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.

Dental implants good but only in specific situations

Dental implants have grown in use over the years and for good reason. In an ideal scenario, an implant can replace a problem tooth quite well.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the ideal procedure for all patients. There are many mitigating factors to consider before recommending an implant.

First, check the condition of the teeth next to the implant area. If they’re good, then I would recommend proceeding. If not, I would think a conventional crown and bridge treatment would be better.

Here are some common questions and answers that arise during treatment planning:

  • How long will the implant last?
    • Typically ten years or longer.
  • Does implant surgery hurt?
    • In most cases, implant surgery is less painful than having a tooth removed. 
  • How long does implant surgery take?
    • Most of the time, placement of a single implant will take less than fifty minutes.
  • Do dental implants fail?
    • Yes, about 10 percent fail on the lower arch and 20 percent on the upper arch.

Many factors increase the failure rate, but the most common are smoking, diabetes that is not under control, and poor patient home care.

A dental implant cannot get a cavity but it can develop periodontal disease. Other failure factors include poor quality and quantity of bone and putting the implant into function too soon.

Can you place the dental implant immediately after you extract a tooth? Yes, but you have to be able to remove the tooth with as little trauma as possible to provide the implant with the best bone available.

If the dental extraction is completed with little to no damage to the surrounding bone, than in many cases, the implant can be placed immediately.

When discussing the cost of a dental implant with your patient, make certain they understand that at least three different fees may apply.

  • The first fee is the surgical placement of the implant.
  • The second is for the implant abutment.
  • The third covers the placement of the implant crown.

Your patient should be aware of the total cost before treatment.

An implant is a good way to handle a problem tooth in the right circumstances. But a truly successful implant experience includes involving your patient in the entire process, from rates of success to the cost.

This is just one of the best practices I talk about when coaching other dentists. If you want to talk to me about coaching your practice, please contact me.

Cover your assets with a dental non-compliance form

At some point every dentist will have to tackle a tooth restoration. Of all the types of restoration, the most challenging is doing a composite restoration that looks good, functions well, has nice interproximal contacts, and isn’t sensitive.

It’s generally not the first recommended treatment in your care arsenal. But often it’s what the patient wants. 

Just be certain to let them know to expect sensitvity during it and that the process will need a root canal and crown to finish.

But a restoration can create more clinical problems than anything else we do in our day to day practice. In most cases, a better treatment plan might include an inlay, onlay, or crown rather than a very large and complex composite restoration.

When the patient refuses the most appropriate treatment plan, always have them sign a non compliance form. Such forms are signed by both the doctor and patient, stating what was recommended for treatment and what your patient has elected to do.

Let me be candid: performing a treatment you do not agree with should be avoided. However, in the real world, often you will have make compromises. And in such cases it’s important to protect yourself and your practice.

A non compliance form decreases the chances of a patient requesting that a failed treatment be conducted at no charge or even taking legal actions against you or your company for the results.

I recommend informing all patients considering large restorations that there will be very probably be sensitivity issues that may require a root-canal treatment, and most likely a crown to fix.

This disclosure should always be made before you perform the procedure, as it shows you to be an astute clinician; when done afterward, you only appear to be making an excuse.

If you’d like to learn more about the best practices for your dental operation, please contact me for a consultation.

Podcast: Designing a Winning Customer Strategy

In this episode Dr. Coughlin discusses how to design a winning customer strategy.

Hello and welcome to Ascent Dental Radio. A program dedicated to the balance between the clinical aspect of health care and the business of health care. And now here is your host, Dr. Kevin Coughlin.

kevin-transparentWelcome to the following podcast. My name is Dr. Kevin Coughlin, owner and creator of www.ascent-dental-solutions.com. Please visit my website and listen to additional podcasts, but today’s podcast is on designing a winning customer strategy.

So let’s get started. First, there’s a difference between believers and achievers. Data indicates that about 92 percent of CEOs believe they are providing excellent customer satisfaction. The reality, however, is only about eight percent really achieve it. The goal is to be that eight percent. How to become that eight percent and bring you from a believer to an achiever is to focus on what I refer to as the 3Ds. You must first design then develop and then deliver.

