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Dentists learn how to perform clinical work in school, but they usually don't get an education about how to set and meet goals.
Setting goals is an important exercise in which to engage no matter what field or industry you’re in. Dentistry is no exception.
But goal setting in dentistry is not so much about how many crowns you’ll do on a given day, or how many root canals. It’s more about the big picture. Keeping schedules full, and maintaining a high level of professionalism.
The problem, according to Hugh Norsted, DDS, a previous dental practice owner and current surveyor for the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, is that goal setting is not often taught as part of a dental education.
“More schools are putting some emphasis on practice management,” Norsted says. “But not to the degree you’d like to see.”
Norsted understands that it’s easy for dentists to get busy with the day-to-day aspects of their practice. Goal setting gets pushed aside, and often dentists carry on without a sense of direction.
“[Dentists] often look no more than a year out, maybe just the next few months as opposed to establishing some long-term goals,” Norsted says. Establishing long-term goals, he adds, is a “good way to build a good culture, and develop a good relationship with your staff.”
James E. Schall III, DDS, is co-owner of Maryland-based Berg Dental Group. He’s also a huge advocate for involving staff in setting and achieving practice goals. Part of that is the practice’s bonus incentive system that’s based on production. For example, if there’s an opening in the schedule, it needs to be filled. And everyone pitches in.
If staff reach the designated goals set in three departments—oral surgery, general office visits, and hygiene—at the end of the month, everyone in the office receives a bonus.
“And when you reach that goal three months in a row, we raise the numbers,” Schall says. “And every time we raise the goal, we increase the amount of the bonus. But if one department doesn’t make it, nobody makes it. So, they all have to look out for and help each other.”
The bonus currently stands at $150 per staff member. The next time staff achieves designated goals three months in succession it will increase to $175, and so on.
How do you begin to establish dental practice goals? Norsted suggests using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely) methodology. It’s logical, offers a good framework, and helps in goal identification.
“It helps people understand what a goal is,” Norsted explains. “It’s more than just a number. And you want to make sure it's realistic, and makes sense for the practice.”
Schall agrees, adding that SMART methodology in goal setting helps a practice focus on values, and consistency.
“It comes down to treating patients fairly,” he says. “If you’re smartly adjusting your schedule and treating people fairly, you’re being aware of what patients need. You can’t assume that they can’t afford it or don’t want it. If you don’t tell patients what they need, you’re doing a disservice to them and yourself.”
As a surveyor for AAAHC, Norsted has great insight into what accreditation associations look for when surveying dental practices. He acknowledges that, for the most part, accreditation is a voluntary process. However, he likens accreditation to “one giant risk management program” that provides significant benefits to dental practices.
“Having a third party come in looking at what you’re doing according to a written set of standards is really the best check of safety procedures because you’re adhering to standards that are out there for ambulatory care,” he says. “It works well for training staff.”
Will being accredited, in and of itself, encourage patients to frequent your practice? Not necessarily. But it will make a difference in the way you establish goals and operating procedures that can have a positive financial impact on the practice’s bottom line.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a patient complete their initial exam, and then we give them a brief tour of the office,” Norsted says. “Patients uniformly say, ‘Wow, I’ve never had an exam like that. I had no idea all this stuff was going on in a dental practice.’ You then get word of mouth referrals, and that’s the golden ticket.”
Schall echoes those thoughts.
“I don’t think there’s any upfront benefit to being accredited, unless, you’re looking to make yourself better and more organized, and these are the subtle things that make your practice better,” he says. “And what happens when your practice is better? Patients come.”