Your patients need your skills. But they want your care

Being a successful dentist comes down to one thing.

Communication.

After 35 years of practicing dentistry and growing my business to include 14 dental offices with 160 employees, the single most important skill I’ve developed is the ability to communicate with team members and patients.

Think I’m kidding? Overstating things a bit?

Let’s assume that all dentists have the basic skills to perform the procedures described on their websites. So what is the factor that differentiates one dentist from another? I’ll tell you right now that it’s a dentist’s ability to communicate with his or her patients that will propel the business forward through retention and referrals or hold it back as patients move on to a dentist they like and trust more.  

People are not sheep. The person sitting in your chair now is not the same as the person who was occupying that same spot an hour ago. Every patient is different and you need to be able to adapt your communication skills to reach each and every one of them so they feel valued. How well you to communicate is a crucial part of doing your job and will help you keep your dental patients coming back year after year.

A communications expert I worked with once, Mr. David Wolf told me that he observed that many dentists come from a more ‘scientific’ background, which is factually true. He also discovered that we tend to be introverts for the most part.

He was right. As a group, we tend to focus on technology and rely on our clinical skills to deliver the best care possible to our patients.

But that isn’t what keeps patients coming back. How we talk to and deal with them is key to patient retention.

You probably already have well trained front office team that determines the customer experience right up until they sit in your chair. But from their it’s all you. How you communicate from that point on will determine if that patient will become a regular contributor to your bottom line results.

Patients want to know you care. They already assume that you know how to do the A, B and C procedures competently or they wouldn’t let you near their mouths in the first place. What they really want is for you to connect with them emotionally about the work they’ve requested or you’re recommending.

You already have a sales team: your staff!

Look around your practice. What is the biggest investment you’ve made? You’ve got modern technology: that ensures that customers return, knowing that they’re getting the best care. That is a good investment.

But consider your most important investment: your team. You upgrade your technology, certainly. But are you doing the same with your team?

Here’s something I can offer from my years of experience with multiple practices and teams. If you don’t have a successful team, you don’t have a successful business or practice.

Intuitively, all dentists understand that they’re the leaders of their organization. But unfortunately, most of us are not trained in leadership, management, and many times, we just don’t know how to coach our team members.

Individual team members share a goal and are there to support your patient base, your business, and improve the quality of care and service for patients.

Here’s quick overview of how to make your team stronger…

They need to be trained in basic dental procedures, whether that’s periodontics, endodontics, oral maxillofacial surgery, implant dentistry, temporomandibular joint or temporomandibular disorders, cosmetic procedures, sedation options, pediatrics, dental radiology, public health: the list is really extraordinary.

It’s about education, yes, but also about value to the customer. If your team knows the value of these procedures, they can educate patients about them when they ask about them. They become part of your marketing and sales department. That’s value to your practice.

I think there isn’t a dentist or a dental personnel out there that doesn’t realize that some individuals are just innately better at sales. In general, the medical and dental profession generally frown upon the word sales. Sales sounds unprofessional. We’re above the fray: we shouldn’t be selling anything. We provide care and treatment.

In the world that I live in, sales are a positive thing. When you can educate, inform and motivate patients in a certain direction for a specific treatment, providing that treatment is the correct treatment and best for your patient, then sales are critically important because they motivate your patient to do what you think is best for them.

In short, your team can boost your practice’s success rate and how patients accept  the treatment plans.

So how’s your (sales) team? Have you given them the training and motivation you need?

You upgrade your technology so upgrade your team now and often. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make in your practice.

Dental implants growth tied to technology advancements

Although pioneering techniques have always been a part of dentistry, I must admit it’s been fascinating to watch how one in particular has evolved throughout my career.

I’m talking about dental implants. When I did my first implant back in 1983, it took three hours to get a single tooth in place. Back then the process included drilling into the bone to test for bone quality and quantity. The theory was that good bone density meant a good prognosis for a successful implant.

Since then I’ve done thousands of implants and the process has developed quite a bit.

Today, using cone beam technology we can plan the surgery in great detail. The cone beam allows us to check for quality and quantity of bone, height and width of bone without any invasive drilling.

Putting the technological advances in the procedure aside, it’s hard to overestimate how important an advance like implants are to the quality of life of patients. Even a patient with no teeth can have them all replaced.

It used to be a very time consuming and expensive process for a fully edentulous patient. Prior to cone beam technology, patients would wait weeks for treatment prep and planning to be completed. The prep has been since dramatically compressed over the years, resulting in a quicker and much less expensive procedure.