Design simply means the appropriate segmentation of your patient or customer base to complete customer experience in each of the segments involved in your valuable final product. Develop simply means you must reinvent and renew your customer experience over and over. Change is good but change must be for the better.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, is the action step of delivering. Every department, every team member must be pulling in the same direction. Failure to achieve this last action step will put you in the 92 percenters of believers rather than achievers. The alternatives of not becoming an achiever is simply more money on advertising, more sales people, more acquisitions, more products, more gimmicks, more waste of time and money. Simply stated, you must delight your patient or customer base in all aspects.

It’s common knowledge that managers tend to feel more accountable for improving profits. Most managers do not feel they are accountable for improving patient or customer relationships or the quality of that relationship. What truly creates the difference between an average manager and an outstanding manager are those managers who focus on the accountability of improving customer relationships or the quality of that relationship.

In general we’ve talked in past podcasts about promoters versus detractors. Promoters should be the core of your business. They are the best group to invest in. They create high margins, they love to do business with us, they constantly refer additional business to us and they should drive our strategic priorities.

Detractors do not like doing business with us. They spread negative word of mouth and they defect at the first opportunity to another company or business. You constantly should try to convert your detractors to promoters and if not possible, eliminate these detractors from your business plan.

The vast majority of your customer base will be passive customers. They can be easily lured into the detractor group if you do not focus constantly on improving relationships, products and service. The goal is to take the passive group and move them into the promoter group. Constantly you should be on the lookout for finding additional promoters for your business.

As a golden rule, what is ever good for your patient or customer base and team members will generally be good for your company. You need to look at your business in totality. You need to look at your phone system, your appointment systems, your orientation and treatments, the ability to discharge, evaluation of charts if you are in the medical or dental profession, financial arrangements should be clear, concise, honest and upfront.

You must take a look at every aspect of your business, including your reception room or office, your restrooms, your operatories, your magazines, the appearance, the communication skills. In order to achieve this, most focus in on the 3Ds which is design, develop and deliver.

For additional information about this podcast and other podcasts, please visit www.ascent-dental-solutions.com. Thanks for listening and we look forward to spending more time in the future on additional business topics to help your medical and dental practice grow along with your overall business. Thanks for listening. My name is Dr. Kevin Coughlin.

A patient in distress is your opportunity to shine in customer care

Here’s the scenario: a new patient calls your office with an issue that needs attention.

If they’re calling because of an emergency, your staff should treat it like one. First of all appreciate they chose you over a competitor. Maybe it was your website, advertising, or word of mouth. But they chose you and it’s your job to let them know it was a smart call on their part by delivering excellent service.

customer-service-and-dental-practicesOnce they’ve told you or your staff the issue as they see it, work to be both empathetic and clinical by asking them to quantify their pain on a scale from zero to ten.

Once your office  has an idea of how much discomfort they are in, they next goal is to get a location. This will help the front-desk coordinator estimate the time needed for an appointment and, perhaps, even the seriousness of the problem.

Is this an issue that has come on suddenly or has it progressively gotten worse over time? The answer to this question provides clues as to their current circumstances regarding income and benefit coverage.

Someone  with a pain level of ten that has endured for more than a few days has likely been holding off on care and treatment due to fear or finances.

This isn’t always the case. Extremely busy individuals will often put off care and treatment as long as possible because they believe treatment to be an inconvenience that will eat up valuable time.

Others have nothing but time, but lack the financial resources to obtain care. Still others are somewhere in the middle, wise enough to understand they require care and treatment but hope their issues will resolve on their own.

In all cases, I recommend you offer a patient either the option to come in immediately or sometime that day. This is an important concept to understand. I am well aware that you may not be able to accommodate Mr. or Ms. Smith on a particular day. However, experience has taught me that most people want to have their pain acknowledged and an offer to see them as soon as possible, while rarely accepted, is an important part of the customer experience.

