The Benefits of Hiring a Dental Practice Management Advisor
By Angela Pratt
June 28, 2023
Just as not all doctors can treat all health conditions, not all general dentists can provide the specialized care needed for certain advanced situations. Often a dentist will seek out the preferred specialist to assist in achieving the optimum outcome for the patient. My 30 plus years of experience as dental hygienist, practice administrator and industry coach suggests proactive dental practice owners use a similar approach.
BUILDING YOUR TEAM
Hiring a strong auxiliary team member is a big step for any doctor to take. It’s a big investment of time, money, and patience—and it has the potential to occupy a sizeable portion of the dental practice owner’s time. The end goal, of course, is to find the friendliest, most well-versed patient care coordinators, or the dental assistant who provides seamless, efficient four-handed dentistry so well that you never have to look up or wipe the mirror clean. Or you may be looking for the ideal dental hygienist who individualizes the patient’s care so well that she can promote overall dental health while respectfully filling your restorative chair.
ENHANCING YOUR TEAM
When focused on the practice’s business aspect we often see a different story. Initially, the owner’s time, efforts, and budget are spent building out the physical space for the operatories and the best location for the five to six figure CBCT unit. Equally important, are the immediate and long-term gains put at risk when abbreviating hiring efforts in designing the ideal culture to support the four walls of high level technology.
Educating and conditioning the both the new and established dental client requires navigation through coaching conversations, while guiding the client through a powerful “thinking time” questions such as, “What else might be preventing my desired level of success?” I often find the doctor’s oversight relative to skillsets, motivation level, and thirst gauge of the team is missed, signally me to guide the client to forensically examine additional barriers other than lack of new patients and holes in the schedule.
Both Marcum’s dental client base and the industry as a whole can undeniably agree most new hires result from a reactive place versus proactive mindset. Pressure is placed on the doctor in preserving employee retention, quickly rushing to fill a seat. Enhancing your dental facility team requires refreshed respect and consistent discipline to appreciate rewards of the intentional, comprehensive, and multi-level hiring responsibility. While the treating doctor is designed to care for patients, the managing doctor simultaneously worries over profitability, new patients, and compliance with regards to practice operation, human resources, tax and accounting, or legal matters.
While practice owners often ask themselves what is additionally needed to best protect, lead, guide, or mentor their team, we unfortunately witness owners underestimating and disciplining identical time, money and efforts lends one the lack of appreciation with new hire selections and surrounding themselves with industry specialists outside of the practice. Designing your team of human resource, tax and accounting, legal counsel and wealth management advisors is vitally important. Industry specialized advisors whose main focus is to deliver proactive, timely, relevant practice protection and profitability ultimately allows you to reap the rewards of optimum life balance equation.
YOU ONLY KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW
Graduating from dental school afforded you the clinical toolkit to begin practicing clinical dentistry. What we have found, unfortunately, is curriculums rarely include education on how to run and manage the practice. As a result, it is important for new graduates—and more vital for new practice owners—to quickly understand what they know about the business aspect.
We often see new practice owners, upcoming associates who are considering ownership, and experienced practitioners who have tried to manage a practice eventually realize what they simply don’t know. They don’t understand how to acquire and interpret the necessary pieces of information, or whether they should implement a new procedure, add another operatory, refresh their team with new knowledge, etc. Once you address this realization, it is time to hold yourself accountable and take the necessary steps to complement your tool kit and reach out for help. This can be done through colleague and industry forums, study clubs, previous mentors, continuing education, and/or bringing in an experienced and well-respected dental practice advisor.
DEFINING YOUR LIMITATIONS AND ABILITIES
With any team, whether it’s a sports team or a group of colleagues who show up at the same time every day to accomplish a goal, it’s key to have a coach or advisor to guide you on your way. It is often difficult to see both our accomplishments and our deficiencies while performing our actual tasks.
The question then becomes, “How do I want to get my team to the end goal? Do I have the knowledge, the discipline, the information, and the energy to improve our culture and empower my team?” If you cannot answer yes to those questions, then it is time to reach out for help. Notice that I did not say you “need” help.
Wanting something drives your efforts in a more focused and genuine way. The practice coach is that individual who provides you with specialized information, helps you understand where you and your team really are, and designs an effective program that accomplishes your end goal and helps you empower your team.
IDENTIFYING WHY YOU NEED HELP
Choosing to add a dental practice coach to your team is only the first step. Clear and consistent communication with your team is vital to helping everyone understand what your vision is and where you feel you can add value by adding new systems, procedures, equipment, and resources. I have found in past client coaching experiences, the power of an owner intentionally apologizing for not taking proactive steps to best protect the practice and team. Not seeking out additional knowledge, training shows lack of accountability in providing an environment for all team members, including themselves to be their best. Excitedly serving as a coach, I’ve witnessed the unstoppable successes of our clients who exhibit courage and trust to own this responsibility, while included a clear written plan to enhance, grow and or preserve what all have worked so hard to build. This is a powerful reminder your expectations must be crystal clear—first in conversation with yourself, and then with your team.
After the accountability conversation, the work begins. But before you can move forward and implement changes, an effective coach will take the time to understand your audience.
KNOW AND BETTER UNDERSTAND YOUR TEAM
An effective coach’s ultimate goal is to create awareness and vision within the entire team so as to not only achieve the owner’s desired objectives, but provide an educated foundation to those who will continue to repeat the discipline and processes for the future. To do so, the owner must first know the “stats” of each team member. Thinking back to our earlier sports analogies, better understanding each team member’s skill set, energy, abilities, and motivators is vital to getting the individual to their professional goal first, which indirectly drives the team. This self-discovery provides confidence, clarity and many times removes unrecognized obstacles. High functioning teams who tap into one another’s strengths while providing necessary support during times of deficiency possess vulnerability, courage and unstoppable levels of trust. These ingredients create a cohesive culture driven to align themselves with the owner’s vision for the future.