There are some companies such as Implant Concierge that are rather handy for dentists in that they handle all the post cone-beam scan work and create a plan for the dentist to work from. These are online processes that eliminate office work in terms of merging, segmenting and thresholding for the procedure.

What I like about such companies is how they allow dentists to integrate implant work easily into their practice without  stand-alone software, and the learning curve that it involved for everyone in the practice.

Outsourcing this type of work is a good strategy to increase your service offerings without impacting your current business. And because it expands the scope of your practice, it is good for client retention, referrals and your bottom line.  

So if you feel your practice is not growing as fast as it should, consider all the options.

Dentistry plays key role in sleep medicine

Feeling a little sleepy today? That’s okay, maybe you had a rough night. Not a big deal.

But what if you’re feeling sleepy a lot? Days or weeks at a time? You may be becoming dangerous.

Put another way, you may have a sleep disorder, putting you among the tens of millions who suffer with one. The dangerous part? It seems 20 percent of all motor vehicle accidents are associated with untreated sleep disorders. Do you remember the Challenger accident and the Three Mile Island danger? Both are connected with sleep disorder issues.

How does this relate to dentistry? First of all, the American Association of Sleep Medicine is considered the governing body. It provides the guidelines and the standard of care for dentists and physicians to follow in order to provide the public with the highest level of education and treatment options related to chronic, severe problems of sleep deprivation.

Most people consider going to a dentist for snoring only when their partner becomes disturbed and irritated. It’s a situation that is both uncomfortable and embarrassing for both parties.

So what can a dentist do to turn this problem into a profit center? Here are the proper process and procedures to provide excellent care in sleep medicine. Follow them and you will be able to increase your profitability by expanding your practices service offerings.

  • Get certified! Patients seek out dentists who have either a certification, designation or a minimum of 25 hours of training in the appropriate sleep medicine courses.
  • Learn to make the referral! A proper diagnosis requires the patient to get a polysomnogram (PSG), a level one sleep study done in a hospital setting where the individual stays overnight. Their eye movement, muscle movement and cardiac evaluation is constantly monitored along with their blood pressure, their inspiration, and expiration. A combination of all these factors will determine whether the correct diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea is present or not.

Now for the solution. Most think a CPAP unit is the logical solution. You put on a mask when you sleep and it solves the problem, right? Well, maybe. As many as 80 to 85 percent of people are unable to tolerate the CPAP. Users can find it constricture, claustrophobic and ironically, find it difficult to sleep with it on. It’s also a bit pricey at about $2,000.

A good alternative is a Intraoral or Mandibular Advancement Device.These devices keep the lower jaw in place and stops snoring just as well as a CPAP machine.

Over 90 percent of all sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea is caused by occlusion of the oral cavity or back of the throat by the tongue. By bringing the lower jaw or mandible forward, the tongue is advanced forward and the airway is open.

We’ve been providing intraoral appliances for sleep disorders for many years now and it is amazing to me how much better patients say they feel. Whether is be a intraoral appliance or a CPAP unit, your practice can benefit greatly simply by offering the service.

So are your patients sleeping well? Are they snoring? Maybe these are two questions you should be asking at every checkup from now on.

Formula for a great dental practice: S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

I have one word to help you build a great practice.

It’s special. Well actually, it’s S-P-E-C-I-A-L, bold letters and period too.

It’s no ordinary special. It’s a special special.

Confused? Sure you are. Let me explain.

The letter S stands for scheduling.

Having firm control of your schedule is essential to delivering great service. The single biggest mistake I see in many practices - including the 14 I own - are issues about either being scheduled too lightly or too heavily.

The second letter is P for Production.

It’s about understanding net production and what you’re writing off with insurance companies, government plans and such. In the end, it’s critical to have a profitable end-of-day and end-of-month bottom line.

E is for Education. Training, education and communication should never end. It starts with a morning meeting, continues with a pickup in the afternoon and the day should end with a meeting. This ongoing training and education should be built on proven successful processes and procedures.

C is about Collection. If the dollars are not collected for procedures done, your practice will fail. You have to ensure you have enough profit to expand and improve your staff and business. Collection is the gasoline for the engine, and you must understand that the goal is to collect 100 percent of what’s owed to you.

I stands for Insurance. You, your team, your managed service organization and especially your front desk personnel must clearly understand the differences between insurance plans because different plans have different reimbursements.

A stands for Accounts Receivable. I use the rule of 45 days meaning that if your net production is,45 days, your accounts receivable should ensure payments are made within 45 days.