Getting someone through your the door is for an initial assessment is different than fixing the problem immediately. In the most cases, having someone come in for evaluation of his or her chief complaint, taking a radiograph, and coming up with the diagnosis, treatment plan, and perhaps prescriptions are all that will be needed. The actual care can be done on another day.

If the chief complaint is severe, in most cases your well-trained staff should be able to temporarily alleviate discomfort by, if in the case of an abscess, opening the tooth and allowing for drainage. Your team should be able to extract the tooth or provide some type of temporary or long-lasting restoration. For offices that avoid specialty care, a prescription and referral often are all that is necessary to provide steller service.

I’m a firm believer that for a general dental practice, the more specialty care you deliver the better your overall service and care will be. Although most dentists feel that it’s simpler and less stressful to delegate specialty care out to specialists, it is my belief that most general dentists should be able to provide over 90 percent of all treatment as long as adequate effort and training are present.

The tremendous goodwill that you create by helping Mr. and Ms. Smith with a quick radiograph and referral slip cannot be overstated. In today’s environment, increased specialization has created an almost impossible scenario for patients to receive any kind of treatment from start to finish on the same day. While this lowers expectations of “quick fixes” it also results in inconvenience and increased costs to patients. If you can manage to “do more” you will see immediate service improvements and more profitability as your word-of-mouth referrals increase.

The goal of your dental practice should be to create what I refer to as “raving fans,” who support your practice and are so satisfied with your care and service that they cannot help but tell family, friends, and associates.

I would be happy to discuss how to turn your dental practice into a service dynamo. Please contact me for a quick chat about improving your bottom line and patient outcomes with excellent customer service.

I would be happy to discuss how to turn your dental practice into a service dynamo. Please contact me for a quick chat about improving your bottom line and patient outcomes with excellent customer service.

Dental Practices can’t just phone it in

Your front line team members are the first client/customer facing representatives anyone comes into contact with when they call or enter your dental practice. Hopefully you’ve trained them to be both empathetic and professional. Let’s say you’ve gone a step further and they are also well – versed on best practices surrounding customer care. That’s it, you’re done!

Not so fast.

What happens where they’re engaged with a real life customer and the phone rings? Is your answering system as good as your staff? If not, then you have a big hole that needs a filling.

First off, the phone should be answered within four rings. If staff are too busy to do so, let it go to the answering system. Nobody wants to hear, “this is Dr. Smith’s office. I’m going to have to put you on hold.”

If it isn’t possible for any member of your team to grab that phone call within four rings, your message has to be the next best thing to speaking to a real person.

First, the answering system should allow patients a choice. They should be allowed to leave their name and phone number along with a request or question.  Alternately, the caller should be able to opt to stay on the line and wait. But if they do so, it is vitally important they are reminded every 30 seconds that you haven’t forgotten about them and that someone will be with them shortly. If, after two minutes, they are still waiting, they should have an additional option to leave a message. Here is where you differentiate yourself by promising to return the call within 15 minutes. Why is this important? That 15 minutes buys your time before they call another practice to set up an appointment.

Still not convinced about the importance of this seemingly minor issue? I’ve got a simple test for you. Do you remember the last time you were put on hold for a long time? Did you call back? I would guess you might have moved onto another provider.

We are all busy. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have time for clients. How you treat someone when you are busy speaks volumes about how much you would value them as a customer.

If you want to talk about how I can transform your dental practice into a customer service dynamo, please get in touch.

The most important person in your practice is the first and last one to see your patients

So you’ve got a dental office with technicians and great patient care specialists. Who’s the most important person in your business?

The answer is surprising to some. The surprise is that it’s not you. It’s actually the front-desk person. They are a patient’s first and last point of contact. They set the tone for the patient’s experience at your practice.

young-dentist-opening-a-practice

Female patient coming to dental surgery check-up appointment reception

He or she must possess patience, knowledge, grace under pressure, and the ability to show empathy, along with being efficient and effective.

