Protect Yourself from the Latest Cyber Scams

At first glance, cyber security might not seem like it would be a major concern for dental clinics. After all, their focus is on providing high quality healthcare and making patients as comfortable as possible – so are they really a big target for hackers?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes: because clinics deal in so much private information, and because most clinics are relatively small operations, they have become magnets for cyber criminals looking to steal personal and financial information they can use to turn a profit.

Moreover, research shows that cyber attacks can have a devastating impact on small businesses like dental clinics. According to one study, forty-three percent of cyber attacks target small businesses, sixty percent of which fold within six months of the attack. These are risks that no dental practice can afford to take.   

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post outlining some of the most common types of cyber attack and explaining some of the ways dental clinics can use practice management software to protect their financial records, patient files and other documents. Today, I want to follow up on that post by exploring ransomware attacks, identity theft schemes and the importance of developing a resilient strategy for weathering cyber attacks.

Ransomware: When Data Becomes a Hostage

In my previous post, I talked about phishing scams and malware that cyber criminals use to steal financial and credit card information. These types of attacks are designed to trick unsuspecting individuals into handing over personal financial information and all dental clinics should be on the lookout for them.

As mentioned in previous blogs, one type of malware – ransomware – has become particularly prominent. Unlike other forms of malware, ransomware doesn’t try to steal information from your database. Instead, it encrypts all the files on a computer’s hard drive and demands payment in return for decryption. Once you have been hit with the ransomware attack, you are forced to choose between having all of your information deleted or paying large sums of money to unlock your data.  

You can learn more about how ransomware has developed, and the unique threat it presents, in this video:

Ransomware is particularly dangerous because it can be difficult to track and cyber criminals are constantly adapting and tweaking their methods for delivering ransomware to your computer.

For this reason, the only real way to protect yourself from a ransomware attack is to make sure that your live data is accessed from cloud servers (rather than an on-site server) and that it gets backed up regularly in the cloud. This will ensure that your data won’t be held hostage due to unauthorized access and that you’ll have reliable copies if you ever need them.

Beware of Identity Theft Data Mining

While we often emphasize the financial costs of hacking, it is especially important for dental clinics to remember that there is another dimension to the problem: because they deal with large amounts of detailed and private information, many hackers will target clinics to mine data they can use for the purposes of identity theft. Consequently, we advise our ABELDent clients to never store sensitive information such as patient credit card numbers on their systems. 

If a cyber criminal gets hold of your patient’s clinical records, this can plunge you into a bureaucratic nightmare for failing to protect confidential healthcare information. Fines and penalties can drain your bank account and interrupt just about every aspect of your life for months on end.

At ABELDent, we have been talking for years about the importance of protecting patient information and recent legal developments only serve to underscore the importance of making sure that dental clinics are taking all necessary precautions to protect against identity theft.

Upgrading to cloud-based practice management software can make a world of difference in this regard, as it’s specifically designed to help healthcare professionals keep their patients’ data safe, while also protecting against data breaches that can lead to potentially ruinous court cases.

How Quickly Can You Bounce Back?

While it’s important to provide as many layers of protection as possible when it comes to cyber security, the chances are high that you will still be the victim of some kind of attack at some point. So, what do you do when that happens?

  1. Having a plan in place is crucial if you want to be able to bounce back quickly from a cyber attack. Evidence shows that clinics that have a system in place are usually able to get back up and running within hours, but only if they have backed their systems up properly and have protocols in place to minimize damage.
  2. Preparing your team so that they know who to call and what to do in the eventuality of a cyber attack is key if you want to make it through an attack unscathed. So take the time to train your staff on the right procedures -and make sure you are regularly backing up your data in secure ways!

Based on the cyber security outlook for 2019 , we’re no closer to preventing the occurrence of cyber crime. In fact, for small businesses like dental clinics, the likelihood of being hit by some kind of cyber attack will probably only increase in the coming year. This is why it’s so important for clinics to take the necessary measures to protect themselves from attacks that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, shut them down permanently and even get them into legal trouble.

In summary, don’t take any chances with your cyber security: backup your data regularly in the cloud. Better still, use a dental practice management system that accesses your live practice data from cloud servers so that it is never stored on-site and susceptible to attacks. You will be much less susceptible to an attack and even in the unlikely event that you are hit, you can recover easily with up-to-date backups. 

