To Boost Quality, Take a Hard Look at Hard Data

December 19, 2017
Jared Kaltwasser

A dentist and consultant says many dental practices are missing opportunities to improve revenue. The first step toward fixing the problem is analyzing meaningful data.

Establish the protocols and work the systems and the results will improve.

When business consultant and speaker Roy Shelburne, DDS, meets with fellow dentists, he urges them to go beyond their initial appraisals of their practice, and dig into their practice’s actual data.

“I’ve had many dentists and office managers who feel they have everything under control, but when reviewing hard data, the real information, they are shocked to see that everything is NOT under control,” he told Dentist’s Money Digest.

As an example, Shelburne said many dentists and office managers assume their treatment plan acceptance rates are solid. However, once given a definition of what treatment plan acceptance actually means, many practice leaders re-examine the data to find they’re missing the mark.

That might be disappointing, but it’s also the first step toward improvement.

“With this ‘true’ information, the practice can establish protocols, expectations and controls that will help to improve that area of the practice,” he said.

Shelburne, a Virginia dentist, travels the country helping dentists implement quality improvement principles in their practices. He will discuss the topic next month at the Yankee Dental Congress, in Boston.

One area of focus for Shelburne is defensive record-keeping. He spent two years in prison from 2008—2010 on charges of healthcare fraud, an experience that caused him to realize that his own records, billing, and coding systems were flawed. He now uses that experience to help teach other dentists to do a better job of keeping careful records to back up their charges and treatment decisions.

Much of what Shelburne teaches is about leveraging data to identify shortcomings in a practice and then create a customized plan to boost quality and efficiency. The techniques he teaches work in an office of any size, from a solo practice to a large group practice.

“Once the area targeted for improvement is pinpointed, the plan for improvement is established and the investment needed determined,” he said. “That investment could be in software, hardware, training, or in some other adjunct to help improve the area of need.”

A careful evaluation and action plan can spark significant results, Shelburne said. He noted one medium-sized practice with which he worked. The practice had invested significant capital in search engine optimization (SEO) in an effort to win more new patients. In theory, they were following the latest advice in practice marketing. Unfortunately, the campaign was falling short of expectations.

So, the practice decided to generate data by polling its patients. What the office staff found was that a majority of patients were frustrated by the inability to get a live person on the phone when they called the office.

“In today's world, even if the practice is No. 1 on Google's list, if the caller cannot get through to No. 1, they call No. 2 on the list,” Shelburne said. “Because of the findings from the patient interviews, another team member was added to help handle the calls.”

That extra staff member required additional spending, but it was worth the expense. After expanding the office staff to better handle incoming calls, the practice saw its new patient numbers triple.

Results like that are impressive, but they’re not unique.

Shelburne said if he had just one piece of advice for dentists, he would start by asking about the dentist’s pet peeve, the thing that frustrates the dentist the most. He said that frustration can turn into an opportunity.

“Quality assessment/quality improvement principles can be applied to improve the outcome regardless of that frustration,” he said. “Establish the protocols and work the systems and the results will improve!”

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