Considering New Dental Software? Tips On Getting The Best Fit!

Whether you’re choosing dental practice management software for the first time or looking to replace your current system, it may seem like a daunting task. There are many choices and at the end of the process how do you know you’ve made the right choice until well after implementation?  And, if you’re tempted to skip the necessary due diligence, be aware that:

  • It is one of the most important practice decisions you will make
  • It has a huge impact on the ability to run an efficient and profitable practice
  • The cost of a bad decision can be substantial in more than just the cash outlay
  • It is more than just a purchase – it is about establishing a long-term and trusting relationship with a vendor
  • There is no one best system for every practice – the key is to find the system that best meets your goals, objectives and future growth plans

Let’s keep it simple to start. By looking at just four main decision criteria, you will be well on your way to narrowing your choices and significantly increasing the probability of finding the best solution for your practice. Consider these important factors: 

Vendor

  • Track Record/Years in business: A vendor’s length of time in business tells you a lot about their stability, customer loyalty and ability to adapt to changes in technology to meet customer expectations over an extended period.       
  • Integrity – track record of trustworthiness: Check with colleagues about their experiences dealing with their dental software vendor and ask whether expectations are meet in a timely fashion.   
  • Scope of resources: Vendors with a large staff have the resources for new product development and comprehensive customer support whereas smaller vendors are typically spread thin in these areas.
  • Number of customers: Software vendors with large customer bases have the financial resources to invest in product development and the capacity to gather a wide range of user feedback that informs development decisions. Smaller/newer vendors are more likely to spend their limited resources attracting new customers.
  • Customer retention rate/satisfaction rating: A vendor’s customer retention rate is a good reflection of overall customer satisfaction. Contact multiple practices to get an overall feel of their level of satisfaction of the software they are using.
  • Positive reviews and number of referrals: Check out dental software reviews but be wary that many reviews are “sponsored” or “planted” and therefore are not likely to be completely objective. 

Software Application

  • Scope (breadth) and Quality (depth) of features: It is easy to get caught in the feature comparison trap and simply conclude that the solution with the most features is the best for your office. It is wise to focus on the features you need and evaluate how well they actually work.      
  • Ease of Use and Workflows: For high priority functions, determine how many steps each takes, whether the workflows are intuitive and whether the net results meet your expectations.
  • Degree of Integrations offered: Dental software vendors typically offer a number of third-party applications that have varying degrees of integration that can contribute to increased administrative and clinical efficiency. They include imaging software, accounting software, payment card processing, reputation (review) management, and advanced reporting/productivity tools. Determine which ones are important to you and how well they integrate with the dental software.

Support/Value-added Services

  • Consistency and quality of upgrades: Updates should consist of improvements to existing features as well as new functionality rather than simply “bug” fixes.
  • Training: Look for a vendor that has the resources to offer a variety of training methods including onsite, classroom and webinar based, and what training materials are available such as tutorials and videos. The number and experience level of trainers on staff is also a good indication of the quality of training your team will receive.
  • Customer support: Ask for audited customer support statistics and determine whether the support department is sufficiently staffed with enough qualified people to support the size of the customer base. Check out the type of support plans offered and the scope of service hours (24/7/365 is ideal) to see whether they meet your requirements. 
  • Customer engagement/Patient Portal: Review the vendor’s customer newsletters, blogs, eBooks, training materials, etc. to gauge how informed they will keep you if you become a customer. Ask whether they offer a customer portal.  

Platform/Security

  • System platform: Most dental practice management systems are local server based where the dental practice management software and patient data both reside on site at the dental practice. However, due to data security advantages, cloud-based dental systems are starting to appear on the market. For these systems, practice data resides on cloud servers where it is kept protected from cyberattacks, break-ins and natural disasters. Vendors who provide platform choices give you the most flexibility.
  • Cloud backup services: If you choose a local server solution, be sure that they offer a cloud-based backup service so backups are not stored on-site and subject to undue risk. 
  • Role based data/function access: For added security look for dental software that can enable data and function restrictions based on user-defined roles.  
  • Audit Trails/Privacy Compliance:  The dental software should also include the functionality to report on changes in data including edited or deleted financial records as well as comply with regulatory body requirements such as CASL

Final Thoughts

  • Make a software short list and see each one in “live” action
  • Evaluate features based on ease of use, intuitiveness, workflow adaptability and functional depth
  • Compare long-term costs – not just up-front costs when evaluating return on investment
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of vendor track record and customer support
  • Choose a software vendor with the intent of developing a long-term relationship
  • Remember – lack of due diligence during the process of making an original software purchase is the main reason that dental offices wind up unsatisfied – and then have to go looking for new solutions

Building a Dental Team for Practice Success

Building a great dental practice means putting together the right team of people. I know from my own experience just how difficult this can be: not only do you need to find candidates with the right skills for the job, but you also need to find people who will be a good fit and who share your vision for what good dental care means!

