How one hour a week can turn your practice from good to great

January 19, 2017

How four staff meetings a month can improve every part of your practice.

What do you focus on in your dental practice? What do you most want to teach your staff? If you’re like most dentists, you’re focused on clinical excellence. You’re quick to correct the hygiene team if they’re not caring for patients well. You keep up to date with the latest dental research and use it to improve your skills. You invest in technologies that will improve the dental health and overall well-being of your patients.

Clinical excellence is important, but it can’t be your only focus. To serve you patients well, you must combine clinical excellence with excellent practice management skills. When you manage your practice well, staff members are happier, which makes the day go more smoothly, and patients are happier, which means they are more likely to refer family and friends. Meanwhile, you can be the best clinician in the world, but if you don’t manage your practice well, you’ll lose your patients.

Related article: 3 ways to attract new patients within 3 months

Do you feel like you’re too busy to devote time to better practice management? Four tightly focused monthly meetings can improve your practice management in just one hour a week. The key is to plan the meetings ahead of time and to keep them focused on one specific goal. That means no food and no idle chatter. Plan for one hour of work as a team each week, and over the course of each month you’ll hit every area that needs improvement.

Up next: The four meetings you should be having every month

 

Week one: The business side of things

Your practice is a clinical environment, but it’s also a business. Every member of the staff should understand the basics of how the business side of the practice works and what the practice needs to thrive. Hold an hour-long business meeting during the first week of every month. During this meeting, discuss issues that affect the financial side of the practice, including:

  • A review of the previous month’s finances

  • A discussion of which financial goals the practice met and which it did not meet

  • A list of the business goals for the upcoming month

  • A brainstorming session, where staff can contribute ideas about how to meet those goals

  • A chance for staff members to point out areas where the practice can improve its business processes

  • Recognition of the staff member who contributed most to meeting business goals in the last month

One key to a successful business meeting is setting concrete goals that everyone in the practice can work toward. For instance, you may set a goal of increasing referrals by 10 percent over the next three months, or of reducing unpaid bills by 15 percent. Discussing these goals serves several purposes. They let staff understand how their actions contribute to the financial well-being of the practice, they encourage everyone to think about ways to improve the practice’s finances and they give the practice concrete benchmarks for measuring progress.

Setting goals like this with your entire staff may seem odd or uncomfortable at first. However, sharing this information reminds everyone that you’re on the same team, that you need to work together for the success of the practice, and that each person has a real and measurable effect on the financial success of the practice. The brainstorming sessions will also give you more insight into how the practice is functioning and where processes are breaking down.

Related article: Secrets of a dental mystery patient

Are you short-staffed? Could your office staff use more training in phone skills? Are you forgetting to let patients know what services you provide? The business meeting will help you see where you should target efforts to improve the practice. In one hour a month, you’ll be on the path to a practice with better financial outcomes.

Week two: The marketing meeting

You set goals during your monthly business meeting. But how are you going to meet the goals for referrals, new patients or new treatments? Your business success depends on your marketing success, so in your second monthly meeting you should spend an hour focused on marketing the practice.

The average American small business spends about 20 hours a week on marketing. Your practice isn’t just a medical office. It’s also a small business. But when do you really sit down and consider your current and future marketing campaigns?

Related Article: What next for the solo practice?

Dental marketing is a broad area. It includes your practice’s brand, philosophy and attitude. It includes external marketing tools like your website, advertisements and sponsorships, but it also includes internal tools like excellent customer experience, new patient procedures and even appointment scheduling. As you get into the habit of holding monthly marketing meetings for your entire team, you may see your meetings evolving.

Your first few meetings may need to cover all aspects of marketing. Make a list of all the ways you market your practice, and see what works and what doesn’t. Clarify what your brand is. Ask you staff for ideas on how to increase referrals or attract new patients. What makes your practice stand out? Why are you a great place for patients?

Later, as you get a handle on marketing, you may want to get more specific. You could devote some meetings to internal marketing and some to external marketing. You might choose to focus on improving one specific sort of marketing. For instance, you could spend a whole hour working to improve the practice’s social media marketing, or have a workshop on brand identity.

