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Old Systems & High Stress – A Deadly Combination

Old Systems & High Stress – A Deadly Combination

When I ask dentists why they and their team are feeling stress, they usually attribute it to patients or staff problems. While it’s true that losing a dental assistant, for example, can elevate stress temporarily, our research shows that long-term stress actually comes directly from system inefficiencies.

Systems that no longer work properly frustrate the team members who use them. They make even simple, routine tasks troublesome, forcing everyone in the office to grapple with bottlenecks every day. The most capable and dedicated staff members usually suffer the most because, no matter how hard they strive to excel, poor systems undermine their efforts. Doctors also feel more stress because the practice—their practice—is falling short of its business potential.

All systems, no matter how good they are, have an expiration date. Systems that once facilitated practice growth inevitably become obsolete. When they do, they stop helping and start hurting, pushing practices toward financial decline and leaving potential income on the table every day.

The Obvious Solution

The good news is that replacing inadequate systems can solve both stress and production problems. If you have older systems, the schedule is often the best place to start. It affects nearly every operation in the practice. When the schedule continually breaks down, patients get upset causing team members to get stressed. A new, high-performance schedule can often trigger a practice turnaround, especially if a commitment is made to replace other outdated systems.

In the new dental economy, the practices that thrive will be those that transform themselves into real-world businesses by upgrading their management systems. Conversely, dentists who continue doing “business as usual” will continue to experience lower production and higher stress.


Additional Resources

Download Dr. Levin’s free whitepaper “Increasing Production with the Right Systems.

Read “Top 4 Excuses for Holding onto Bad Systems.

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6 Steps for Overhauling Your Schedule

6 Steps for Overhauling Your Schedule

Your scheduling system is the core of your practice. It drives production. If you create an excellent schedule, you’ll be able to focus your resources more effectively… and grow practice income.

Revamping your scheduling system takes quite a bit of planning. Following are several basic guidelines that will ensure the best results:

  1. Conduct procedural time studies. Conditions in any dental practice change over time, such as the experience levels of you and your clinical staff, new technologies, new governmental regulations, etc. For this reason, you should measure how long it takes to perform various procedures and tasks. The timing process is relatively simple, and it can make a huge difference in how patients are scheduled.
  2. Use 10-minute increments. Most practices have already shifted from 15-minute units to the more precise 10-minute increments for planning appointments. If you haven’t done so yet, you can easily make the switch when you have the results of the time studies in hand.
  3. Structure an “ideal day” template. What’s your idea of a perfect daily schedule? The only way to make it happen is to define it, explain it to your team and train your scheduling coordinator with scripts that guide patients into the ideal schedule openings.
  4. Use scripting to control all aspects of scheduling. You can’t put together an efficient daily schedule without patient compliance. Write scripts to ensure that most practice-patient interactions about scheduling achieve the desired results.
  5. Schedule new patients within 7–10 days. In today’s more competitive dental market, you can’t afford to keep patients waiting for their first visit to your practice… because they might change their minds.
  6. Update your confirmation process. Modern communications technologies offer better ways to confirm appointments than the old postcards-and-phone-calls approach. Review the various techniques and services now available to dental offices and put together a more effective methodology.

Conclusion

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to creating a scheduling system that will decrease stress, reduce rushing and downtime, and enable you to increase production without working longer hours.


Additional Resources

For a more in-depth discussion of revamping your schedule, check out Dr. Levin’s popular how-to book, Power Cell Scheduling.

Learn more about our training course on Scheduling by going here.

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Top 4 Excuses for Holding onto Bad Systems

Top 4 Excuses for Holding onto Bad Systems

Systems, systems, systems! Either you got good ones or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re asking for trouble!

Here’s the problem: most dentists think they have good systems when, in fact, they don’t. Sure, at one time, the systems were effective and efficient, but that was years ago. Management and marketing systems have a shelf life of about three years when they’re operating at peak efficiency.

After that, things slow down. As the practice continues to evolve, the old systems can’t keep up and they begin breaking down more and more frequently.

Doctors and team members will get out “the duct tape” to keep the systems running, but bottlenecks continue to multiply, forcing the staff to improvise work-a-rounds and other fixes that, of course, create additional problems. Before long, those once sleek, simple, super-efficient systems have transmogrified into a Rube Goldbergian nightmare. It takes more and more effort to get less and less done. Not a good situation for you, your team or your patients.