I’ve explored the topic of building a better dental team in this space before, but given how important this is to the overall success of your practice, I thought it might be helpful to share a few more outside-the-box considerations when looking to build your team.

Don’t Just Look for Competencies, Look for People

One common mistake many small businesses make when hiring new team members is to focus on the candidate’s credentials to the exclusion of everything else. Obviously, when hiring new staff you want to make sure they have the training, knowledge, and expertise to do the work – but you also want someone who will fit in well with your workplace culture, and has the soft skills to help your clinic thrive.

People with the following soft skills will help improve efficacy and efficiency, while contributing to a positive atmosphere:

  • Self Confidence – From receptionists to hygienists, employees who exude confidence contribute to a sense of calm and trust throughout the clinic.
  • Compassion – Going to the dentist is the second most common phobia in the world, so when you work in dentistry, you need to bring compassion and a soothing demeanour to the job to help patients through the process.
  • Attention to detail – Being detail-oriented and having a mind for the little considerations goes a long way in a dental practice. Missing small details can lead to scheduling conflicts, and in the chair, it can mean that patients may not understand the rational for treatment and/or may have unrealistic expectations about the outcome.
  • Time management skills – In any job, it’s essential to use time wisely, but it is especially important in a dental clinic, as everything from scheduling dental procedures efficiently to lab case tracking to patient follow-up requires managing time efficiently.

Many recruiters have noted that often the most “impressive” candidate ends up not being the best fit, because the things that make a candidate look good on paper and in an interview – extroversion, charm, and an elite education – don’t necessarily mean they will perform well in the context of your clinic. 

Look for Workers Who Can Grow Alongside Your Clinic

Hiring a new team member is an investment, and just like with any other investment, you want to make sure they will grow alongside your business.

This is why it’s important to ask candidates lots of questions about their career goals and overall direction. Someone might seem like a great employee, but if they are only considering a short-term commitment, it may be more advantageous to find someone else looking for long term stability.

Invest in Onboarding

Finding good people is only the first part of building your team. Once you’ve made your hires, you also need to take the time to integrate them into your team. All too often, promising new employees are given a cursory tour of the clinic, introduced quickly to the rest of the staff and then thrown into the deep end.

In my recent post about dental staff training I noted that training new staff offers a great return on investment when done properly. But it isn’t just inexperienced or junior staff who require training: even people who have been working in the industry for years require some investment in onboarding if they are to gel with your staff and become productive members of your team.  

Onboarding should involve going over technical tools that team members will be expected to use like practice management software, automated patient communication and digital radiography, but it should also be designed to ensure that new hires know where they can go to find help and support when they have questions. 

Investing extra time and energy upfront will pay off down the road in the form of fewer errors and less turnover.

Engagement is the Key to Reducing Turnover

Building a dental team isn’t just about making good hires – it’s also about retaining them (just like patient retention is also critical for practice success!)  Once you’ve got your dream team in place, you’ll want to hold on to it. Experts have been saying for years that the healthcare industry has a major turnover problem – industry-wide turnover is hovering at twenty percent.

High turnover rates are bad for morale and threaten your bottom line. It can cost thousands of dollars to replace an experienced employee – losing good workers comes with a serious price tag!

Working at a dental practice can be stressful, dentists and hygienists are held to high performance standards every day, which is why it is important for owners to make special efforts to ensure their team feels engaged, happy and fulfilled in their work.

Building a strong team for your dental clinic takes time and effort, but securing the right people for your growing team is always going to be a good investment. Putting together a sensitive, collegial, and patient-focussed team will pay dividends in terms of patient loyalty and long-term success. 

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.

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!

Paradigm Shifts in Dental Software Have Proven to Add Real Value: What’s Next?

As a company that pioneered software for the healthcare profession – yes, we are talking the 70’s – we’ve seen a number of paradigm shifts over the decades in response to an increasingly complex and competitive environment. Let’s quickly review what’s become the standard in dental practice management and look at the next big advances that you can use to your advantage.

