September 14, 2010
Lisa Philp, RDH, CMC is the
President of Transitions Group North America, a full service coaching company for dentistry. She graduated
from East Tennessee State University as a Registered Dental Hygienist in 1987.
Her career began with clinical hygiene in United States and Canada to the
creation of a periodontal disease management program in which she coached
thousands of dental professionals.
She is currently a leader,
author, and coach and highly sought after North American speaker. Lisa is
committed to being an eternal student in the areas of personal growth,leadership,change management, human capital potential, adult learning,
advanced training techniques and communication skills. Her mission is to make
dentistry simple and fun allowing dental professionals to achieve personal and
professional fulfillment in the workplace.
All the dentists in Canada are indebted to her for sharing these series of articles and imparting her knowledge and her experience so freely and unreservedly.
three years in practice
Nobody said that starting a new practice was going to be easy.Once you
open the doors, your first year can often be your most challenging. Running
your own practice is not just about providing exceptional clinical services; it
also requires you to face many business concerns. When you open a dental practice, you’ll
need to address issues common to many new businesses, such as attracting new
clients, managing youroverhead, and implementing a new-hire training progam. By implementing
best practices along with a solid business plan and a structured management
system, you can set the foundation for long-term growth and success. These key considerations
can help you set up your practice as an efficient business during the first critical
Build your equipment over time
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One of your biggest early decisions relates to obtaining the necessary
equipment and instruments, including the technologies – such as digital
photography and practice-management software – that are integral to the success
of your practice. Set up your facility according to your practice vision and
build your equipment and technology over time. For the average
dentist to work four to 4.5 days a week, a minimum of 1,500 active patients are
needed per year. One component of recent technology is the utilization of
clinical work stations, which enables the dental team to bring appointments to completion and streamline the patient appointment
process. As your practice grows, you will need to look at your operations and
make critical financial decisions to add equipment based on your vision and
goals for your practice.
The essentials to marketing your practice
Next, it is vital to construct a marketing plan and strategy to attract
new patients. In the first two to three years of your practice, as much as 50
percent to 60 percent of your energy may be focused on marketing. It is
critical that you know your target market – the consumers you are trying to
reach to become your patients – and how you can distinguish yourself from the competition. Especially important in a
competitive market is establishing your brand. Branding is a way to position your business in the mind of
the consumer by creating an identifiable image of what you represent that also differentiates your business. Ask yourself how you would want your patients to describe your practice to their friends. That is your brand.
As a new practice, one of your major marketing objectives should focus
on new-patient acquisition, followed by retention of existing patients. To
execute this strategy, consider external and internal marketing. Whether it’s
through advertising, self-promotion at community events, or joining
professional alliances, remember that effective marketing is that which brings more business to your practice. Internal marketing
builds your practice from within. For example,by providing an exceptional
patient experience, you can create a “wow” feeling for your patients that not
only keeps them coming back, but also encourages positive word-of-mouth
If you look at practices across North America with healthy new-patient growth, the No. 1 source of those new
patients is through internal word-of-mouth marketing by existing patients. Another way to promote your practice is
to maintain good patient relations with proactive retention methods, such as
scheduling follow-up appointments at the close of their visit or offering incentives
to return through a loyalty program.
Create an exceptional patient experience
One of the core business principles every practice should implement is
to create an exceptional experience for patients. This begins internally by
making sure your team is trained to provide a friendly and inviting environment
that properly represents you and your practice. The patient’s interaction with
your team – whether it’s over the phone, in correspondence, or in person –
gives your practice an opportunity to build a relationship that establishes
loyalty, encourages repeat business, and even promotes referrals by word of
mouth. Treat patients as guests when they enter your office – greet them by
name and give them a warm welcome. An inviting waiting room stocked with
current magazines and refreshments is another way to make patients feel relaxed
and comfortable. Consider making the extra effort to acknowledge how special
your patients are to you. For example, send them a birthday card with a replacement
toothbrush, or keep them up to date with a newsletter. This makes a positive
impression on your patients and helps build trust in your community by establishing your
practice as one committed to excellence.
Evaluate the status of your business
Integral to any business is managing expenses. There are two main
components: overhead and cash flow. Compare the costs you incur each month – such
as rent, utilities, leased equipment, supplies, wages, and insurance premiums – against the revenue collected for the same time period. By calculating
a break-even analysis, you can determine your break-even point – where total
costs equal total revenue. Knowing your break-even point can help you evaluate the real-time status of your business and determine your profitability.
It is extremely important to know how much revenue you should generate each
month to meet your basic needs.
Put key systems in place
Having the right fundamentals in place from the beginning can increase
the likelihood for long-term success. For example, to develop a first-rate
team, start early and find out the industry standards and best practices so you
can develop a winning training program. Look for scheduling protocols to
maximize your time and effort without having to “reinvent the wheel.” Establish
an efficient recall system that includes everything from prebooking,
confirmation, and reminders, to making sure that patients never leave the
office without scheduling their next appointment. Remember -everything you do
in a new practice has an impact. Another
key system is your patients’ financial arrangements, which includes a firm
payment policy. An outside patient payment program, can be a huge advocate in helping your business stay
financially healthy right from the start. Third-party patient financing programs can provide your
patients financial solutions for treatment,which is a key metric to case
acceptance business goals.
Measure and monitor for success and growth
Now that you understand how important it is to know the status of your
business and have key systems in place, be sure to implement performance
indicators to measure and monitor your practice on a regular basis to make sure
you stay on the right track. These practice metrics are the value drivers that
can help you achieve success and growth,but it’s important that they are set up
from the get-go.
From the start, monitor and track your active patient accounts at least
monthly. You should know your new-patient flow, your case-acceptance
percentage, the revenue per hour, your collection percentage, and even the
amount of downtime – time you are not functioning at full capacity. Downtime can
happen in three areas: during productive time,when you have the potential to
handle more patients; during nonproductive time, due to no-shows and
cancellations;and during unscheduled time – periods when no appointments are
scheduled, which is common for new practices. Knowing your capacity is often the most overlooked business
practice. Determine what percentage of your practice capacity you’re filling every month, and establish benchmarks to
determine how you’re going to improve. Keep a careful watch on how many
procedures you’re able to handle and how many chairs you’re able to fill. As
you track your percentage of capacity, you will have a good gauge on
determining when to expand your team and your practice.
In the early years of your practice, it is imperative that you have the
right systems in place to evaluate your business performance. As you continue
to monitor and track your results, you will soon discover your own methods that
will help you grow and become more profitable.
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