Navigating uncharted waters for your dental practice in 2015

Modern Hygienist,, Issue 1

Over the years, we have seen many practices struggle to navigate difficult waters. In fact, it seems that lately, there are an alarming number of dental practices having serious challenges staying on course. 

Over the years, we have seen many practices struggle to navigate difficult waters. In fact, it seems that lately, there are an alarming number of dental practices having serious challenges staying on course. 

There have been so many recent changes in our profession, we often see dentists struggling to adapt as they begin to sail into uncharted waters.

Some are facing serious economic challenges. Others are struggling to attract new patients. Competing with the “corporate rollup” is both challenging and even frightening for some. Your frustrations may stem from open time in the schedule or just difficulty achieving continuous improvement. Whatever your current storm may be, rest assured it doesn’t have to end badly. It is disheartening to hear stories about dentists who decide to give up or no longer enjoy life as a practicing dentist. Our passion for what we do in the field of dentistry is what drives us! It is an exciting time to be in dentistry.

We would like to share three practice survival strategies with you in this article. These concepts have helped countless other dentists in similar circumstances turn things around or break through their plateau and realize tremendous success. When you realize success in your professional life, the satisfaction you derive can make all aspects of life more enjoyable.

Strategy No. 1: Think inside the box
If you think of your practice as a box, the majority of your time, effort and resources should go toward the patients, team and procedure mix you currently have in your box. Do the things your patients expect in a more extraordinary way.

Before marketing to attract new patients, you need to become attractive to new patients. One simple exercise to become more attractive is the "No Transformer". When we tell our patients “no,” we are denying them what they want. Have your team identify every situation where they need to say “no” to a patient. Lead the team in discussing how they can transform as many of those nos to yeses as possible. Your patient referrals will soar as you become more attractive.

Video: How to grow your practice with patient referrals

The "No Transformer" is one of the many tools we use to help our clients become more attractive to patients. Becoming more attractive overcomes two marketplace challenges: The return on external marketing in some markets has evaporated, and the old paradigm of patients conforming to the wishes and preferences of dentists and their teams is failing. Dental consumers are becoming more demanding, and those practices that adapt and find a way to say "yes" will realize great return on their effort.

in 2013, a survey was done of patients who were looking for a dentist. These people were asked what was important to them in selecting a new dental provider. The No. 2 issue they stated was convenience. This proves there has been a major change in our marketplace, and expecting patients to conform to what we want is no longer a winning strategy.

Becoming more attractive is the first step in creating hyper patient demand. The next step is to master internal marketing. We teach 21 internal marketing steps any practice can use to increase patient demand quickly, easily and inexpensively. Once you have mastered these skills, your success with external marketing will be multiplied many times over.

Strategy #2: Maximize potential from hygiene

In today’s dental practice, realizing success in hygiene is not out of reach. Although it may seem that achieving high productivity consistently from your hygiene department is a fantasy, we have found a formula for success. The incredible thing is, we have taught practices all over the country how to convert lackluster hygiene productivity into an incredible revenue stream.

To realize potential in hygiene, we must be sure that we are maximizing the three roles of a modern-day dental hygienist.

Webinar: 7 steps to improve your modern marketing skills

The first role is that of a preventive therapist. Dental hygienists have a significant responsibility to be focused on the prevention of disease. We are the only health professional who is given the primary role of prevention. The truth is, many patients of today are considered high risk by the ADA. Those who consistently struggle with chronic decay have a very high level of frustration. They do not want cavities, they are tired of always having problems with their teeth and they are very interested in preventive options.

Too often, we assume if insurance doesn’t cover a certain preventive procedure, the patient will not want it. When we present the opportunity the right way, patients jump at the chance to prevent future problems. Preventive services like fluoride, sealants, desensitizing agents, radiographs, advanced oral cancer screening, and many others become commonplace procedures happening daily in hygiene. If we are truly maximizing preventive therapy in hygiene, a nice thing happens to productivity. It goes up drastically.

Study: Saliva plays key role in caries prevention

We should also note that with more markets seeing the influence of insurance and PPOs, maximizing the preventive role can help our profitability even when on a “discounted” insurance plan. Having patients choose a higher level of care, and more services at their hygiene appointments, benefits the patient and practice.

