- Dental Health

How to Run a Successful Dental Practice


I recently interviewed Dr. Scott Olson, a dental professional in Springfield, Missouri. I wanted to find out how he runs his practice and what has worked best for him in the areas of staffing, finance, marketing, and operations.


Q: What methods do you use to find competent staff members??

A: A strategy that has worked well for me is to hire students from local colleges that require students to complete an internship program at a dental office as a part of their education. The intern program not only gives the students hands-on experience, but it also gives me the opportunity to assess their skill level and passion for dentistry.

Q: Every practice has their own way of doing things. How do you get your staff acclimated to your business philosophy after they’ve been hired?

A: Aside from the Dental Assistant program mentioned above, we provide all new staff members with a detailed employee manual, which they are required to read and sign. The manual specifically outlines our policies, best practices, and procedures for treating patients with care.

Q: How often do you perform periodic reviews of your staff?

A: I am a firm believer in maintaining a dialogue with my staff. That’s why I not only conduct an annual review with my staff. I also ask them to evaluate me and how I can improve. The feedback from the two-way review is incredible. It has helped bring our practice to a higher level of care.


Q: You’ve made the decision to keep your overhead low by leasing a space in a strip center. Many other dentists have incurred a lot of overhead by locating in expensive buildings. Do you think you’ve come out ahead by adopting this strategy and have you thought about relocating or adding another location?

A: Although I’ve considered relocating the practice to a high-profile location, I’m glad I made the initial decision to keep my overhead to a minimum while still providing a comfortable environment for my patients. It has allowed me to save money and alleviates a lot of stress during lower volume periods. Dentists with high overhead usually feel the pinch during slower economic times.

Q: There are many ratios that dental professionals use to gauge the effectiveness of their practice. Which ones are most important to you?

A: The most important statistic to me is the number of new patients we treat each month because that is the foundation of our future growth. I always monitor our results to determine the age, sex, and location of the new patients which helps me better target my marketing efforts. Collections-to-total-production is another ratio I keep my eye on. When that number is greater than one, I find out why.

Q: At the beginning of each year, do you and your staff set goals for the upcoming year in the areas of revenues, profits, and patient counts?

A: We shut down the office for a day in early January to discuss ways we can improve efficiency, skill levels, and patient satisfaction. We believe that if we can improve the practice in those areas, the revenues and profits will ultimately follow.

Q: Do you typically lease or buy your equipment and how often do you upgrade?

A: To this point, I have purchased all of the equipment I use in the practice. However, there is some exciting new technologies on the horizon that I’m considering such as a new generation of digital x-ray equipment and crown fabrication. I’ll likely lease the new equipment I acquire because of the many advantages of that form of financing.

Q: How do you set your fee schedule and how does it compare with other practices in the area?

A: Our prices are not the cheapest in town, nor are they the most expensive. When I set prices, I look at the amount of time it takes me to complete each procedure as well as the associated labor, supplies, and overhead costs. I then set the price to achieve what I believe to be an equitable return on investment.


Q: What advertising methods do you use to reach new patients and which ones are more effective?

A: We always ask each new patient how they heard about us, which helps us track the effectiveness of all our marketing efforts. Referrals have been a major part of our new business the past two years. We offer a rewards program in which we grant the referring patient a gift card and the new patient a $50 discount off the cost of their initial visit. This is a major reason why we have gotten more new business from word of mouth referrals than any other means. Yellow Pages have also been instrumental in getting new business.

Q: You have continually upgraded your skills by attending classes and seminars that teach cutting edge techniques and procedures. Do you emphasize the new skills you’ve learned in your marketing?

A: First, attending classes and seminars that teach new techniques energizes me tremendously. I’m always excited about coming back and applying what I’ve learned. As for marketing, it’s difficult to present in an advertisement how continuing education can be beneficial. That’s why I carefully explain the newly learned procedures to the patient while they’re in my office.


Q: There is a wide variance in the quality of dental supplies and solutions. How do you decide which products to use?

A: I am very particular about which products I use and it’s important to make sure an adequate amount of independent research has been performed. I’m bombarded with solicitations for all kinds of products and most of the “research’ is from the company. That’s not good enough. I only use what has been proven to work.

Q: When a patient checks in, are they brought in to the exam room quickly?

A: Our goal is to bring a patient to the exam room within five minutes after check in. Needless to say, there are situations that arise which cause delays, but most of the time we achieve that goal because we value our patient’s time.

Q: When a patient comes in for a check up and you’ve found a problem outside the normal realm of a cavity that requires extensive work, how do you articulate the problem to the patient without using a lot of jargon?

A: The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” definitely applies here. When I show a patient pictures of how a cavity that is left untreated causes damage to the nerve, they get it. I do my best to make them understand what will likely happen if they do nothing, as opposed to the outcome if they choose treatment.

Q: For those patients who are on a strict budget, do you offer some type of self pay financing plan that will allow them to make monthly payments for large balances?

A: We offer an excellent self-pay financing program through Care Credit. One feature of this program is that the balance is interest-free if paid within one year. The payments can be stretched out to five years. We also offer an in-house 90 day same as cash option. We can usually find a way to make the financing work for our patients.

Q: Like any business, developing relationships with customers is critical to long-term success. What steps do you take to establish a dialogue with your patients?

A: That is a hot-button issue for me. Although our goal is to increase volume, I refuse to compromise the relationship with our patients. I make it a priority to spend an adequate amount of time not only on treatment, but to address the patient’s concerns, and educate them on things they can do to improve their dental health.


Source by Kent Harlan

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