02 July 2015

Dentists spend many years developing their skills, but there’s more to a successful practice than clinical expertise. “The way a practice is managed is important, and this is where dentists may feel less confident,” says Anita Roubicek, Joint Chief Executive Officer of Prime Practice, an Australian-based global dental consultancy. “Running a business isn’t part of the curriculum at dental school, so it’s not surprising.” She points out that a practice that’s running smoothly and efficiently is more appealing to both staff and patients. “Employees like it when they’re part of an organised structure and feel confident about what they need to do,” says Roubicek. “Patients also like a sense of stability. If the practice is disorganised with a high rate of staff turnover they can’t depend on a positive experience, so they’re likely to look elsewhere.” Roubicek’s four steps to creating a more successful dental practice are as follows.

1. Develop a plan

People who succeed in any business often start out with the end game in mind. “When you know how you want to exit your practice you’ll always be guided by that vision,” says Roubicek. You also need a clear picture of where you want the practice to be in three to five years’ time. “From here you can work out what you need to do, and the kinds of people you need to employ, to achieve your goals,” she adds.

2. Get the right advice

The majority of dentists start out as an employee or associate dentist. They learn how to run a practice from someone more senior who performs in a certain way – but that might not be the right way. “A course in business management, someone with good mentoring skills or a practice management consultant will help you get to the heart of how your business works, what the numbers mean and what you should be focusing on,” says Roubicek.

3. Analyse, track and monitor

“When it comes to making improvements in your practice your gut instinct isn’t enough,” Roubicek continues. “You need accurate figures in front of you. For example, you might spend a lot of money on advertising to attract new patients but if you don’t check the results, you’ll have no idea whether it’s working. If you do something as simple as asking new patients what brought them to your practice you might find that majority were referred by a friend or just liked the look of your surgery and that no-one saw your advertisement run every week in the local paper.” Another key statistic is the number of patients who return every six months for active maintenance. “Keeping a patient is much cheaper than finding a new one so retention should be a priority,” Roubicek continues. “Yet, even though all dental software can monitor patient attrition, surprisingly few dentists use it. When they do, they often find their retention rate is much lower than they thought but at least they know this is an area that needs attention.”

4. Engage your team

Many dentists believe it’s hard to find good people, but the real problem may lie in their lack of management skills. “Your team is there to support you but, like other business owners, many dentists find it hard to let go of the information employees need to do a good job,” says Roubicek. “It’s important to keep them engaged, communicate with them at regular team meetings and share what’s going on in the practice. And, if you ask for their feedback and suggestions, they will often come up with really good ideas for improvement. Your ultimate goal should be to build a team you can trust to manage the practice while you concentrate on your clinical work.”

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