4 signs your dental practice is in trouble

November 5, 2014

Running a dental practice is tough business. Your day is filled with caring for patients, working with your staff, marketing your business, and managing your claims and payments. It's easy to get so caught up in the grind of running the practice that you lose sight of the bigger picture.

Running a dental practice is tough business. Your day is filled with caring for patients, working with your staff, marketing your business, and managing your claims and payments. It's easy to get so caught up in the grind of running the practice that you lose sight of the bigger picture.

If you're not careful, though, you may miss some major red flags that signal serious trouble in your practice. These four signs should all be clues that your practice may not be on the right path. If you notice one of these, you should investigate the issue and see if you need to take action. If you notice several of these issues, you may have a very serious problem on your hands.

1. Your calendar isn't full

One of the great things about being a dentist is that it can be easy to fill your calendar, especially if you have patients who are disciplined. Many of your patients are probably in the practice of scheduling an appointment every six months.

Given that patients schedule so far in advance, your schedule should be full for months out. If you notice that your schedule is getting light or that it's not booked for months in advance, you may have a problem. Your patients may be switching to other dentists or they just may not be taking their dental health as seriously as you'd like.

Reach out to patients who don't have appointments scheduled in the next six months to see what's preventing them from coming in. If they've switched to a new dentist, you should try to find out what you could have improved on to keep their business.

More from the author: The top financial mistakes most dentists are making

2. You have few new patients

It's critical for a dental practice to constantly refresh its patient base. Even if you have a full book of established clients, it's inevitable that you will lose some over time. Patients will move to new cities. Some will simply stop keeping up with their dental health. You'll even have patients pass away.

No matter how busy your schedule may be, it's important that you always keep some space open for new patients. You should also track the number of new patients joining your practice on a monthly basis. If that number declines, try to find out why. Do you need to market more aggressively? Is there something about your practice that new patients find unappealing? Answer these questions and correct the problems as quickly as possible.

3. Key employees are leaving

You're only as good as your staff. While you probably have an excellent staff from top to bottom, you likely have a few key staff members whom you depend on heavily. If one or several of them leave, that could be a big warning sign and lead to an even bigger problem.

It costs money to hire and train new team members. Also, many of your patients may have closer relationships with your assistant or hygienist than they have with you. Heavy turnover could cause them to wonder whether they should switch practices too.

When you have staff members leave, make sure you do a thorough exit interview. Why are they leaving? What would they like to see improved in the office? How are you as a boss to work for? These may be difficult questions to ask, but this kind of self-examination will help you improve your practice and retain your best employees.

More from the author: 3 ways to keep your dental staff happy

4. You don't have a succession plan

This may be the biggest of all red flags because it affects not only your practice's health but also your personal financial goals. As you approach the end of your career, you'll likely want to be compensated for all of the hard work that you've put into building your practice. Often, the easiest way to do that is to sell to an internal partner.

Having a younger internal partner can also reassure your patients, who may start to look for alternatives as you approach retirement. Having a smooth transition plan in place will reassure them to stick with you and your practice.

These aren't the only warning signs, but they are some of the biggest. Take these signs seriously and act quickly. Your practice will be much stronger if you do.