The second role is that of a periodontal therapist. Many consultants and hygiene educators focus heavily on periodontal therapy, as it is a critical component in the life of a dental hygienist. However, it is not uncommon to see a practice that is still treating periodontal infection today with the same strategies and technology it was using five or even 10 years ago. This is truly alarming! Many things have changed. We have better tools and better science about what causes periodontal infection and how to drastically reduce it. We know so much more about the oral-systemic link and serious health risks that exist with the presence of inflammation in the body.

We have laser techniques, oral DNA testing methods, home care products, additional resources like Arestin, and other adjunctive options for patients. If we are truly maximizing potential in our role as periodontal therapists, we are seeing periodontal disease, talking about it, and treating it. We have extremely high acceptance rates for these advanced services; supervised neglect is not an option. We discuss periodontal disease with existing patients, as well as new patients, and we are treating it with every available weapon in our arsenal.

Related reading: Why oral-systemic health and dental EHRs make for a great marriage

The third role is that of a patient treatment advocate. Hygiene often underestimates what a critical role we have in helping our patients make choices about the dentistry they need. How many times have they turned to the hygienist, or another clinical team member, to ask, “Do I really need to have this done?” or “How long can I wait before I get this taken care of?” The reality is patients want the team’s opinions and recommendations when it comes to the choices they have about treatment.

We also teach providers how to embrace and incorporate technology that aids us in better maximizing this role. Having the time and skills necessary to use the intraoral camera on every patient is vital. Other incredible devices like cavity-detecting lasers and enhanced imaging tools can help us facilitate treatment being accepted. Verbal skills, knowing which questions to ask and helping the patient decide which option best accomplishes their goals, are what we are aiming for in developing this role. Presenting treatment and having the patient choose better dentistry can be incredibly rewarding. 

Related reading: Top must-have prevention technologies for dentists

Strategy #No. 3: Eliminate production blockers

We have observed dentists who produce $200K per month easily. We have also observed dentists who struggle to produce 20 percent of that. What is the difference? The myth would tell you the $200K dentists are doing lots of big cases. The reality is that these hyper producers mainly do bread and butter dentistry and have simply eliminated blockages to production. Some common blockages: inadequate investment in technology, inadequate number of equally equipped treatment rooms, too few chairside assistants, room turnover inefficiency and lack of standard clinical protocols.

Quite simply, practices that become attractive to patients generate a great deal of patient demand and become blocked to future growth quite quickly. These blockages are often too subtle to be detected by a busy practitioner. The super producers know the early symptoms of these blockages and address them aggressively. One early symptom is the inability to accept emergency patients immediately. If you have existing or new patients with a dental emergency and you cannot see them today, you have a production block.

The usual dentist response to a production blockage is to misidentify the problem. Commonly, the blocked dentist tries to fix the blockage by trying to attract more new patients. These new patients only exacerbate the blockage. Like a dam full to capacity, more water causes a spillover. In a practice, spillover includes the patients who no longer return to your practice. As you add more patients in the front door of a blocked practice, you increase the patients slipping away through the back door.

Eliminating production blockages can be scary. It almost always involves investment in people, technology, equipment, supplies and/or facility. If the blockage is correctly identified and the correct strategy is used to solve it, the investment pays off very rapidly. If the blockage diagnosis is incorrect, the treatment is less likely to be effective and the payoff negligible or none. Having expert help identifying and addressing blockages is extremely beneficial.

To overcome blockages we teach an 11-step process, "The Productive Practice Mindset", to improve productivity and maximize clinical accuracy and efficiency.

Practices that utilize these strategies are not worried about survival. Instead, they are thriving! Despite economic challenges, they realize record productivity. Their practices are growing and their teams are engaged and excited about serving their patients. This provides a tremendous benefit for the doctor. Productivity brings profitability. Profitability often produces peace of mind.

Our unique approach, providing expertise from a practicing dentist, a practicing hygienist, and practicing team administrative leaders, has helped many dental professionals not just navigate challenging waters but rise above them.