Who could have predicted that for one and a half years we would still struggle with COVID-19 and its variants? The intervening time has allowed the Canadian Dental Association, Ontario Dental Association, and local societies to intervene to adjust protocols to ensure the relative safety of patients, providers, and staff. It also guarantees a safe return of patients to the practice. One obvious fact of COVID- 19 is that the dental practice will not return to the previous status quo. Despite articles on the impact of the pandemic on functioning as professional, profitable, oral health units, as dentists, we must address the reality and be proactive in adjusting to the new norm.
Practice owners need to seek assistance NOW in reconfiguring the future operation. Although clinicians have been well trained in the clinical skills required to provide excellent oral care, they are under-prepared for handling strategic changes, administration, and patient-based issues to perform at a cost-effective manner to survive financially. If ever there were a time that a dental practitioner would consider calling in capable practice management consultants dedicated to dental practice, then the time is now. The right consultant will help to direct and implement change and rebrand the entity.
Choosing a consultant requires research and using the company websites of the available high-quality consultants. Reviewing and evaluating the information is the first point of contact to help practice owners make an educated and comfortable choice. It’s not only about which group to choose after the research, but also to take steps to become actively involved with them.
Visualizing the issue is one of the difficulties practitioners have in identifying what needs to be addressed. A qualified practice management company raises, investigates, and solves issues of the practice in a cost-effective manner. As outsiders, consultants are less apt to have emotional attachments to the practice and can therefore, be pragmatic. As the principal and founding owner of Innovative Practice Solutions, I share some of the following issues we have addressed thanks to a client who has agreed to disclose a portion of the Opportunities Analysis of our engagement.
The first interaction between the client and the consultant involves reporting the Opportunities Analysis which is a necessary and important starting point. It is an organized, intensive scrutiny of the office including an evaluation of the environment, administrative, and clinical operations. Staff and clinicians are interviewed in a secure environment and their responses and suggestions are kept anonymous. We usually start the interview with the proviso that if they owned the practice what changes would they make (with the stipulation that they cannot fire the dentist). We are grateful that our client offered to share the results of the IPS’s Opportunities Analysis based on Adriana Diamanti’s active engagement in the research.
Creating a first impression is the first element that is analyzed. The saying, “You have only one opportunity to create a first impression” is applicable when entering a dental practice. Based on the results of Adriana’s site visits, her Opportunities Analysis included the following information. “I was not welcomed by the person sitting at the front desk. She did not attempt to make eye contact or smile, nor did she inquire as to whom I had come to see at the office. In fact, I had to engage in the initial communication that I was there to meet the doctor; however, the receptionist continued with her personal telephone call while ignoring other incoming calls.” This poor customer service reflects negatively on the office and presented IPS with the opportunity to offer training and mentoring to front office staff. A dental practice relies heavily on exceptional, appropriate customer service because stellar service often provides the practice with internal referrals, the least expensive and most reliable form of marketing.
“The office environment was quiet and would benefit from relaxing music to add to the overall patient experience” was another observation. To select appropriate music, the team must consider patient demographics rather than select music for team members. She added, “Some team members who volunteer to work on Sunday to de-clutter and organize the office would benefit from IPS’s help to set up realistic timelines to accomplish this.”
Results of the private interviews with team members were revealing. Adriana reported, “The group mostly enjoyed working with each other emerged as a common theme. They unanimously agreed that communicating with new patients and trying not to keep patients waiting were primary goals. Furthermore, they expressed that kindness has importance.” This theme could be a focus for branding or rebranding.
“However, some of the clinical team,” she added, “expressed concern that the administration occasionally did not work in unison. For instance, establishing policies for everyone to follow such as a cancellation policy is lacking.” Appointing a team member to deliver the message effectively to all patients could be implemented easily. Having a person to hold others accountable lessens the concern of losing patients because of poor policy implementation.
“Other criteria we examined,” she continued, “were that the practice did not currently offer defined job descriptions or annual performance evaluations.” Part of a consultant’s responsibility is to help implement policies and protocols to assist the team to understand the role they play in the success of office procedures. When a team expresses the desire to improve communications and the structure of daily operations, the leader must provide guidance.
Practice owners need to seek assistance NOW in reconfiguring the future operation.
“Finally, the team did not participate in huddles to communicate the daily schedule,” she revealed in the analysis. Connecting with the team regarding all aspects of treatment coordination is integral to relaying the findings to the patient in layman’s terms. The treatment coordinator must
be confident in explaining the necessity of the treatment regardless of insurance coverage. Reviewing the importance of running effective huddles helps overcome ineffective communication among team members.
To launch a successful new era of dental practice, competent consultants facilitate the implementation of solutions to resolve issues like the above examples. A strategic plan is a necessary component to capitalize on the potential which everyone has in this unprecedented post-pandemic time.