First – a bit of history
When we started serving dental offices, our software solution focused on maintaining accurate patient records and reducing the drudgery of billing and financial record keeping – essentially, it eliminated the need for time consuming, manual systems such as One-Write pegboard. Fortunately, dental practices were able to transition from these manual systems relatively quickly and pain free.

Next came the focus on recall and treatment plan management so patients didn’t fall through the cracks and electronic submission of insurance claims to save time and reduce errors. These paradigm shifts were reasonably easy to develop and implement.

The next big paradigm shift was electronic scheduling which proved to be much more challenging. Early versions looked too foreign for most users, had limited functionality and were cumbersome to use due to technical constraints at the time. However, as computer technology advanced, so did electronic appointment books to the point where manual scheduling systems have become completely impractical.

What did we learn that is helpful going forward?
The lesson learned was that, if the rational for a paradigm shift is sound, the benefits will far outweigh any temporary discomfort.

Unfortunately, many practices are still learning this and have not yet capitalized on more recent paradigm shifts in practice automation. One example of this is hesitancy to move to a fully paperless practice by replacing the paper patient chart with an electronic version. This delay is likely due to a number of misconceptions about the costs, benefits and difficulty.

What are other paradigm shifts that can benefit your practice?
How about automated appointment management that’s proven to reduce no shows and boost practice productivity?

There is also increased awareness of the need to track and make use of objective practice metrics for practice monitoring, and better decision making. The best practice management systems produce key performance indicators (KPIs) which quantitatively measure your practice performance in various areas against established targets.

What are the takeaways?

  • If you haven’t gone paperless there’s no reason to delay any longer – the technology has been validated and the benefits are numerous.
  • Automated patient communication tools and practice metric tracking are important things to consider – they boost practice success.
  • Whatever the next dental practice management paradigm shift proves to be, implement it. If you don’t, sooner or later your competition will.

Things Every Dental Receptionist Needs to Know: Part 2

Customer service at your dental practice begins and ends with your receptionist. The receptionist is the first person potential patients will talk to, and is likely the last person they’ll speak with before they leave your office.

A good receptionist makes patients feel completely welcomed and at home, transforming patients’ healthcare experience and getting them excited to take care of their oral health. On the other hand, a bad experience at the reception desk can leave patients feeling anonymous, uncared for and reluctant to come back.

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post outlining a few of the things every receptionist should know if they want to provide patients with the kind of positive experience that will turn strangers into regular patients.

Today, I’ve updated that list with a few new points for receptionists to keep in mind if they want to make patients feel at home immediately, particularly by taking advantage of current dental practice technology.

1. Don’t Let Patients Fall Through the Cracks

One of the most important roles receptionists play is making sure that patients book regular appointments and follow through with the appointments they have made. This should always be done gently and professionally, in a way that lets patients know that your clinic cares about their well being and wants to help them take care of their oral health.

Unfortunately, it can be easy for patients who chose not to pre-book their recall appointment to fall through the cracks, which is why you should make sure your receptionists have access to web tools that make tracking appointments easy – such as ABELDent’s Treatment Manager.

Much more than simple patient reminder software, the Treatment Manager keeps track of relevant booking information and creates contact dates for each required appointment, streamlining the booking process and allowing receptionists to focus more on face-to-face patient care.

2. Make Patients Feel Individually Valued

No one wants to feel like a number, and one very small but very important thing receptionists can do to make patients feel individually valued is to keep track of little details about their lives, work, and booking preferences.

For example, if a patient works nights, has children, or frequently travels for work, you’ll want to make sure that when you call them about bookings, they aren’t repeating the same information every time. Appointment scheduling software that includes options for making notes about patients’ preferences is the best way to provide each patient with personalized service that will make them feel genuinely valued.

The healthcare industry is different from other industries in some important ways, but receptionists need to remember that patients’ expectations of your dental practice are shaped by the customer service treatment they receive in other industries – such as their favourite restaurants and spas. If you want to make patients feel truly cared for, you’ll need to offer comparable service.

3. Make the Most of the Tools at Your Disposal

A big part of any receptionist’s job is entering data, remaining aware of scheduling changes, and managing patient preferences. This is a lot of work and the more patients you have the more difficult it can be to stay on top of everything.

This is why we designed ABELDent software to optimize workflows and system navigation. While learning new software systems may seem daunting at first, it is important for receptionists to remember that these tools will save huge amounts of time down the road. A few hours invested in mastering the software today will save days of work in the future!

