The “new normal” and its effect on dental office managers

December 18, 2013

“A new normal.” That’s what the American Dental Association (ADA) is calling it. Thanks to the strategic plan committee for commissioning an environmental scan, we have a hint that big changes are in store for dental practices. The top three takeaways from this evaluation include:

  • Dentistry has experienced structural changes.

  • More changes lie ahead.

  • Now is a critical moment for dentistry to define its future.

 

For dental office managers who have worked in dentistry for more than five minutes, you know the “structural changes” we’re talking about:

  • Dealing with multiple PPO plans and patients who expect us to be an expert on their plan – even when they don’t have a card or any information themselves!

  • How online reviews can make or break the flow of new patients into your practice

  • The financial pressures of running a practice – that end up translated to office managers as “fill the schedule with crowns!”

 

There are some new trends headed our way:

  • Although children are now included in the Affordable Care Act, adults are not – and forecasts show a continued trend of fewer and fewer adults going to the dentist.

  • Dentists are not rebounding after the recent economic upturn – in fact, dentists overall continue to have excess capacity and this is not forecast to improve for the next 10 years.

  • Patients will expect more value for their dental dollar and PPO plans will become increasingly selective.

 

So, how will this “new normal” affect your practice and your dentist?

First of all, things aren’t going to get easier. The continuous battle to fill the schedule isn’t letting up any time soon. Hopefully, your dentist enjoys seeing children because as the Affordable Care Act mandates dental and vision coverage for kids, this is an opportunity to add new patients. The challenge will be to convert their parents into patients as well.

 

Next, if fewer adults will have dental benefits and therefore, fewer adults will go to the dentist and competition for these adult patients will shoot up drastically. Your practice will be faced with the challenge of attracting these patients over the dentist down the street. Why should these patients come to your practice? This could lead to some difficult discussions among the dentist and team members about what differentiates you over your competition. Even worse, if you do nothing and the dentist down the street creates this value for patients, then what happens to your schedule?

 

Finally, if PPO plans become more selective, what happens if they drop your dentist? Right now, we expect that if we have open time in schedules, there’s always another insurance plan we could join to increase patient flow. But, what if that changes? For the dentists selected to participate, it could mean a first step towards the meaningful value described above. But in a culture where patients choose their dentists off the list – and now, your dentist isn’t on the list – how will you fill the schedule?

 

The ADA is calling these trends the “new normal” – and, although change can be frightening, it also provides incredible opportunities for dentists and teams. So, as the office manager for your practice, encourage your dentist to go onto the American Dental Association website and read these reports – they are available on www.ada.org/escan and www.ada.org/1442.aspx. You should read them as well, then talk with your dentist about his or her thoughts on the practice. What is the dentist’s vision for the future, especially considering the massive changes ahead?

 

The more you, as the dental office manager, understand about what is going on in your field, the more you can prepare yourself on how to manage your office and manage your career. If you’re working in a pediatric practice, you may be preparing for a significant increase in patient volume. If you are working for a general dentist who prefers not to see children, you may need to prepare for more difficulty in filling the schedule. Your creativity and support in helping your dentist to add real value to a patient’s dental visits may make the difference between financial success and struggle.