Mission, Vision and Value Statements: The Foundation for Achieving Your Practice Objectives

Two years ago I posted the blog Are you Living the Vision, Mission and Values of your Dental Practice?. Today’s blog expands on the theme and helps you answer that question by proving examples of mission, vision and values statements that you can use for your own practice. Once established, you’ll see how they form the foundation for prioritizing your core practice objectives. In a future post, I will show you how to measure your progress in achieving these objectives by using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) derived from practice management software.

Let’s start with your mission statement. It is a concise summary of why you are in business, what makes you unique and the value your practice provides to those you serve. Here’s an example. “ABC Dental is committed to providing our patients with the highest quality dental care in the most comfortable and stress-free environment possible.”

Next, your vision statement adds the “how” of the business and the means of defining success. Without a solid plan that supports the practice values, it is likely to remain just a vision. A vision statement example is, “To operate an efficient, profitable and satisfying practice based on proven management principles”.

Finally, your value statements – they serve as everyday guides for long-term practice success. Here are some examples to consider:

Value Proposition Examples Value Proposition Statements
Quality We provide exceptional dental care and service for maximum value.                             
Commitment We develop relationships that make a positive difference in our patients’ lives.
Full Disclosure We provide a full explanation of all treatment options and the consequences of non-treatment.
Integrity We are personally accountable for delivering on our commitments.
Respect We value our employees, encourage their development and reward their performance.

Once you develop your mission, vision and value statements, you can use them to prioritize the following measurable core practice objectives. Working with dental practices over the years has given me the opportunity to observe their importance:

1. Quality of care

Your commitment to provide high-quality service and achieve patient satisfaction should remain one of your primary objectives. Qualitative Measures: A large number of positive reviews and patient referrals and a high re-appointment and patient retention rate are all indications that you are delivering what you promised.

2. Patient growth

Net patient growth (new patients, fewer lost patients) is vital for any practice. External marketing strategies for attracting new patients and internal marketing for patient retention and referrals are the key to achieve this objective. Qualitative Measures: Net new patients (New patients minus patients lost over the same time period).

3. Production growth

To increase production revenue in the absence of patient growth, unscheduled prescribed treatment and outstanding recalls needs to be diligently tracked. Qualitative Measures: Production per unit of time, average production per patient, average production per appointment, treatment plan conversion rate and percentage of patients on regular recall.

4. Practice sustainability

Too much practice overhead reduces profit margins, whereas too little overhead will choke your practice growth. Consider every major spending decision from a return-on-investment perspective if profitability is one of your main goals. Qualitative Measures: Practice break even point and patient retention rate.

5. Low-stress environment

In many cases, inefficient business systems can be a source of dental practice stress. By implementing well-designed operational systems, improving your practice’s performance becomes easier and more productive, resulting in less stress. Qualitative Measures: Patient wait times, rate of missed appointments and cancellations, operatory downtime and number of patient complaints.

6. Professional satisfaction

Reflecting on why you wanted to become a dentist and what type of dentistry you like to do will help determine where professional satisfaction fits in when prioritizing your objectives. Qualitative Measures: Dental procedure composition and number of positive reviews.

To conclude, effectively using your practice management system to track your progress can help you identify problems before it is too late to recover. It is important to involve the entire dental team when developing your practice statements and objectives. You are all stakeholders and, to achieve practice objectives, everyone needs to participate in improving upon any identified deficiencies.

When to Keep Up with Technology

Dentists are inundated with new technologies that they are told they should implement but when is the right time and how do you decide?

Technology has absolutely revolutionized the field of dentistry, and new tech developments have gone a long way toward making life easier for dentists and hygienists around the world, which of course improves the comfort of patients. In the last generation alone, new breakthroughs in laser technology and digital impressions have made it much easier for dental clinics to offer a higher level of care.

Still, one of the most frequent complaints I hear from dentists and clinicians is how overwhelming it can be to stay on top of new tech developments.

With new breakthroughs happening all the time, and better tools reaching the market every year, it can be hard to know which developments are must-haves and which are not worth investing in – especially since many dentists are already stressed and are primarily focused on attracting new patients and retaining them in an increasingly saturated market.

So how should you decide what technologies to employ and when? Following are a few things to keep in mind when making your decision.

1. Ask Yourself What Problem the New Tech is Solving

The first question you should ask before upgrading to any new tech solution is what problem this new tech going to solve?

New technology should never be adopted for its own sake, but instead it should be adopted precisely because it helps your dental clinic operate more effectively and/or contributes to increased patient satisfaction.