4. Accurate Data Starts at the Receptionist’s Desk

There’s an old saying in business that if you want to know how a company or clinic is really doing, you should talk to the receptionist. Receptionists have their fingers on the pulse of their organization, and they’re the ones who can tell you whether bookings are up or down and which patients are choosing to re-book.

As an executive, I know that my entire operation relies on dedicated front-line staff members who are keeping track of the information I need in order to make informed decisions about the direction of my company.

Without solid data, dental practice management is a guessing game. That’s why it is so important for receptionists to have the right reporting and analytics tools to pass that data on to the dentists and practice managers.

ABELDent’s analytic tools give any practice the means to monitor demographic trends and practice growth, while also mapping productivity and scheduling efficiency.

Your reception team needs to stay on top of this technology in order to maximize productivity – after all, if the data isn’t being entered correctly, even the best dental management software won’t be able to make a difference.

Fortunately, ABELDent’s distinctive software tools can equip any receptionist, empowering them to offer superstar service to each and every one of your patients.

4 Skills That Make Effective Healthcare Leaders

No matter what your particular area of specialization, as a healthcare professional you wear a lot of different hats. If you run a dental clinic, a lot is required of you – in addition to knowing everything there is to know about dental health, you are also tasked with making your patients feel welcome and cared for, being a supportive boss to your staff, and navigating the healthcare economy as a small business owner.

I know first hand how difficult it can be to keep all of these different balls in the air. I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with dentists who feel they weren’t nearly as well prepared as they should have been for the business side of the job. Most of the concerns I hear come down to one particular thing: leadership.

As a dentist, you are the owner of your practice and a main service provider to your patients. But you are also a business leader who needs to have a vision and plan that addresses the challenges of today’s competitive landscape and ensures that your dental practice sees long-term growth.

This can be a scary responsibility, especially for those who are just getting started or have had little business training. The good news is that leadership is a skill that can be cultivated over time. In fact, as a business owner I feel it’s a skill I’m still developing and continually working on improving!

If you want to become a better leader for your dental team, here are four skills you can start sharpening today that will help you thrive in your leadership role:

1. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is an important skill for any healthcare professional to develop, but for dentists it is indispensable. As many as one fifth of North Americans avoid going to the dentist due to dental anxiety, so if you want your practice to succeed, you need to be able to empathize with your patients’ anxieties and concerns – even if they seem irrational to you!

It isn’t just your patients you need to empathize with, though; you also need to model a sensitive and caring approach to healthcare service for your staff. Staying positive at work can be hard for any staff member when the patients are sometimes resistant to the services being offered, so it’s important to support your team and make sure they also have the resources to thrive. This will help ensure that they offer the best care to patients.

2. Communication

No dentist can serve patients well without strong communication skills. Everything from making the patient feel comfortable to explaining treatment options requires a strong sense for how to make complex information understandable.

But as business owners, dentists also need to develop good lines of communication with their staff. As the video below explains, communication is actually the essence of what a leader does. If you aren’t communicating effectively, you aren’t leading effectively.

3. Technological Management

In a modern-day clinic, everything from patient records to appointment schedules are kept digitally, and as the person in charge of ensuring that the whole operation runs smoothly, you’ll want to make sure that you have the right technological tools in place.

At ABELDent, we understand how challenging this can be: after all, you’re a health professional, not a technology expert! That’s why we’ve designed dental practice management software that offers a complete and secure integrated solution that covers appointment scheduling, clinical charting, treatment management, image management, records, electronic claims, and financial and insurance needs.

These tools make it easy to streamline your entire practice – which gives you more time to focus on the hands-on elements of your practice. Explaining to patients how you are using the latest validated technology for diagnostics and treatment planning enhances your credibility and also sends a message to patients that you are a leader in your field.

4. Relationship Development

Being able to inspire others is at the heart of leadership, and this means fostering good relationships with those around you. From the patient putting their health in your hands to the hygienist relying on your guidance, you need to be able to develop strong, mutually respectful relationships with the people you interact with every day.

Relationship development skills can be learned, and every dentist can develop strategies that will help them become an effective leader in their workplace. Remember, if you put a little bit of work into making people feel valued and listened to, you will get a lot back in terms of loyalty, trust and dedication.

Dentistry is a science, an art and a business and dentists need to develop the skills to succeed as business owners in addition to honing their skills as healthcare providers.

In summary, the best leaders are constant learners and cultivating emotional intelligence, strong communication skills, adaptive decision-making, and managing the technology to run a digital dental office will help you become a true leader in your field.