Getting Down to Business: Boost Your Dental Practice Financials

I have written in this space about the importance of managing the performance of your dental practice through analysis of cold, hard empirical data. Facts rule. Numbers don’t lie.

At the end of the day, after you have demonstrated clinical excellence, professional achievement and patient satisfaction, the success of your business comes down to financial viability. I may be preaching to the choir: Rarely if ever do I come across a Dentist or an Office Manager who is not interested in improving productivity and profitability. Yet the nagging questions persist:

What should we be measuring?
Where do we start? Where do we sit today? Why?
How do we accurately monitor results and progress?
What is the industry benchmark?
What specific steps can I take to improve and grow?

For us at ABELDent, the answers unfold within our Practice Management By Objectives™ methodology. We have developed a series of KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – to guide your progress. The foundation of the program is the fact that all the data you need to identify and monitor your vital numbers resides within your existing ABEL software database; it’s as simple as generating the relevant reports and performing some quick calculations.

Here are eight quantifiable measures that will get you well on your way to analyzing, managing and ultimately improving your financial performance.

Key Performance Indicator Chart

If you find that your own numbers are below industry benchmarks, consider some of these short- and long-term initiatives:

Improve cash flow

  • Be clear in your communication with patients regarding financial terms and guidelines. Always inform before you perform
  • For costly procedures, ask for a deposit or upfront payment
  • Offer financing plans; limit payment plans to 60 days
  • Accept credit and debit cards
  • Use electronic claim processing
  • Provide statements and/or do regular collections follow-ups
  • Run frequent, regular A/R reports
  • Track patient payment patterns and address any issues proactively

Increase revenue

  • Focus on higher end dentistry
  • Monitor and improve case acceptance
  • Pursue outstanding treatment recommendations
  • Raise fees

Decrease overhead

  • Source less costly supplies, equipment and services
  • Evaluate all purchases based on ROI
  • Increase productivity of staff through training

Build your patient base

  • Ask your patients for referrals
  • Initiate or reinforce marketing efforts
  • Track the effectiveness of each marketing activity

I hope this detailed information is helpful, or that at least it gets you thinking about delivering more focus on your bottom line. Financial KPIs are just one of the facets of the strategic practice management we champion. I invite you to continue this conversation by attending one of our upcoming webinars or by reaching out to our team at any time.

Is there Room for Improvement in your Practice Productivity?

“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Do you ever revert to this time-tested pearl of wisdom in your dental practice?

Are those busy people the same ones who have taken the time to fully understand the ins and outs and full potential of your practice management software? The ones who know exactly where to find the information you need on the spot? I’ll bet they are.

The more I speak to Dentists and Managers about office productivity and workflow efficiency, the more I feel the need to champion the critical impact of knowledge on practice performance and growth. Mastery of your software builds confidence, and proficiency with organizational aids like ABELDent’s Patient Manager and Treatment Manager can make the difference between an average and a superior employee.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. So what’s the differentiator between “can do”and “no way”?

Top performers don’t necessarily work harder – they work smarter.

I came across this conclusion in an article by Santi Arnaiz summarizing a recent study by leadership training firm VitalSmarts. A few highlights:

    • Employees rated by their managers as 9s and 10s on a 10-point performance scale are not only three times more valuable than the average employee, they are responsible for 61% of the total work done in their departments.
    • 83% of managers and 77% of peers say these top performers are less stressed than their coworkers.
    • Asked to describe the work habits of these staff, respondents used these phrases most commonly:

    So how can you make all your workers your best workers? Help them embrace a few productivity practices.

Down the final fiscal stretch

Now that summer vacations have wound down and the annual back-to-school routines have been played out, the beginning of Fall may be a good time to settle back and refocus on how your practice is performing.

Where have you excelled and where have you fallen short of expectations? How do you determine what you need to do to change course if necessary, to reach your goals and grow your business?

We have all heard the adage “If it can be measured, it can be managed.” So true.