Whether that means adopting automated patient communication or incorporating digital radiography, you should always be able to clearly articulate how this new technology makes your clinic better equipped to meet its quality and customer service goals. 

Essentially, ask yourself whether this investment will fill an immediate or anticipated need. If it doesn’t, it’s safe to pass.

2. Always do Your Research Before Upgrading

New technology gets a lot of hype and I would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes it’s tempting to upgrade to the latest tech simply because it offers new, cutting-edge solutions. Novelty is exciting!

But in order to upgrade strategically and effectively, it’s important to look beyond the hype and do your research. If you are looking for new practice management software, one of the biggest questions facing dental clinics right now revolves around data security and storage. Consider the relative merits of cloud and local server solutions and make an informed decision based on your particular needs.

Since most dental software has now evolved to the point where appointment scheduling and clinical record keeping are relatively comparable between vendors, differentiation has shifted  to enhanced productivity tools such as integrated financial accounting and payment card processing, advanced reporting analytics, and more adaptive administrative and clinical workflows. These are the latest things to put on your comparison checklist.

In short, the best dental software solutions should always save your practice time and energy and give you the information you need to make informed practice management decisions.

Secondly, it is a good idea to make sure the vendor you choose has a good track record of keeping up with the latest developments in the dental industry. As CEO of ABELSoft, I can say that following this philosophy has always been a priority for our company.

3. Think to the Future

The trick is to time your upgrades to guarantee the best value for the longest period of time. Pay attention to patient feedback and to developments in your field with a goal of staying ahead of the curve without wastefully investing in every new technology that comes along.

One way to do this is to use the same framework that you use when considering a new treatment procedure – evidence based dentistry. By applying the same principles you will have much more confidence that the technology will deliver what it promises. 

4. Make Sure to Calculate Your Return on Investment

For example, innovative tools like 3-D intraoral scanning are starting to make difference in how dentists work. With the potential to provide more accurate replicas of the mouth than a traditional mould, they may offer a return on investment through time saved and mistakes averted. However, if you are considering such technology, make sure you consult with colleagues who have already implemented 3-D to get their impressions (no pun intended!).

If you manage a dental clinic, nobody needs to tell you that it is important for you to stay aware of the new technological developments – from improved record-keeping systems to efficient appointment reminders and confirmation communication – that make it possible to run your business better day-to-day.

In summary, whether you are a dental practitioner or office administrator, it pays to approach new technology in a strategic way that will allow you to minimize costs and ensure that you get solutions that can actually help your clinic reach its full potential. 

Dental Team Training: Getting The Best Return on Investment

Think back to when you first decided to you wanted to be a dentist and how you felt when you discovered what education and training was going to be necessary. And, with the rapid pace of change in dentistry today, no doubt you feel the need to continue learning just to keep pace!

Why do I mention this when it may seem so obvious? To urge you to also consider your team’s training needs the benefits you can accrue for your practice by meeting them.

As the CEO of my own team, I can attest to the value of a properly trained staff and how it can improve productivity and employee satisfaction. Other companies have enjoyed the same results.

Yet, despite the validated benefits, it is often tempting to reduce training time in order to cut costs.

Yes training is an investment in time and money but let’s look at the two types of training dental offices can take advantage of and that will pay huge dividends down the road.

First, there is the training necessary for effective individual staff roles. Team members need to know what the expectations are, how to effectively perform their required daily tasks and what skill development is necessary for future improvement/career growth.

Second (and what is naturally dear to my heart), is training that ensures practice management software is used as effectively as possible in the dental practice. Regardless of what system you are using, here are just some of the reasons to arrange software training for your staff:

