Practicing dentistry in 2019 is different than practicing dentistry even five years ago. Perhaps one of the biggest differences is how corporate (or big box) dentistry is impacting the dental profession. Established doctors are selling their practices to these organizations for the dollars and the reduction in operating responsibilities. Further, group practices are enticing new doctors to join their teams by offering to pay off their student loans.
The current landscape description is not a condemnation of group practices. Rather, it sets the scene for the challenges solo practices face today. In order for the solo practice to thrive within their community, they must turn to data analytics, which will allow the doctor to adjust their operations to peak performance. Group practices are certainly paying attention to their numbers. The solo practitioner should, too.
I have consulted with doctors about how they can increase production many times. I have learned that by looking at three different numbers a doctor can learn much about their practices.
Here are three numbers every doctor should regularly review:
Net New Patients
First, let’s make sure we understand why I use the term ‘net’ when counting new patients. The gross number of new patients is, simply put, the total sum of all patients that are new to your practice within a set period of time. Every doctor wants to see the new patients number grow from month to month.
However, what doctors most often ignore is how many patients they are losing on the back end. While you may have attracted 40 new patients to your practice last month, you may have also lost that same amount or more! Thus, the net number of new patients—a product of new patients less lost patients—is a significantly more accurate representation of your practice’s growth.
The mechanics of calculating net new patients is simple; however, the process of gathering the necessary data is much more difficult. Chances are your practice management system can provide a gross number for new patients. But in my experience, your practice management system won’t easily divulge how many patients you lost during the same period, because the definition of a lost patient is subjective.
Is a lost patient one whose status changes from active to inactive? Or, should a lost patient be one that may remain active but has a balance older than 90 or 120 days? Financially, an active patient is of little value to your production numbers if they’re not contributing to your production!
You may be a bit dismayed by the time required to get the right numbers. A number of data analytics applications, like BlueIQ’s dental business platform, are able to provide this calculation with a click of a mouse. Of course, you can also invest some time and calculate the number manually. I’ve done it both ways.
When you’ve calculated the net new patients’ number, you now have clarity into your practice’s growth. If you have more patients leaving your practice than coming in, your patients are finding your competition to be the better alternative.
Take an honest look at you, your team, your location, and your facilities. Surely, one, if not more, of these practice attributes can be improved. If you’re still not sure, ask your departing patients why they’re leaving using an anonymous survey. Be prepared to act on the results of that survey.
Unscheduled Next Appointments
Next, I ask doctors what percentage of their patients walk out of the office without another appointment. The most opportune time to schedule a patient is when they’re standing in your practice. A trained team can address issues, face to face, when a patient is hesitant to schedule again. Patients hesitant to schedule another appointment will ignore your phone calls if they leave without a next appointment.
I recommend that every practice should adopt the goal of never letting a patient leave without scheduling their next appointment. Your production numbers will see a modest boost when you do so.
Your practice management system may or may not be able to help you get this number. More often than not, if the system does keep track of that number, it may require assistance from your software vendor. On the other hand, data analytics software can display this number with little to no effort on your part.
Unsettled Cash Account Balances
Perhaps the biggest source for boosting production numbers lies in the health of your receivables. (Don’t forget to factor in your write-off’s. I’ve seen practices with a seemingly acceptable balance, but with further analysis found the practice was routinely writing off older balances.)
Every patient should pay for services before they exit your practice. Your practice management system should be able to calculate—with a high measure of accuracy—what any patient owes at the time of service. You can set that expectation with your patients with signage and other types of patient reminder notifications.
Patients leaving without paying contributes to only half of the unsettled cash account balance number. The other half comes from patients who are coming into your practice who owe you money. When you gather your team together for your morning huddle, you should identify those patients you will see on that day who owe you money. A member of your team should be assigned to speak to that patient with the objective of resolving the balance.
Admittedly, using your practice management system to quickly identify and alert your team to which patients seen on a given day have a balance is tricky. Again, a system like BlueIQ’s dental business platform, should provide a morning huddle tool that makes this process very simple. Of course, you can invest the time to calculate this number manually.
Regardless of how you identify the patients to which you need to speak, working this source of unpaid balances will boost your production considerably. Combine that effort with the policy of settling all balances before the patient leaves, and your practice will be on a more favorable financial footing.
Enlist Technology to Help You Compete
To be sure, big box dentistry has at its disposal experienced operations and financial experts to gather, crunch, and analyze their own data. Today, any practice can have access to the same capabilities using readily available data analytics and business intelligence software. The point of these applications is to cast light on what’s really happening with your practice, allowing you to make calculated changes to how you’re managing your practice.
While the prevalence of group practices will continue to grow and create a measure of competition in your community, technology can help you practice on an equal footing.
About the Author
Dr. Frogley is co-founder and CEO of multiple small businesses, including BlueIQ, a dental business platform. With more than 18 years of experience owning and managing successful businesses, Dr. Frogley has been invited to coach oach on business management, business development, business analytics, leadership, and other key components to practice success. You can reach Dr. Frogley at firstname.lastname@example.org.