Yet dentists insist on holding onto outdated, production-killing, morale-destroying systems. Why? Here are the top four excuses dentists make for keeping bad systems:

1. It’s going to take too much time to replace the systems

You can’t expect to snap your fingers and have new systems like that. A better way to look at it is that new systems are an investment in your practice… in your sanity… and your financial well-being.

If your outdated systems aren’t working well now, what will they be like a year from now? How high will he stress be in your practice? How long will your team agree to keep working under such conditions… before they start looking for opportunities elsewhere?

2. It won’t be worth it

Can you remember what was it like when your current systems were new? How the days seemed to fly by with few problems? Patients weren’t backed up in the reception area. Stress was low or nearly nonexistent. And you weren’t putting in extra time in the office and at home, thinking about the practice 24/7.

You can’t go back to those easier, stress-free days with your current systems. But if you could get a better practice and a better life with new systems, would it be worth it?

3. We fixed systems before and nothing happened

Fixing systems isn’t replacing them. And that’s what you’ve got to do when systems become outdated. Your practice is continually evolving, and new systems can absorb only so many changes before they start to flounder. Think of all the changes that have occurred in your practice in the past three years regarding technology, supplies, personnel, protocols, equipment, etc.

I bet it’s a pretty substantial list, yet you’re operating with basically the same systems before any of those changes happened. It’s like running new software on an old computer. It either won’t work or it runs so slowly that you finally throw your hands up in frustration.

4. My team doesn’t want to change

It happens. Teams get comfortable with the status quo. But if your practice isn’t performing to your satisfaction, then it’s up to you to change it.

After all, you want to get the most out of your career. You don’t want to settle for lower income and lower profitability… just because your team is happy with the way things are.

Sure, you want your team’s input on how to improve the practice, but keeping everything the same shouldn’t be an option.

Conclusion

Your practice is a Ferrari. You can’t expect it to operate at peak performance if there’s a lawnmower engine under the hood. That’s what happens with old systems––they prevent you from reaching your practice’s full potential. Who wants to be puttering down the road when you could be flying full speed ahead into a much brighter future?


Additional Resources

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Surprising Advice for Dentists from Sgt. Pepper

Surprising Advice for Dentists from Sgt. Pepper

It was 50 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. What can the Beatles’ classic album released five decades ago teach us about practice management? You’re probably thinking not much. After all, there are no songs about dentists on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But as with every Beatles album, there’s a lot of great music and plenty of good advice. And some of it applies to dentistry. Let’s take a look…

With a Little Help from My Friends

It can be lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be. Even with the growth of DSOs, the majority of dentists still operate solo practices. That means you wear a lot of hats… you’re the main producer, the team leader, the CEO, the CFO and the CMO. Some days, it can seem overwhelming.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. Study clubs represents one of the greatest resources for practice owners. You can learn a lot from your colleagues, many of whom have experienced similar issues and challenges. You’ll get pertinent advice, learn about new clinical procedures and develop a support network that can get you through the tough times.

Good Morning, Good Morning

Morning meetings matter. Never underestimate the power of this brief gathering. Sharing information about the day’s schedule, patients, treatments, and emergences keeps everybody on the same page. Start your day the right way with a morning meeting!

Getting Better

That should be the goal of every practice. How can we improve? What’s not working and what could be working better? What are the solutions? What are the costs? What can we accomplish with the budget and manpower we have? As the practice leader, you don’t want to settle for the status quo. Because when you stop improving, you eventually start declining.

Fixing a Hole

A full schedule drives practice growth. Gaps in the schedule are missed opportunities. To combat last-minute cancellations, keep a list of patients who are looking to move up their appointments. Contact them as soon as you have an opening. Also, use social media to get the word out. If patients have a break in their schedule, they often come in to catch up on their dental care.

When I’m Sixty Four

Are you saving enough for retirement? When was the last time you looked at your retirement plan? Are you currently working with a dental-knowledgeable advisor? Even if you’re a younger dentist and believe retirement is decades away, you need to start planning for it now.

A Day in the Life

Like any job, dentistry can become a grind… if you let it. As the practice owner, you have the power to create a fun, productive work environment. Don’t just put in your time. Create the practice you want. Sure, it takes time and effort. But the sooner you start working on it, the sooner it will happen.

Conclusion

It’s been called everything from the greatest album ever made to the most overrated record in the history of popular music. Wherever your opinion falls on that spectrum, there are still some surprising lessons Sgt. Pepper can teach us 50 years after its release.