When recruiting for this crucial position, the following skill sets are of key importance:

∙ Sales skills

. Telephone skills

∙ Gathering and interpreting data

∙ Patient orientation

∙ Developing and providing information about a comprehensive treatment plan

∙ Reviewing financial options for the patient to receive care and treatment

∙ The ability to generate reports to assess the success and progress of your business team

∙ Review and make necessary adjustments to procedures and processes through daily, biweekly, weekly, or monthly meetings and discussions

 

As you can see, this is a position that goes well beyond “receptionist.” Your front desk person has to wear many hats throughout the day, and it all starts with how they answer the phone.

If you want to talk about how I can make your dental practice a dynamo in customer service, please get in touch.

Guidelines​ ​for​ ​building​ ​an​ ​effective​ ​team

To​ ​me,​ ​T.E.A.M.​ ​means​ ​“together​ ​employees​ ​achieve​ ​mastership.”

It’s​ ​a​ ​convenient​ ​acronym.​ ​But​ ​it’s​ ​more​ ​than​ ​that.​ ​In​ ​order​ ​for​ ​it​ ​to​ ​work​ ​leadership​ ​has​ ​to
make​ ​sure​ ​its​ ​team​ ​has​ ​the​ ​tools​ ​to​ ​succeed.​ ​Training,​ ​education,​ ​attitude​ ​and​ ​money​ ​are
the​ ​building​ ​blocks.​ ​Take​ ​away​ ​any​ ​of​ ​those​ ​elements​ ​and​ ​your​ ​team​ ​is​ ​just​ ​a​ ​gathering​ ​of
paid​ ​employees.

What-are-the-factors-of-successful-leadership

Medical team of three professional woman at dental surgery portrait

Experience​ ​has​ ​taught​ ​me​ ​that​ ​people,​ ​who​ ​both​ ​want​ ​and​ ​need​ ​employment,​ ​are​ ​the​ ​ideal candidates​ ​for​ ​building​ ​a​ ​great​ ​team​.​ ​I’ve​ ​seen​ ​how​ ​people​ ​who​ ​hate​ ​their​ ​jobs​ ​and​ ​those who​ ​don’t​ ​need​ ​their​ ​jobs​ ​are​ ​never​ ​really​ ​fully​ ​committed​ ​to​ ​them.

Commitment,​ ​loyalty,​ ​trust​ ​and​ ​a​ ​desire​ ​to​ ​work​ ​are​ ​the​ ​ingredients​ ​for​ ​fantastic​ ​employees
who​ ​become​ ​integral​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​amazing​ ​teams.​ ​And​ ​at​ ​the​ ​risk​ ​of​ ​sounding​ ​somewhat​ ​agist​ ​-
and​ ​having​ ​been​ ​a​ ​former​ ​member​ ​of​ ​this​ ​cohort​ ​-​ ​​ ​I’ve​ ​found​ ​people​ ​in​ ​their​ ​20s​ ​go​ ​through
so​ ​many​ ​of​ ​their​ ​own​ ​changes​ ​that​ ​the​ ​odds​ ​of​ ​them​ ​still​ ​being​ ​with​ ​your​ ​team​ ​into​ ​their​ ​30s
is​ ​not​ ​great.​ ​That​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​you​ ​shouldn’t​ ​give​ ​young​ ​people​ ​opportunities.​ ​But​ ​do​ ​so
knowing​ ​that​ ​your​ ​job​ ​is​ ​probably​ ​seen​ ​as​ ​a​ ​stepping​ ​stone​ ​to​ ​something​ ​bigger​ ​and​ ​better.