KNOW AND UNDERSTAND YOUR PRACTICE NUMBERS
Each month our team collectively reviews the practice’s performance to confirm our client clearly understands how the business compares to similar competitors in the same community.
At this stage we often hear comments like, “I sent my reports to Marcum, but I am not sure what I am looking at.” It takes discipline to extrapolate and assess practice measures routinely and accurately. It is always easy to identify practice owners who received no respectable guidance in addressing practice reporting responsibilities. As a result, these practice owners lack the information needed to take initiative and make timely decisions that are key to successfully managing a practice.
Leaving the front desk solely responsible for the reporting aspects of the practice leaves the team in a vulnerable state. It becomes evident the practice owner has two major challenges: time and discipline. If this describes your individual scenario, ask yourself the questions below to understand your practice management skill set:
- Are you certain the numbers you are reviewing are accurate?
- Is the team member who is reviewing the information trained to interpret it?
- Did you establish a baseline in the beginning to fairly assess your progress?
- Are you hitting your break-even point?
- Do you know your break-even point?
- How are the practice measures communicated to the team?
- Does the practice meet established goals?
CREATING SYSTEMS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY
A dental practice management coach creates a well-defined system to ensure accurate and timely information is available and to hold team members accountable. These vital measures provide key insight not only for the doctor but also for those responsible for ensuring practice growth and profitability. The practice owner has an opportunity to review current information and proactively guide the team toward achieving both their individual and team goals. This step alone creates stronger ownership and accountability in most teams.
Another metric that promotes practice growth is case acceptance. I can count on one hand the number of dentists I’ve worked with who knew the percentage of patients moving forward in treatment. Alarmingly, the majority believed most were moving forward until we equipped the team with specific products and systems to accurately track, follow up, and successfully complete treatment needs. Unfortunately, not tracking makes it easy to believe most patients are saying yes when in reality, the practice is falling well below the benchmark.
Simply not knowing leaves everyone with a false sense of security. An effective coach will design a clear method that is easily reproducible. The method should give team members responsible for production and patient follow-up a solid system and up-to-date information at their fingertips. Once a system is in place, the doctor can also use it to oversee those responsible for productive scheduling.
SETTING YOUR TEAM UP FOR SUCCESS
My ultimate approach is simply this: Stand as an advocate for our doctors, our hardworking teams, and our valued patients. Throughout my years as a coach, I have found that many team members thrive when leaders establish clearly defined expectations. Dental practices often run lean with team members expected to wear many hats. Unless there is specific guidance about when and how to manage accounts, address unscheduled hygiene, or follow up on unscheduled treatment plans, these areas get addressed “when we have time.” A doctor who takes the time to establish specific expectations provides team members more awareness of their role in securing the practice.
In most practices, day-to-day operations require all hands on deck for patient care. That means key performance indicators are not factored into time management for the week. Engaging a dental practice management coach can help you reorganize your priorities and learn better ways to monitor the necessary systems. As a result, you’ll enjoy better balance, accountability, and profitability.
Inviting a coach into your team takes courage and the realization change will be expected. Specifically, changing your mindset, not being afraid to fail, and the courage to try again when you do, instills a newfound confidence not recognized right after dental school. When we find a client is skeptic or hasn’t fully trusted their commitment level coupled with time and monetary investments of adding a dental practice coach into the team, old habits resurface, trust is broken and desired outcomes are challenged and never removing “what’s in the way, therefore, it stays in the way.”
We often see our clients familiar with their craft, but challenged in communicating their reasons for change, their gratitude and desires for the future. The rewards of coaching and mentoring our dental client through these ownership discoveries propels the energy, morale and achievement levels beyond expectations. Once the trust between the owner, aka, “leader of the practice” and their practice coach is established, the doctor’s genuine desire to see their team move past those same insecurities of trust and begin to conquer every goal and celebrate the smallest of victories results in a stronger tomorrow. Empowering your team with refreshed knowledge, new skillsets, authentic recognition, active leadership, and better follow-through encourages them to move forward positively. I get excited for clients who find the courage to commit in creating a culture propelled by the simple challenge of being better today than yesterday.
The dental practice management coach delivers updated procedures and systems to enhance your existing protocols while you aim to create a thriving practice. As the practice moves closer to a transition plan, the same coach can provide you with an enhanced level of support and due diligence as they embed themselves in your practice and commit to earning your trust as you progress toward your final chapter of retirement.
TEACHING TEAMS TO WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER
“My passion is elevating dental practices by streamlining and optimizing dental operations and empowering the dental team to create a purpose-driven patient experience.”
With more than 30 years as a dental assistant, business coordinator, practicing dental hygienist, practice administrator, and educator for both solo and multi-provider practices, Angela Pratt, RDH, helps our team of professionals deliver enhanced and individualized services to our clients. She is committed to helping the practice owner and their team staff professional, proficient, profitable dental teams. She is dedicated to empowering team members to function as health-dedicated professionals who adopt vital attributes for long-term success.
Angela Pratt, RDH is Senior Manager, Advisory Services at Marcum LLP. Having had the privilege of serving for 30+ years both clinically and in operational management for the dental industry, her “in the trenches” experience allows her to quickly assist the dental practice owner in achieving both professional and personal life balance. Bringing in a trusted and experienced advisor to serve both the buying and selling dental practice audiences has proven to maximize value for the retiring dentist while educating and empowering the new practice owner.Contact her at Angela.Pratt@marcumllp.com. Reprinted with permission from Marcum LLP. Marcum is an MDA Solutions Center Allied Business Participant. Click to visit their Solution Center listing.