Additional Resources

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4 Lies That Hold Dentists Back

4 Lies That Hold Dentists Back

Dear Struggling Dentist,

Here’s some advice––stop being your own worst enemy!

Yes, I know, the dental economy isn’t the greatest and competition is heating up as DSOs continue to grow. And I realize that patients are less loyal than they used to be and even the loyal ones don’t come in for their twice-yearly hygiene appointments. On top of all that, the insurance companies keep chopping reimbursements and so on and so on.

Yes, these things are all true and they make it much more challenging to run a successful practice.

But I’ve met too many dentists who are struggling and yet continue to believe in dangerous, performance-depleting myths. Let me be clear, these internalized myths are far more dangerous than all the external threats combined.

Here are four of the most pernicious lies dentists tell themselves:

1. “Something Will Rescue Me”

Nobody’s coming. This isn’t a superhero movie where Batman shows up at your office, grabs a canister of “New Patient Attractor” from his trusty bat belt, douses your reception area with this magical elixir, and then suddenly your practice is overrun with new patients. Ain’t gonna happen. No way, no how!

You’ve got to be your own superhero. That means putting together a plan, brainstorming strategies and implementing them, tracking performance, making adjustments, and getting expert help when needed. No cape or Batmobile required.

2. “It’s Just a Phase”

I’ve heard this over and over from dentists whose production has been down three or four years. That’s not a phase, it’s a permanent condition! Well, that is, unless you decide to do something about it.

I get it. You want to be positive. You want to believe the practice will turn around. But belief alone isn’t enough. For things to improve, you have to marry belief to action.

It’s like losing weight. You may want to drop 20 pounds, but if you don’t change your diet or your exercise habits, you won’t shed any weight.

3. “But It Worked Before”

That doesn’t mean it will work now or ever again. And if it’s not working now, that’s your sign to change what you’re doing. The “it” can be a marketing strategy, campaign or ad. Just because something was successful in the past, there’s no guarantee it will succeed in the present.

 4. “The Economy Will Pick Up”

It’s already picked up. So if you’re expecting some turbocharged, super-heated, macro-economic miracle to lift the dental economy out of the doldrums, you’re bound to be disappointed.

But all is not lost. The business of dentistry is evolving and will continue to evolve. So, forget the economy and concentrate on something you can control, like the activities within your practice. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do right now to make sure your practice is successful, such as:

  • Scheduling 98% of hygiene patients
  • Reactivating inactive patients
  • Collecting 98% of fees
  • Persuading at least half of your patients to make a referral every year
  • Delegating all administrative tasks to your team, so you can focus on patient care

None of these activities has anything to do with the overall economy. These are things you and your team can make happen on your own. So, what are you waiting for? Pick one and get started!

Conclusion

What we believe can either help us or hurt us. Too often dentists cling to false beliefs that limit their performance and their potential. Take a hard look at what’s holding you back. If it’s one of these lies, toss it aside and move on.


Additional Resources

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3 Things You Should Never Say to Your Team

3 Things You Should Never Say to Your Team

Words matter. What you say to your team can inspire them or demoralize them… encourage them or infuriate them… empower them or repulse them.

Of course, no one’s perfect. You may occasionally miscommunicate. If you say the wrong thing, find a way to correct the situation as soon as you can.

However, there are some phrases no dentist should ever utter. Here are three of them:

1. We don’t need to double-check Thelma. I trust her with our finances.

Embezzlement can happen to any practice… even your practice. No matter how trustworthy your financial coordinator is, you never want to give one employee sole control over all the money matters in your practice. It’s always better to have several staff members handling practice finances. In addition, use an outside accounting firm to conduct unscheduled audits. A series of checks and balances––with the appropriate in-house and outside oversight––can help prevent any financial impropriety.

2. Just shut up and do your job.

It’s not easy being the boss some days. You and your staff members aren’t always going to see eye to eye, but you never want to lose your temper and utter such a comment. It’s verbal abuse, pure and simple.

If you and a staff member are having a disagreement, ask to see that person in private. Listen to her concerns objectively. If you disagree, state your points dispassionately. Focus on the higher goal, such as what’s in the best interest of patients or the entire team. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

3. Let’s go on a date.

Big mistake. You’re asking for a whole lot of trouble, especially if one or both of you are already in a relationship. Even if you’re both single, your language could be perceived as coercive or harassing, which opens the practice to legal action. No matter how friendly you are with your team, do not cross this line.

