The path to practice profitability can lead you in many different directions depending on your type of practice, your long-term vision, and your team’s skills and interests. In fact, there are so many different ways to build a successful dental practice, it can feel overwhelming when trying to decide which path is right for you. However, a few commonly held beliefs about practice profitability will fail to yield the intended results. This is a look at the truth behind 3 of the most popular profitability myths.
Myth #1: "Cost cutting is the key to surviving economic uncertainty."
The news today thrives on fear as a way to cut through the clutter and resonate with an audience. When we hear about economic uncertainty, rising costs, and a potential recession, we can quite naturally respond and operate from a place of fear. The problem is that fear is never going to inspire us to perform at our highest level. In dental practices, operating from a place of fear can lead us to drastic cost-cutting.
While a regular review of practice expenses and opportunities for efficiency is appropriate, an impulsive response that causes you to cut team benefits, eliminate perks that contribute to your patient experience or operate more leanly overall will have ramifications on your practice that could end up being even more impactful than the economic environment itself. Don’t cut costs that place your relationships with your team and your patients at risk, they are critical to your success. The reality is that it takes far less effort for most practices to increase profitability by becoming more efficient or more productive than it does for them to even slightly reduce their expenses.
Truth: Invest in yourself to grow your profitability in good times and bad.
Expanding your skillset to add higher dollar procedures to your practice offering and reduce the number of procedures you refer out will quickly add to your bottomline. Identify procedures that are a good fit for you and your team and commit to learning and integrating them into your workflow. One of the easiest to incorporate is clear aligner therapy. There’s high patient demand, great support from aligner manufacturers, and it offers a tremendous boost to your productivity per hour. It’s also a great way to better engage and utilize your team members since you can delegate much of the work. If your practice is experiencing a slowdown, that’s an opportunity for you and your team to start the continuing education needed to offer a new service to your patients.
Myth #2: "Go big or go home."
Big ideas are important, and they certainly have their place, but implementing them in a dental practice can also be extremely disruptive. We work with a lot of practices that are unhappy with the impact of insurance reimbursements on their overhead and profitability and are considering dropping participation in all plans. Going out of network may be right for some practices, but it also requires a significant change in marketing strategy, patient retention strategy, and possibly even your long-term practice vision. These types of major changes take considerable time to implement and deliver results, and may cause profitability to decrease in the short-term. While dentists are often looking for big fundamental changes within their practice to save costs and improve profitability, we’ve found that it's not always the massive changes that have the most impact.
In fact, we’ve seen that little hinges swing big doors. If you know the right things to do for your practice, it's often the little things that add up when repeated with patient after patient, day after day, that make the big difference in your profitability. The trick is being able to identify the small things that are right for your practice (or working with a consultant who can help you do so) and obtaining the skills and resources to be able to successfully make those small changes. Focusing efforts on one small thing at a time and doing that very thing very, very well, can have a greater impact than trying to make a major practice change.
Truth: Change, big or small, requires systems to succeed.
One of the common things that we see when we study really successful companies is that you must have systematic processes in place to improve efficiency and be positioned to scale your operation. Toyota is a great example of this; they used to have one to two people that would work on a car, putting the car together from start to finish. They learned over time that when you have systematic processes in place that support a team approach, you're much more efficient. Instead of one or two people working on that car, a team of people, each specialized in their specific tasks, can work together to produce a car in significantly less time.
We can seethe same productivity impact in dentistry when systems are deployed to support teamwork and efficiency. While what we do in the dental practice is very different from manufacturing, we can still take away valuable lessons in delivering care efficiently. Systems also prevent your operations from grinding to a halt in the absence of one person. Turnover and team changes are an unfortunate reality and many practices that we evaluate rely so completely on one individual, that if she/he were to leave, the practice could easily fall into chaos. Processes and systems can help to prevent that, especially when combined with cross-training. When a team member learns something and is good at it, they often become the one that does that task all the time. Instead, we recommend that person become the teacher that helps other team members learn the skill so that over time you create a broad-based skill set across your entire team. This can help to prevent the loss of any one team member from creating chaos or stress for the remaining team.
Myth #3: The dental profession isn’t what it used to be.
We hear a lot of talk right now that dentists are overworked, unhappy, unprofitable and that hygiene providers are disrespected, underpaid, undervalued.In reality, this is a mindset that can become self-perpetuating, but that is in no way inevitable. In fact, we often see just the opposite with both dentists and hygienists having record success, record productivity numbers, serving more patients, taking better care of their communities, and finding true fulfillment in the incredible profession that is dentistry.
It is true that dentistry and dental hygiene are not without frustrations. Reimbursements going down and expenses going up can weigh heavily on people's minds. However, you can also see that the number of hours worked per week for both professions is declining while compensation is holding strong. Like other professions, we have to evolve with the times to both maintain our success and avoid burnout. Consider what you are doing to challenge yourself, to embrace and offer new procedures and new services to your patients.
We've been teaching the win-win philosophy for a long time. The first win is that whatever we do as a practice, we must continually serve our patients better. Therefore, the first and most important win is the patient. The second win is the team. When we focus on supporting each other, helping each other get better, learning and expanding our capabilities, and improving our technology, all of those things reignite the team’s passion for patient care. If we do a great job with patients and we do a great job with the team, the practice is going to win as well.
Truth: Delegation is the key to avoiding burnout.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, increased delegation or greater utilization of your team actually reduces burn-out and increases job satisfaction. Delegation should not be viewed as increasing the team’s workload, but as allowing them to grow their skills, advance their careers, and do more work that is meaningful to them. In addition, delegating more to your team allows you to save your time, your mental energy, and your work motivation for the highest-value task that you can perform. For dentists, that’s taking care of patients. Review your daily tasks to identify things that don’t directly contribute to productive patient care and delegate those tasks to your team. Then you can focus on the things that provide the most value for patients.
Doctors can and should delegate as much as possible to capable team members. If your team members aren’t capable of taking on additional responsibilities right now, invest in the training and patience required to get them there, one new skill at a time.
In 2021 we started working with a practice that offers Invisalign. Prior to joining our program, they were producing $495,000 per year in aligner therapy. The first year we worked with them, although not specifically on their aligner systems, they increased their aligner production to $675,000. In 2022 they began to fully implement our approach with more focus on delegation and streamlining their systems and last year they produced $1,047,000 in aligners.Two years of small but meaningful changes, delegation, and focus, and they more than doubled their production for just that one service. The practice as a whole has also improved in other areas, but this demonstrates the impact that focusing on the right things can have in your practice.