Although the pandemic appears to be abating somewhat despite new variants, the path forward to a viable dental practice requires careful consideration of several issues. Having a plan to optimize internal opportunities for clinical and financial growth is of primary importance. To regain the former momentum of the practice, invite new patients, and explore new opportunities, an opportunity analysis and an action plan are required.
For a dental practice to be a sustainable entity, the first issue we need to tackle is having a sufficient patient base. Currently, access to significant patient flow is limited by various factors. The most obvious issue is that the after-effect of the pandemic has destroyed many former patients’ normal oral health protocols, and they are slow to return to their normal routine behaviours. Additionally, because of pandemic closures, the rising cost of living has a negative connotation for routine procedures such that they are viewed as discretionary instead of as necessary health protocols. There are fewer opportunities to attract new patients given the decrease in the patient population available which is also affected by fewer new immigrants settling in our province. As well, an abundance of practitioners from other jurisdictions are being licensed in Ontario and are opening practices which results in more competition for the same number of patients.
After considering issues related to the patient base, the practice’s performance needs analysis. If the premise of the necessity to increase practice performance is internalized, the next obvious question is how do I effect the necessary enhancements?
As with most operating issues within the practice, it makes sense to begin with a team meeting with all staff and associates to outline the problem. Demonstrating the increased cost associated with seeing the same number of patients as pre-COVID-19 days and charging the same fees inevitably will result in loss of practice income. The objective of this meeting is to have everyone concerned buy-in to practice enhancement or protocols as you assure them that these enhancements benefit the entire team.
Yet another issue for consideration is to explore different aspects of the practice and seek improvements in providing the service. Looking at protocols and services with a new eye provides opportunity for change and this new viewpoint of operations could benefit the bottom line. Moreover, the owner/operator’s introspection coupled with the team’s input has the potential to improve the delivery of some clinical dentistry. Oftentimes, the assistance of a third party offers an objective viewpoint.
After examining the need to attract patients, practice performance, and possible remedial actions by careful self-evaluation of existing protocols inside the clinical area, we need to look at the administrative team.
Administrative: The administrative team is tasked with writing clear definitions of job descriptions that highlight responsibilities and accountabilities. Among their duties are implementing chart audits, scheduling daily huddles, and monthly team departmental meetings. Implementing contracts to ensure compliance from team members is effective for transparency of job responsibilities and accountabilities. Another task is the office responsibility for offering sick days, vacation, and absenteeism policies. Finally, they implement new patient referral and retention programs. Financial administrative duties include explaining financial arrangements, account receivables, and implementing and tracking metrics.
Communication with patients: The administrative team ensures consistency and flow of patients into the office with congruent and subtle reminders. When patients book their next appointment, the team offers practice hours which align with patients’ schedules. They also need to show consistency in the cancellation policy without billing patients.
Coaching and mentoring: An effective technique to gain familiarity with daily situations in the practice is to introduce role-playing scenarios. Perhaps a knowledgeable third party who is successful in other administrative positions or a knowledgeable consultant could participate in the roleplay. Another exercise to improve communication skills is to help team members develop a friendly and professional tone when speaking with a patient on the telephone or in-person. It is also important to motivate and educate team members for a happier and more productive environment. A coach or mentor encourages team members and demonstrates how to deliver optimal patient service.
Training: After coaching and mentoring, generally training is available for identified areas of weakness; for example, offering the new role of patient coordinator.
An important task of the clinical and hygiene departments is personalizing patient experiences.
Evaluation: Evaluating team members in their respective roles is important. Should team members show skills in other areas, assigning them to more appropriate positions after training is wise.
An important task of the clinical and hygiene departments is personalizing patient experiences. As an oral health practitioner, pointing out the general health value of the service the patient will receive creates a culture of promoting general good health. Showing empathy helps build patient loyalty and an explanation of the value of the procedures overcomes objections to a slight increase in the fee.
Instead of trivializing the next re-care appointment by saying “just rebook for the next cleaning” sometimes heard when patients finalize payment and rebooking, focus on the positive aspects of their dental care which contribute to the consistency of the benefits of good oral health care.
By implementing some of these practice enhancements, clinical professionals improve patients’ oral health in the long term and create a positive attitude toward receiving dental care despite slightly more costly procedures rather than having to deal with preventable pathology.