It starts with having a routine in place to make this review as effortless as possible. You’ll need to establish the practice benchmarks to target and the appropriate measures to be put in place to track your progress. If you’re a member of the ABELDent community, you’ll know I’m referring to Key Performance Indicators – KPIs – that are the heart of our Practice Management By Objectives methodology.

Defined as “a set of quantifiable measures used to compare performance over a specific period of time”, clearly articulated KPIs allow business managers to keep their finger on the pulse of the practice.

During a seminar we recently hosted with Microsoft Canada, the discussion of KPIs was a popular topic. It resonated with the audience that strong, well-defined KPIs contribute to better decision-making, more appropriate goal-setting, resource optimization and, importantly for many, a more objective, quantifiable valuation of a practice.

We walked through a few examples of how to develop KPIs that support specific practice objectives and demonstrated how they can be produced from within ABELDent software. Our expert then showed how to develop benchmark targets based on the practice profile and goals. These benchmarks can in turn be compared to actual KPI results to determine gaps in performance and the appropriate operational adjustments necessary to improve results.

This is another example of how a project that takes a small amount of time and thought can lead to increased efficiency, tighter management and better ROI on your practice management software.

It’s the best way to accurately examine how your practice has performed in the past, understand where it is today and help predict – and control – what it could do by year end.

A truly rewarding business trip

As a regular follower of my blog and member of the ABELSoft community, you probably know that my company has long been a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. It is definitely an honour to be invited to their annual premier event for partners around the globe, this year newly titled Microsoft Inspire.

When I boarded the plane en route to Washington, DC with my colleagues, I had no idea that we would end up on centre stage at the main event just a few days later.

Indeed, there we were during the awards banquet standing in front of a big screen announcing our company’s award as the 2016/2017 Microsoft Dynamics ISV of the Year for Canada!

This level of recognition is momentous.

While we have always believed in the power and value of Microsoft’s products and services, we worked in extra-close collaboration with them over the past year to optimize the use of Dynamics 365 for ABELDent users.

As a result, ABELDent software is now integrated with Dynamics 365 for Financials. We’re even providing a free license to customers to underscore the value of better and faster service and richer enhancements. Today’s ABELDent users can manage their practices with real-time business information at their fingertips:

  • Advanced analytics
  • Integrated accounting, clinical and financial reporting
  • Streamlined Human Resource management
  • Patient acquisition and retention management
  • Inventory management

Partnering with Microsoft helps us maintain our pivotal role in the digital transformation of the dental practice. We’ve always known that our innovative solutions and services exceed customer expectations, help them surpass business goals  and deliver unparalleled value.

Clearly, Microsoft agrees.

It’s the most stressful time of the year… inside and outside your dental practice

Well here we are in December again – already. The time of year when every one of us is celebrating something. The diverse tapestry of our society gives us exposure to so many wonderful traditions, it’s tempting to want to experience everything.

So we can all get a tad stressed with all the chores and commitments that accompany the festivities. You, your patients and your staff… we’re pulled in many directions.

Some stress is positive: daily deadlines and stretch goals give a sense of productivity and achievement. But how do you lessen the negative stress and carry on business as usual?

Here are a few pointers I’ve assembled:

  1. Clear communication is one of the best ways to alleviate stress. Whether or not we like what we hear, knowing the facts removes anxiety.
  2. Use team meetings to discuss what is working and what could work better. Shared problem solving is proven to build accountability, buy-in and purpose.
  3. Having performance benchmarks in place – Key Performance Indicators – makes it straightforward to monitor and track progress and help everyone know where they stand.
  4. In most cases, anxiety is caused not by an event, but by how we choose to deal with it. Poorly handled stress is a chief cause of workplace illness. So train your team on how to recognize stress and react: the basic techniques of counting to ten, taking a walk, focusing on facts, practising empathy – they all can help. Remembering that others are also under stress, and don’t get up in the morning planning to irritate you.
  5. Understand that different people have different ways of managing stress. In today’s diverse, multi-generational workforce, there are many differing styles, priorities and motivators. Men and women handle stress differently, so it’s good to recognize the need to distract or retreat (men) against the need to talk and be listened to (women).
  6. More than at any other time of year, staff appreciate a bit of flexibility in their schedule in December. Who wouldn’t relish a 10:00 am trip to the mall on a weekday? This can be do-able if the team is willing to bank hours and cover for each other as they take their turn. Time is often the best gift you can give.
  7. At the risk of preaching to the choir… stay healthy. Encourage flu shots, hand washing and liberal doses of hand sanitizer for your team and your patients.