So if your net production is $100,000 a month, then your accounts receivable should be approximately $150,000. If the accounts receivable are in excess of that, your policies and procedures are not working or they’re not being implemented.

Lastly, L stands for Liability. My personal opinion is there is no better way to reduce your liability than having written treatment plans that are signed and agreed to by your patients. Failure to get signed treatment plans that clearly state risks, benefits, options, and costs is a mistake that will cost you time, money, stress and aggravation.

So that is S-P-E-C-I-A-L. I can assure you it will be special to you if you follow each letter, day after day.

If you want to learn how to be special and more, don’t hesitate to contact me at drkevin@ascent-dental-solutions.com or at www.ascent-dental-solutions.com.

Investing in dental tech good for patients and your team

We’ve all seen the articles in dentistry trade magazines and skimmed the ads targeted specifically at dentists with some money to spend. Shiny, exciting new technologies that promise of increased productivity and higher profitability. What’s not to like? Sign me up!

But let’s take a step back and ask the fundamental question - is it really worth it to invest in new technology when what you have already does an adequate job?

Well there are two answers and the both start with an emphatic “yes.” The first yes, is that any investment in new technology is great for both patients and your team members. When it comes to choosing and referring your dental practice to others having a reputation as  a dynamic organization is on the cutting edge with new strategies and tools instills confidence and pride in your customers/patients.

Now what about the tech itself?

Let’s not beat around the bush. Some of the technology that is out there would have been science fiction just a few decades ago. In a recent podcast with Kevin McGonigal we discussed a software-driven product that creates a 3D image of dental procedures. For example you can show a patient the exact method you are going to use to execute a dental implant.

This kind of technology also engages and excites your team as they learn more about these procedures, giving them on-site training. And let’s not forget that a practice that’s tech heavy is an enticement to potential employees. After all, who wouldn't love to work in a practice that looks forward on a constant basis?

In general employees who know what they are talking about and patients who understand procedures increases  the education component for patients and in doing so, speeds up the process of getting a procedure done. For those sitting on the fence about getting a procedure, the 3D can help push the decision from a maybe to yes and that will have a definite impact on your bottom line.

There really is no downside to investing in good, useful new technology. Because if you’re not, your competitor up the street will and that will leave your practice looking a little dusty and unattractive to new patients.

Setting up a good dental practice same as setting up a good business

“So how do I set up a good dental practice?”

When I meet colleagues or new dentists, it’s the first real question that gets put to me, after the hellos and “that’s-a-nice-shirt-you’re-wearing” chit chat.

It’s a great question. But sometimes the answer I give isn’t exactly what they expect.

The answer, or at least my version of it, is that setting up a good dental practice is exactly like setting up a good business.

My colleague Steve Parker is responsible for that observation and he’s absolutely correct.

So how do you set up a good business that just happens to be a dental practice?

It comes down to focusing on five areas:

  • Leadership
  • TeamBuilding
  • Money (finance)
  • Metrics (measurement for the business and systems)  

Whether you be setting up a sole practitioner office or one in a DSO or MSO, the principles are the same. A DSO will provide the measurement systems and some of the team building tools.  But in the end it’s up to you to provide inspired and inspiring leadership.

But here’s the rub. Most dental school graduates emerge from the hallowed halls of their academe wielding a dental drill like a champion but with a limited business acumen that borders on financial illiteracy.

It may explain why some find the allure of DSOs and MSOs enticing. Much of the marketing and business growth is left to the corporate head offices.

But let’s go back to those factors again, one by one…

Leadership: It’s about the buck stopping with you. It’s about standing behind your team members so they know you have their back. Remember, how you behave sets the tone and atmosphere of your entire practice.

Team Building: Your team can build you up if you build them up. Get them to understand that training is a lifelong pursuit. If one of them learns something in any given day, ask them to share it with the others. Encourage sharing of lessons learned and how they were learned them. In essence, you are their coach, showing them how to do the work, push them when needed and cheer them when they do a superb job.

Money (finance): This one is important if only to ensure a smooth flow of finances to keep the doors open.

Metrics (measurement for the business and systems): This is about where you steer your Good Ship Dental and why you’re doing it. If you decide to focus on getting new children patients, then that is where you’ll point your metrics and determine your success.

Is it really that easy? Well yes and no. Within each of the four areas noted above there are multiple areas for discussion and exploration.

But those four factors are the foundation of setting up a good Dental / Business practice.

If you want more direction on setting up a new dental practice, please give me a call.

Profitability rises when focus is on patient

If you begin to think of every hour of your day as billable, you may soon start to believe any time spent away from the chair is a lost revenue opportunity. I understand that. But it’s a trap.