I’ve met too many dentists who destroyed their marriages, damaged their practices and wreaked havoc on their finances by engaging in a romantic relationship with a staff member. It’s not worth it. End of story.


Additional Resource

Read a free excerpt from Dr. Levin’s popular book Essential Scripts for Patients Communication by clicking here and then hitting the Read an Excerpt button.

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Is Scripting Hurting Your Practice?

Is Scripting Hurting Your Practice?

Has your practice been taken over by a bunch of robots? Does it feel like your team is acting mechanically during interactions with patients? Has your customer service recently taken a nosedive?

The culprit could be scripting.

I bet more than a few of you are saying, “Wait a minute, Roger! Aren’t you one of the biggest proponents of scripting in dentistry and now you’re saying it’s bad for my practice?”

OK, before anyone blows a gasket, let’s take a step back just for just a minute…

Scripting is a tool, pure and simple. How it’s used can be good or bad. There’s a big misconception in dentistry that scripts, once created, must be followed word-for-word. When this happens, you get a team operating defensively. They’re afraid they’re going to forget the script… that they’re going to say the wrong thing. They’re so worried about making a mistake that they don’t respond genuinely to patients.

And then what happens when a patient asks a question that’s not in any script? Because, believe me, it will happen. You get a team that doesn’t know how to respond. They have become so dependent on just repeating the same scripted lines over and over that they no longer know how to actually communicate with patients.

The Right Way to Think about Scripting

Instead of being forced to memorize scripts, the staff should be taught to think of them as guides or talking points. Every script always has a goal. For instance, it can be scheduling the new patient or asking for a referral. There are multiple ways to accomplish both of these objectives, and team members should have the flexibility to hit the main points using their own words… as long as the goal is attained.

Role-playing scripts can help all team members to communicate more effectively with patients. It can also give staff the confidence to articulate the scripts in their own conversational manner. Rehearsing different versions of the same situation is another good training technique for stretching the verbal skills of each team member.

Conclusion

Let me set the record straight… Yes, I am still a big proponent of scripting, but its true goal isn’t rote memorization, but rather effective communication. You want to empower your team, not limit them. You want staff members who engage patients and visitors, rather than alienating them. Finally, you want to create a practice culture based on genuine interaction, not forced artificiality.


Additional Resource

Download Dr. Levin’s free whitepaper “Five Ways to Improve Interpersonal Relationships with Patients” by clicking here.

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Don’t Let Emergencies Blow Up Your Schedule

Don’t Let Emergencies Blow Up Your Schedule

How many times have you had a near-perfect day crash and burn… because an emergency patient showed up? Your schedule is humming along like a well-oiled machine with every patient being seen on time… until you get the call. It’s Mrs. Jones or Mr. Wilson, and they got a dental emergency.

Shortly after they arrive, there’s a big boom! That’s the sound of your schedule imploding. Moments later, a giant creaking sound… that’s the sound of your customer service system about to give way.

Your team struggles mightily to do what they can, but as the schedule falls more and more behind, your reception area fills up with patients who are waiting and waiting. They become increasingly restless and impatient and frustrated. They glower at their phones, shoot angry glances at the front desk, and a few of them even get into testy exchanges with team members. Some cancel their appointments. Some just walk out… perhaps never to be seen again.

In the span of a few hours, a seemingly great day quickly turned into a practice management nightmare. How can you prevent that from happening again?

Well, here a few things NOT to do:

Don’t tell every emergency patient to come in right away. Big mistake. Not all emergencies are the same. There are emergencies and then there are emergencies. Train your front desk team to triage patients over the phone to assess how urgent the emergency is asking patients questions such as:

  • Are you in extreme pain?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being extreme pain), how would you rate the discomfort you are experiencing?
  • Have you taken anything to relieve the pain? Is that working?

If patients are in extreme pain, then bring them in right away. If they aren’t, you have greater flexibility with scheduling them later in the day.

Don’t take patients back to the operatory and forget about them. Patients in pain are usually extremely anxious, too. The longer they have to wait to be seen, the more time they have to worry unnecessarily about their condition. If you’re going to tell them to come in, make sure you see them as soon as possible. A quick examination followed by palliative care will ease their pain and anxiety. If the practice is extremely busy, tell them a staff member will check on them every 10 or 15 minutes and you’ll be in as soon as possible. Give them an accurate estimate, if that’s possible. These measures reassure patients that they matter and that their care is a priority.

