fortune for that possibility AND you're encouraging team members to take sick days! Further, you already know this but may need a reminder: Your team is your biggest asset and your biggest liability.

  2. Your protocols and systems: Are these being followed? Chances are they're being followed only partially. Tighten them up. Do they need change? Perhaps. If you cannot see a direct relationship from a system or protocol in your practice that is affecting the production and profitability of your practice in a positive way, ditch it or change it so that it does work for you.

  3. Treatment planning: Personally, I'm seeing new clients in my practice who are looking for different solutions for their dental woes because the previous dentist they saw is giving them only the most expensive treatment option. Hello? There are lots of ways through the forest of treatment planning, and people are looking for alternatives, even if it not the "best" alternative at this time. Give them choice!

    Meeting patients' present needs in a way they can afford and are willing to do will help you retain them as clients for the day when the economy, their personal economic situation, and their trust in you will all come together so that they will accept the best care you can offer. In the meantime, you can provide the routine care they need. Better to retain that patient than have the patient leave because you were greedy.

  4. Expenses: One thing seems to be true of all organizations -- they tend to spend every dime they make, and sometimes more. If you don't have a budget, make one. If you do have one, review it more than once a year -- things are changing rapidly. Get rid of the items that have no direct bearing on the profitability of your practice. Use that noggin' of yours! There's a difference between budget items that are necessary and those that aren't. Get rid of unnecessary items. Run your practice "lean and mean."

  5. Equipment purchases and expenses: Let's tell the truth -- supply companies make their living by selling equipment and products. They will ALWAYS be developing and selling new stuff. Duh! Are there new products and equipment that are better? You bet. Will they make a difference in the profitability of your practice? Maybe. Think carefully on this one, because we dentists are generally gadget freaks with little self-control on our spending. (Oh no, not me!) New composite resin available? Great, but use your "old" stuff up first -- no waste, please! For equipment purchases, get real with yourself: Will that new purchase REALLY make a difference? The answer may be "yes," "maybe," or "no." If it's one of the last two, forget it. And if it's the first, sleep on it for at least a week -- maybe a month.

  6. Marketing: The knee-jerk reflex that we dentists make is that when things get slow, we think we need to start marketing. First of all: Wrong! You should likely always be marketing -- unless your practice is overflowing with an endless supply of new clients who never leave your practice and you have more dentistry to do for as far ahead as you can possibly see. But even then, you need SOME sort of marketing program.

    So what type of marketing should you do? Again, be cautious about thinking that any one approach will be the ticket for you. In fact, diversify your efforts and evaluate their effectiveness monthly -- yes, monthly.

    Think social media is your ticket to profitability? Think again. Yes, it's a piece of the puzzle, but the results take a long time to notice (and track), and it's likely to disappear as quickly as it appeared. People will not suddently start seeing you because you "tweet" or you now have a slick Facebook page. It takes much more than that.

    Start by evaluating what you're currently doing that's working, then add on items you may not be doing that are tried and true, such as asking for referrals from your existing clients; regular communications to your existing clients; phone calls in the evening to check on patients who received care that day; a clean, professional, updated office; a website that covers the basics of what potential clients want to know about you and your office; and excellent communication skills from you and every single person on your team.

    EVERYTHING YOU DO IS MARKETING. Do the things that don't necessarily require an ongoing commitment of cash first. You and I both know there are plenty of businesses out there that will take your money in return for developing and implementing a marketing plan. Be careful that it is EXACTLY what you need for YOUR practice before "signing on." I know too many dentists who have spent $30,000, $50,000, or more with little to no results. Remember, if you spend $30,000 and it brings in $30,000 worth of new business, you've LOST money.

OK, my time is up. You've got plenty to do, so get moving. And never forget: Change brings opportunity!


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