Related article: Do you know why patients aren't coming in?

In many practices, marketing is only addressed sporadically. You get an idea here or an inspiration there. A call from the local paper convinces you to place an ad; you look at your website on a whim and decide it’s time for a change. However, it’s difficult to excel at something if you never give it your full attention. When you focus on marketing for just one hour a month, you’ll be able to develop a clearer brand, create stronger campaigns and communicate clearly what makes your practice a great practice.

Up next: How to plan the rest of your monthly meetings

 

Week three: Train your team

You want your team to provide the best possible service to your patients, but staff training days are hard to schedule, especially if you have a busy practice. If you focus on team training for one hour a month, you can help everyone improve their skills without a major disruption to your practice schedule.

Keep a list of topics posted somewhere, and when you spot an area where your team needs more training, add it to the list. Your topics can include things like phone skills, patient education, scheduling software or billing.

Related: 6 tips for increasing staff performance

Resist the urge to train only the people who will use a system the most. For instance, your hygiene team may rarely answer the phone or schedule appointments, but they should at least understand how the system works. That way, if there’s ever an emergency, they can fill in, or if something’s going wrong, they may be able to help troubleshoot. Remember, your patients have no idea whose responsibility it is to answer the phone or schedule their appointment. The more staff members who can help keep the office running, the more satisfied your patients will be with their experiences in your practice.

When you schedule a training session, decide in advance which topics you’ll cover and who will be the trainer. If a topic is too big to learn in an hour, spread it out over several months. For instance, one month you could practice answering the phones, and the next you could practice transferring calls.

Read more: 3 reason new employees shouldn't answer the phone

You’ll find that shorter, more frequent training sessions also help your staff retain information. Instead of one long, grueling in-service day jam-packed with too many new ideas, they’ll get to focus on-and practice-one idea at a time. If, after training, you notice that your staff members are still having trouble with a new skill, you can quickly review it at the beginning of the next month’s training meeting. Over time, you’ll see a great improvement in your staff members’ skill and confidence levels.

Week four: A meeting for general housekeeping

Your fourth, and final, meeting each month should be a general housekeeping meeting. Discuss any issues that don’t fit within your other meetings. Look at the calendar for the next few months, and mention any big events. If you need to plan retirement parties or annual dinners, the housekeeping meeting is the place to do it.

When you reserve odds and ends for the housekeeping meeting, you keep them from taking over and derailing your other monthly meetings. This one monthly meeting allows the other three meetings to remain focused and efficient.

Related article: 4 rules to make sure staff meetings don't turn into staff beatings

Housekeeping meetings rarely take an entire hour. Once you’ve finished going over the agenda for the month, the staff can break up into departments and have a monthly departmental meeting. You can float between the meetings to see how things are going in each department and if anyone has any questions or concerns specific to their departments.

Bonus week: A clean sweep

When a month has five weeks, you have time for a bonus meeting. Make the fifth week “Clean Sweep” week. Give everyone a clip board and walk through the practice listing anything that looks like it is dingy, dirty, or in disrepair. Try to see everything from the point of view of a patient walking in the door. Is there a wall that seems to attract scuff marks? A corner with cobwebs? Anything that seems old or unkempt?

Read more: Is it time for you to make over your dental practice?

The appearance of your practice is vital for patient experience. The physical state of your practice contributes to your brand identity. Patients won’t refer family and friends to an office that looks dirty and dingy. The clean sweep lets you spot problems that might not get your full attention during a busy day.

Focusing on a better future for your practice

Weekly meetings give you four to five hours a month where you can focus totally on practice management. Suddenly, building a better practice isn’t something consigned to weekends, evenings, and tiny bits of time in between patients. Practice management becomes something that you’re thinking about on a regular basis, a challenge that involves your entire team. With small steps and continual improvement, you’re well on your way to building a better practice-not just for yourself and for your team, but also for the patients you serve.

As a jump start to improving your practice in one hour a week, the Productive Dentist Academy is offering readers a 1 Hour Free Practice Assessment with Financial Dashboard. Contact them today at productivedentist.com/contact-us/.