Don’t pretend everything is normal when you are running way behind schedule. One emergency patient, even when the case is well-managed, can wreck the schedule. If that happens, you owe it to your regularly scheduled patients to tell them what’s going on. A simple script such as the following can help: “We’re running a little behind today because Dr. Davis is taking care of a patient with a dental emergency. We apologize for the inconvenience. We expect him to able to see you in X minutes. We understand if that doesn’t work for you and we can reschedule you if you would like.”

When you tell patients what’s going on in the practice, they then then make an informed decision about whether they should continue waiting or reschedule the appointment. That kind of thoughtfulness is appreciated by patients.

Conclusion

Emergencies, by the very nature, are unpredictable. But they can be managed so they don’t blow up your schedule. If you’re making any of the three mistakes detailed above, now’s the time to take corrective action.


Additional Resource

Download a free excerpt from Dr. Levin’s popular Power Cell Scheduling. Go here and click on the “Read an Excerpt” button.

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3 Scheduling Mysteries Solved

3 Scheduling Mysteries Solved

There are three mysteries in scheduling that you must clear up immediately, because they can cost practices millions of dollars over the course of a career. The three scheduling mysteries are:

Mystery 1 – No-Shows and Last-Minute Cancellations

These are literally killing you by eviscerating your daily production goals and totals. You want your no-shows and last-minute cancellations—and make no mistake, a last-minute cancellation is as damaging as a no-show—under 1%.

Why do patients so often leave you with an opening that’s impossible to fill? You haven’t taught them to value their appointment.  Here’s a three-step process, based on phone scripts, that will solve this problem. When a patient no-shows, or cancels at the last minute:

  1. Have your scheduling coordinator create demand for the appointment by making the patient wait for a few weeks.
  2. If that doesn’t work, then threaten to charge the patient for the missed appointment (rather than actually charging, waive the fee as a favor, for which the patient will thank you every time).
  3. Put habitual no-show patients on a short list “to fill last-minute openings”… but don’t actually call them. They are money losers as regular patients. By default, whenever they do have a problem, they’ll be your future emergencies and add to production at that point.

Mystery 2 – Dealing With The Late Patient

Even the best patients will be late from time to time. There’s no way around it. Usually, if you don’t see them when they show up, you’ll lose money on the case. It’s far better to squeeze in the offenders as best you can and to stress with patients going forward that they run on time.

For habitually late patients, try this: schedule them 20 minutes earlier than the actual opening. When they show up late, as usual, they’ll actually be on time.

Mystery 3 – Losing 10 Minutes Per Hour

Levin Group has now analyzed thousands of scheduling systems with scientific time studies and found that the vast majority of offices can easily improve performance by 10 minutes per hour. You can achieve this by analyzing the amount of time needed per procedure, delegating responsibilities so the doctor can spend more time chairside, and breaking old, inefficient habits.

The results will be nothing short of incredible. It’s like gaining two extra months of potential doctor production time per year… which, over the course of 24 years, adds 48 months. This is the equivalent of generating an additional two years’ worth of production without working one more minute!


Additional Resource

Download a free excerpt from Dr. Levin’s popular book, Power Cell Scheduling. Go here and click on the “Read an Excerpt” button.

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Three Things Dentists Shouldn’t Talk About with Patients

Three Things Dentists Shouldn’t Talk About with Patients

There’s a simple rule to keep you out of trouble when talking with staff members or patients. The rule is: Don’t discuss sex, religion or politics.

The reason is that all three subjects can be controversial, offensive or inappropriate. Comments that you think are interesting or humorous may very well be disturbing to someone else. Each of us has our own cultural and personal standards in these areas, and you risk ruining a practice-patient relationship—not to mention losing a patient, triggering negative social media posts, etc.—if you venture into these taboo topics.

There’s a fine line between an innocent remark and sexual harassment or embarrassment. Don’t take chances. Just skip anything related to sex altogether.

Religion, in its way, can be equally sensitive. There are many different beliefs and levels of intensity. Some people may find your religious comments perfectly acceptable, while others might be offended. Best to avoid this subject altogether.

And then there’s politics. People have become very polarized politically and often dislike it when others disagree with them. If you feel a need to express your views, reserve it for friends, family or cocktail parties… which, of course, could still be dangerous, but at least it won’t cost you patients!

Additional Resource

Learn more about communicating with patients in Dr. Levin’s book, What to Say, What Not to Say. Go here for details, and click the link to read an excerpt.

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