There’s never a bad time to work on reducing workplace stress within your dental practice, every day of the year! I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Things every dental practice receptionist needs to know: Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules

Every new patient starts out as a stranger. So we need to set aside the rule our parents taught us: it is okay – even wise – to talk to strangers.

How are new callers to your practice treated? Do they receive a warm, welcoming greeting and patient, empathetic service… or are they put on hold and made to feel as though they’re interrupting someone’s too-busy day?

Because we rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, our front line staff must be equipped, trained and coached to be a one-person welcoming committee. Consider these techniques:

1. Put a Smile in your Voice
One of our consultants told me that many years ago, as Supervisor of a Hotline Centre with a major insurance company, she had this little slogan affixed to every telephone handset. Corny as it may sound, a caller can tell when you are smiling. Good advice does not go out of style.

2. Perfect the Art of Listening
I frequently quote this line from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating”. Listening carefully to your callers’ introductory words will guide the conversation and help you set a positive tone from the outset.

3. You’ve Got Mail!
An email should be treated like a phone call: respond immediately! Train your staff to consider incoming patient and prospect email as urgent. “Parking” for later action is a bad habit. Instead, surprise an emailer with immediate conversation. Q and A Volleyball is another bad habit. Offer your earliest appointment with your first response: “We could see you as early as Tuesday at 10:00 am. Could that work for you?”

4. Be Prepared with a Front Line FAQ
Good service providers are definitely friendly. As important, though, is knowledge and the ability to accurately answer Frequently Asked Questions. A caller’s first question is usually the deal breaker: How soon can you see me? Are you good with children? Can you direct-bill my insurance company? What’s the earliest/latest appointment possible?

Beyond the first questions, staff should be able to recognize common symptoms, ask relevant questions to fully understand the client’s issue, confidently explain basic procedures, describe your services, and discuss insurance details.

5. Aim to Book an Appointment On the Spot
Like the old saying goes… Strike while the iron is hot! Your goal should be to get an appointment scheduled. Offering an appointment date that falls within 5 days increases the chance of getting the caller to join your practice.

Then, make the data collection process foolproof by creating and using a checklist: name, address and phone number; email address including permission to use it; reason for call/services of interest; preferred appointment times. (Better yet, take advantage of the new patient booking feature built into ABELDent!)

It is good practice to have a back-up available to manage callers if reception is busy with patients. Always ask permission to put someone on hold and then check back quickly. If the caller cannot be immediately served, promise to call back and do so as soon as possible. Sitting on hold or waiting through transfers can feel like forever to a caller and lead to a hang-up.

Some people may advise that you ask the prospect how they found you. That is definitely good information to have, as it helps you measure and refine your marketing efforts. But do remember that this detail is for your benefit, not theirs. Respect that the caller’s time may be limited; you can always probe later.

When an appointment is scheduled, close the call by telling the caller that “the team is looking forward to meeting you”.

6. Keep Track of your Callers
If the caller is not ready to schedule right away, by offering an appointment you have opened the door to ask for their contact information and permission to stay in touch.

Maintain a database of these prospects. Converting your strangers into patients may require a few calls or emails, maybe even a heads-up when you are offering any specials to your patient base. We all need reminders – some more than others.

The key is to drive home the importance of genuinely welcoming callers, showing interest, offering an immediate appointment and building relationships. I can still hear the words of a wise supervisor from early in my career: “A ringing telephone is not interrupting your work. It is your work.”

Don’t be a stranger.