  1. Improved Practice Performance
    Properly trained staff help you run a successful practice. They are better equipped to use the software to handle patient inquiries, appointment scheduling, transaction processing, and to identify treatment opportunities that lead to increased efficiency and profitability.
  2. Quicker Transition
    In most cases, staff that receive proper training can be up and running with key features much quicker compared to proceeding without any guidance.
  3. Reduced Need for Support
    Staff who already know what to do request support services less often – this saves you time and money.
  4. Fewer Errors
    Properly trained staff make fewer errors. More importantly, errors will not be compounded over time since they are eliminated/avoided at an early stage.
  5. Less Stress
    Well trained staff feel much more confident using the software, are less stressed and are able to remain more focused.
  6. More Efficient Knowledge Transfer
    With your software as the facilitator, you can cross-train staff to be capable in more than one aspect of the practice. This will help keep them interested and prove helpful when setting schedules or filling in for absences. In addition, if more than one person on your team has special skills, you are less vulnerable if someone does leave the practice.
  7. Better Staff Retention
    Quality training is a recruiting, job satisfaction and retention tool. Today’s dental staff want more than a pay cheque. Their focus is toward employment that allows them to learn new skills and reach their full potential.
  8. Appropriate System Configuration
    For new installs, a key component of training involves understanding your practice’s profile, office protocols and workflow requirements and then configuring/using the system accordingly. When this is done properly at the start it boosts overall efficiency and can prevent many headaches down the road.

In summary, proper training is essential for your staff to reach full potential and capitalize on the full potential of your dental software. So book your next training session – not just a one-time thing – staff training is a long-term investment!

Your Unique Value Proposition: The Key to Practice Differentiation

Here’s a little experiment to try: open up Google maps on your browser and type “dental practice” or “dentist” into the search box. If you live in a medium-to-large sized city – or even if you live near one – you’ll likely see dozens of little flags popping up, each of them indicating a particular clinic.

Patients today have many options, and if you want to increase the number of patients choosing your practice over the others, you need to think carefully about what makes your clinic different from all the others.

In business-speak, this is called the “Unique Value Proposition” or UVP. A UVP is what distinguishes you from the competition and it’s what keeps patients coming back even if another clinic might be more conveniently located. In fact, if your UVP is compelling enough, it will inspire patients to go out of their way to visit you.

I’ve written about the importance of a well-articulated UVP in the past, but today I wanted to explore some of the specific things to keep in mind when crafting your UVP and communicating it to your staff.

1. A Good UVP Solves a Problem

The first point to make about a UVP is also one of the most obvious: a good UVP tells a patient how you can solve a particular problem that they have. For example, if they are afraid of going to the dentist your UVP should explain how your clinic offers the friendliest, gentlest service in your region.

2. Make Sure You Communicate a Specific Value

As marketing expert Olga Mizrahi explains in this video, your UVP should emphasize the unique quality that places you above the competition – it isn’t about where you’re better, it’s about where you’re the best.

This isn’t always easy to do, and one of the reasons why identifying your UVP is a valuable process is because it can also help you set goals around how you can improve your dental practice management.

As an example, if you believe your UVP is convenience you should ask yourself and your staff whether you are doing everything you can to offer the greatest convenience possible to your clients.  Are you using cutting-edge tools like ABELDent patient reminder software to make it easier for patients to confirm, change, request or be reminded about required appointments?

It’s important to remember that your UVP needs to be backed up by concrete examples that illustrate what makes you better than the competition. 

3. Appeal to Your Patients: Keep it Simple!

A common problem that many businesses (not just dental practices) face when going through visioning exercises is boiling ideas down into clear, accessible language. If your UVP isn’t simple and easy for your patients to understand, then it’s probably not going to keep them coming back.

As noted earlier, the best UVP solves a problem, so when it comes to communicating your UVP to your patients, you should focus on the way your clinic makes their lives easier. If your UVP is about the quality of personalized care you offer, then emphasizing how that makes a difference is important.

Ideally, you will want to avoid both being too vague or too specific. ABELDent software includes a lot of advanced patient communication tools. This allows clinics that use our software to keep track of each patient’s particular preferences and needs and have quick access to this information during the point of patient contact. But when communicating this as a UVP, it is important not to get bogged down in the details. Instead, emphasize the fact that your clinic uses preferred communication tools like text and email to make sure you never lose track of an appointment.

4. Remind Them Why They Love You

At the end of the day, a UVP exists to remind your patients (and yourself) what makes you different from the competition and to explain in concrete terms why this is.

For example, at ABELDent we understand that there are other kinds of dental software clinics can use so we strive to show our customers how ABELDent dental software provides a more integrated, extensive and usable platform – one that can be tailored to their specific needs. A good UVP should make a clear case as to why your clinic’s services are unique and special.

Because a UVP is about articulating what makes you different there is always a chance that, during the process of mapping out your UVP, you will conclude that your practice isn’t doing enough to separate itself from the competition. If this happens, don’t be afraid to adopt a new plan that will help your dental clinic stand out from the crowd and give your staff the motivation to strive to offer the best service possible!