In order to provide the best customer care you have to be rested. So taking time to recharge your batteries is an investment in yourself that you can’t ignore. On one side of the equation you need to make time to be with your family, take a vacation to simply go to a movie. Professionally you can invest your time away from the office in networking events or even conferences.

Although I still love to take in new viewpoints on dentistry, these days I’m often behind a podium more than facing one.

The topics I speak to are all based on the questions that others ask of me. And one of the most common questions concern profitability.

Here’s the thing: profitability isn’t about chasing the dimes. It’s about leading.

There’s a big difference. Managing is about counting the dimes, leading is about growing your business over time. Although they are not mutually exclusive, they are in no way the same!

It’s about being focussed on the patient experience. Every member of your staff must focus on positive patient outcomes and a truly great patient experience. If you’re only focussing on the dollars, you’ll never get there.

For example you already know you have a wide variety of patients in your practice. Developing different customer service strategies for all of them is key toward retaining all of them. Are they positive, negative or neutral? Different types mean different handling procedures. Those have to be developed by you and your team.

On top of that, designing different processes and procedures for every engagement point of the customer’s contact with your practice is essential. Yes, your dental assistants and technicians are important to your workplace but so is your front desk person. Designing and delivering processes for every part of the customer contact chain is key to a positive customer experience and therefore, greater profitability for your practice.

Helping transform your practice into a growing one is what I do and can also do for you.

Please take a look at my Speaking Programs page: one of the topics there will speak to you and your experience. Then speak to me to get started on the road to greater profitability!

Early decisions in a dental career are the most crucial

New dentists don’t often think of themselves as business people. But that’s exactly what they are. Whether you are starting your own practice, buying into a practice or joining an established team as an employee, your decisions are all primarily business decisions.

And the choices you make at the beginning of your career are some of the most important you’ll ever have to make.

When you leave dental school you are ready for patient care. But what about career care? What business prep have you received?  I can tell you that when I left school it was very little and that hasn’t changed much.

I was out on the street with a DDS and not much else.

Thirty-four years later, I have 14 dental offices, 23 dental associates and over 150 employees.

I learned a few things over those years. Today I coach young dentists, so they don’t have to figure out the toughest part of the job  – the business part.

I still practice dentistry day after day. Oral surgery, implant surgery, TMJ, orthodontics, endodontics, periodontics, fixed and removable prosthesis: I do it all. I can do this because I learned how to implement processes and procedures that make the business part work efficiently.

I talk to new dentists all the time and I get the same questions over and over again.

“Do I open my own practice?”

“Should I take over a practice from another dentist or join a corporate practice?”
“What should I consider before signing a contract?”

“How can I research a practice and learn more about it’s potential for growth?”

These are all great questions and I wish a simple FAQ would do the trick. But every dentist’s situation is different. While some are more entrepreneurial, others might prefer to clock in and clock out in time to hit the golf course a couple of times a week.

Defining your goals and then mapping out a career plan to reach them is something I enjoy doing.

If you’re interested in this specialized career guidance, take a look at my dental coaching program and I will help you match your plan to your goals.

Talking to dentists is a great spring break

Last month I had a great spring break at Destin 2017. No, there wasn’t a lot of swimming, or reading by the beach. It was a different kind of break: one where I was connecting with fellow dentists and sharing best practices to make our businesses more profitable.

At these types of events the one-on-ones are great. But I was fortunate enough to have been invited as a speaker – thereby allowing me to share my practical experiences with more people dentists than I could ever have reached simply walking the halls.

With 34 years in the industry building up 14 dental practices, I played to my strengths and talked about building profitable dental operations.

Specifically I spoke about the reality that cutting corners often costs a practice more than one might think. Instead I am an advocate for investing in the processes and procedures that really drive business growth.

It comes down to what I call the SPECIAL approach:

S scheduling tips that make a big difference to profitability by increasing efficiency

P production improvements to provide better care and service to patients

E employee or team member management that make everyone want to deliver better results and perform at higher levels.

C collections improvements that will show you how to reach 98%

I internal controls to help you manage your practice

A associates and accounts receivables as a tool for growth

L liabilities and asset management to protect yourself and your business

The talk went over very well, given that in the days afterward, I was fielding questions about the SPECIAL factors from many in attendance.

If you weren’t able to make it to the conference – or even if you did – I pulled together a resource page with the slide deck of my presentation, and related materials.

If you want to talk to me about how to make your practice SPECIAL, please send me note and we can schedule a private coaching/consulting session that will help you make your dental practice more profitable going forward.