Clean It Up with S.O.A.P.

by ​Robert M. Maguire, DDS


News flash! There is no such thing as the “perfect” dental practice. Despite our best efforts, “stuff” happens, and these “pop-up” situations can temporarily keep us from having a practice that is fun, fulfilling, and financially successful.

Good news? The S.O.A.P. format we learned in dental school to diagnose “patient dental problems” can be used to diagnose and treat “dental practice problems.”

Whether your circumstance has to do with broken appointments, equipment, or relationships, using the S.O.A.P. format is a fast and easy way to clean up your situation and get your practice back on track.

What does S.O.A.P. stand for?

Subjective: Your “chief concern.” What are you telling yourself? What are others telling you? How long has this situation been going on?

Objective: Your Examination. What are you seeing? What is the data telling you? How do these observations vary from your desired results?

Assessment: Your Diagnosis. What is your take on the situation? What are the possible causes?
Plan: The Corrective Steps. What steps do you and your team need to take to get your practice back on track?

With this method, you must begin with a benchmark, “your practice standards of health.” In a medical setting with a patient, this might include the norms for BP, pulse, temp, and test results. With your dental practice, this could include things like your mission, vision, values, goals, and various metrics like production, collections, or broken appointments.

Think of these benchmarks as the lens through which you assess and plan. Let’s look at an example and apply the S.O.A.P. format.

Subjective – Your chief concern is, “I’m noticing a decrease in the weekly deposits.” You seek other insights, meet with your office manager, and listen to her thoughts.

Objective – After reviewing the schedule for the past month, you observe that you’ve reached your daily goal (your practice benchmark) for most days. Next, you meet with your office manager to diagnose the situation further and discover that your collections percentage has dropped to 85% (98-100% is the benchmark). Your total aging accounts receivable has grown above your benchmark of one month’s production.

Also, with the aging accounts receivable, half of your receivables are now in the “60-90 Day” category, mostly from insurance (the benchmark is zero dollars), and the weekly insurance management emails and calls have declined for the past month due to “busyness.”

Assessment – The system you have in place for insurance follow-up, which has been successful in the past, needs to be appropriately followed.

Plan – Reactive the insurance follow-up system and remove any obstacles that caused the system to decline. Next, reinforce its importance with the responsible team member and develop accountability with them. Finally, revisit the situation at a chosen date to measure your progress toward your mutually-agreed-upon goal.

Other situations where you can apply the S.O.A.P. format are patient referrals, patient treatment acceptance, team cohesiveness, individual team member performance, and any practice system.

With the busyness and complexity of running a successful dental practice, you need a quick-use system. S.O.A.P. is a quick way to “clean things up” and get back on track to a fun, fulfilling, and profitable practice.

Wishing you all the best.

About the Author

Dr. Robert Maguire, DDS, MASCL had a successful solo private practice in Wolfeboro, NH, for twenty-eight years. He also has a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership. He is now a speaker, author, coach, and a consultant, helping dentists build their practices using a hands, a head, and a heart approach. To learn more about Dr. Maguire, visit