The​ ​average​ ​dental​ ​office​ ​will​ ​have​ ​fewer​ ​than​ ​ten​ ​employees.​ ​That​ ​works​ ​in​ ​the​ ​owner’s
favour.​ ​Managing​ ​and​ ​coaching​ ​a​ ​small​ ​staff​ ​provides​ ​excellent​ ​opportunities​ ​for
mentorship​ ​and​ ​skills​ ​development​ ​while​ ​also​ ​delivering​ ​exceptional​ ​service​ ​to​ ​the​ ​patients.
But​ ​that​ ​tidy​ ​size​ ​comes​ ​at​ ​a​ ​price.​ ​Fewer​ ​staff​ ​means​ ​difficulties​ ​in​ ​times​ ​of​ ​family
commitments,​ ​illness​ ​and​ ​such.​ ​However​ ​when​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​real​ ​TEAM​ ​they​ ​pull​ ​together
and​ ​help​ ​each​ ​other​ ​out​ ​-​ ​so​ ​that​ ​your​ ​patient​ ​experience​ ​doesn’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​suffer.

Another​ ​quality​ ​I​ ​look​ ​for​ ​when​ ​building​ ​a​ ​team,​ ​is​ ​a​ ​person’s​ ​marketing,​ ​sales​ ​and
business​ ​experience.​ ​Knowing​ ​the​ ​field​ ​of​ ​dentistry​ ​is​ ​a​ ​nice​ ​but​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​essential
skill​ ​for​ ​an​ ​employee​ ​to​ ​have.​ ​​ ​If​ ​forced​ ​to​ ​choose​ ​between​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​is​ ​knowledgeable
and​ ​one​ ​who​ ​has​ ​great​ ​sales​ ​and​ ​management​ ​skills,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​always​ ​pick​ ​the​ ​latter.​ ​Clinical
skills​ ​can​ ​be​ ​taught;​ ​teaching​ ​management​ ​and​ ​sales​ ​are​ ​much​ ​more​ ​difficult.

That​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​your​ ​team​ ​should​ ​be​ ​devoid​ ​of​ ​dental​ ​experience.​ ​You​ ​will​ ​always​ ​need
to​ ​have​ ​individuals​ ​with​ ​a​ ​background​ ​and​ ​knowledge​ ​of​ ​the​ ​dental​ ​business​ ​and​ ​dental
hygiene.​ ​I​ ​would​ ​be​ ​lying​ ​if​ ​I​ ​said​ ​it​ ​is​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​find​ ​such​ ​individuals;​ ​in​ ​fact,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​extremely
difficult.​ ​In​ ​some​ ​cases,​ ​it​ ​may​ ​appear​ ​impossible,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​can​ ​be​ ​done.

There​ ​is​ ​an​ ​old​ ​adage​ ​in​ ​business​ ​that​ ​for​ ​every​ ​$10,000​ ​you​ ​pay​ ​a​ ​person,​ ​​ ​you​ ​should
spend​ ​a​ ​month​ ​to​ ​find​ ​the​ ​RIGHT​ ​person.​ ​What​ ​that​ ​means​ ​is​ ​that​ ​if​ ​you’re​ ​going​ ​to​ ​pay
someone​ ​$50,000​ ​a​ ​year,​ ​you​ ​should​ ​be​ ​willing​ ​to​ ​spend​ ​five​ ​months​ ​on​ ​the​ ​hiring​ ​process.
I​ ​can’t​ ​emphasize​ ​that​ ​enough.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​a​ ​critical​ ​step​ ​in​ ​accomplishing​ ​your​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​developing
the​ ​ideal​ ​dental​ ​business.​ ​Not​ ​selecting​ ​the​ ​right​ ​individuals​ ​when​ ​putting​ ​together​ ​your
team​ ​will​ ​result​ ​in​ ​an​ ​enormous​ ​cost​ ​to​ ​you​ ​and​ ​your​ ​organization​ ​over​ ​the​ ​long​ ​run.

If​ ​this​ ​sounds​ ​like​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​work​ ​-​ ​it​ ​is.​ ​But​ ​it’s​ ​the​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​work​ ​that​ ​if​ ​done​ ​right,​ ​will​ ​be​ ​pay dividends​ ​every​ ​day​ ​you​ ​open​ ​your​ ​doors.