Is Your Dental Practice Having a Midlife Crisis?

January 31, 2017
Ed Rabinowitz

Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS, principal of Drevenstedt Consulting, LLC, says that many dentists find themselves in the business doldrums because they lack the necessary skills to be a practice administrator. Fortunately, there’s help to be found in this area.

Midlife crisis is defined as an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age. It’s a dreaded period of time that many men and women experience, and it’s extremely personal.

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Perhaps a little less personal, but certainly no less important, is what Linda Drevenstedt, RDH, MS, principal of Drevenstedt Consulting, LLC, refers to as practice midlife crisis. Do you know the feeling?

Perhaps your practice isn’t growing as much as you’d like, or you’ve got that is-this-what-it’s-going-to-be-like-forever kind of feeling. Drevenstedt believes that happens because dentists pay a great deal of attention to their technique and clinical expertise, but not nearly as much to their business.

“Because their education was never about being in business,” she says. “It was about being a dentist who’s a technician. So you get graduates who are well versed in taking care of their patients, but not well versed in how to run a small business.”

Lack of Receptivity

Teaching dentists how to run a small business, Drevenstedt says, is easier said than done. Most dentists would rather spend two days in classes learning how to do better crown preparation than two hours in a class learning about how to run a business or how to analyze their numbers.

“Dental software will provide all kinds of reports,” Drevenstedt says. “But many times those reports may or may not be giving them any useful information unless they know how to crunch some of the numbers.”

And when dentists crunch the numbers, are those numbers good compared to dental industry benchmarks? Do they know what to do with those numbers?

Drevenstedt says what many physicians in hospitals or even smaller healthcare entities do is align themselves with professionals who have an MBA or a degree in business or finance. For example, the Medical Group Management Association equips medical practice leaders with the information and tools they need to thrive.

“Dentistry is way behind in that model,” Drevenstedt says. “A lot of that stems from the fact that most dental businesses have been solos up until the last few years. They didn’t have the money to hire someone who understood finance and business, and they didn’t know that that’s what they needed to know.”

The Dental Office Manager

Drevenstedt says that as the world changes, particularly where insurance reimbursement is concerned, an emerging figure is the dental office manager. Many of these individuals are born out of the American Association of Dental Office Management, which, according to its website, “gives the front office team the opportunity to enhance their skills.”

It’s a start, Drevenstedt says, but acknowledges that many of these individuals are truly office managers rather than practice administrators. They’ve come up through the ranks at a dental organization. Perhaps they’re very good front office or scheduling managers, and then suddenly, they’re the office manager of a million dollar-plus business. Most still lack a master’s degree in finance or healthcare administration.

Drevenstedt recalls that she was coaching an office manager because the practice was having some personnel issues. She had previously recommended that they consult a labor law attorney group in their state, but that hadn’t been done.

“I explained that she really should, because her doctor could more likely be sued for labor law faux pas than for dental malpractice,” she says. “So, they may know scheduling, or how to close the deal if the doctor’s got a case that they’re trying to have the patient accept. But when I start coaching them about numbers and percentages of overhead, many times I have to start with a very basic level of information.”

Increasing Awareness

Still, Drevenstedt sees the emergence of the dental office manager, an individual who is interested in learning and better serving the dental business component, as one of the bright spots in the dental staffing environment. And most dentists, she adds, are “at least peripherally aware” of the need for assistance in this area.

Some dentists, she says, are reluctant to hire an office manager because they or someone they know may have had a bad experience. And oftentimes dentists take a hands-off approach to running the office. If the office manager has his or her own agenda which doesn’t align with those of the dentist, that can be problematic.

“Dentists are very intelligent, they’re good problem-solvers, which makes them good dentists,” Drevenstedt says. “Many of them will want to solve a problem themselves, first. They tend to be, ‘Let me see what I can figure out,’ because there’s plenty of information out there.”

For others, there are dental practice management consultants, like Drevenstedt.

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