While dentistry may not be as recession-proof as it once was, it's still extremely well positioned to weather economic downturns. Today's uncertainty is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn't mean you should simply ride it out and hope for the best.
The smartest strategy for weathering inflation will be to adopt changes and adjustments that continue benefiting your practice long after the economy has recovered. Take this opportunity to boost revenue, so your practice emerges stronger and more profitable. Here's a six-part strategy for making that happen.
1. INCREASE PRODUCTION
MAKE HYGIENE EXAMS MORE PRODUCTIVE
Intraoral cameras are insanely cheap, so adding one to every hygiene room will quickly pay for itself in weeks, not months. Artificial Intelligence tools like Overjet, while not insanely cheap, are a massive step up from simple intraoral cameras (let alone the naked eye) in diagnosing and treating more patients—and they also make exams more efficient.
IMPLEMENT COMPREHENSIVE ORAL EXAMS FOR EVERY PATIENT
There is little time savings in performing a limited oral exam or periodic oral exam versus a COE that will reveal more opportunities for treatment.
EXTEND YOUR BUSINESS HOURS (BUT NOT YOUR TEAM’S SCHEDULE)
Now more than ever, both team members and patients require more flexibility in their work hours and healthcare appointments. By accommodating both, you’ll see more patients sooner (and reduce the risk of losing them to competitors with different hours) and allow your team to better juggle their work between evenings, mornings and weekends (while keeping them happier and less likely to leave for a competitor that allows them more scheduling choices).
2. IMPROVE REVENUE QUALITY
RENEGOTIATE INSURANCE REIMBURSEMENT RATES
Enlisting expert consultants with a track record of results means you can add thousands to your bottom line without adding to your team’s workload. The keys: your consultant’s fees should pay for themselves quickly, and they should promise to tell you upfront if they’ll be unable to help.
GET A REVENUE ANALYSIS CONSULTATION
A good one should start off with a no-charge meeting to determine where an analysis of your practice’s code usage and fees could boost revenue. Ask: will it pay for itself, and how soon? How much revenue can we expect? Is there a success guarantee?
INTRODUCE A LOYALTY PROGRAM
"Loyalty program" may sound like it belongs in a casino or fast-food restaurant, but they’re everywhere because they work. Your loyalty program can include perks that increase retention across all types of patients, from those who pay out of pocket to those who rely on insurance. Not sure where to start? Consultants can help implement an effective program, and track the results over time, so you know what’s working and how the program is benefiting your practice.
3. ENHANCE DATA COLLECTION AND MONITORING
POST YOUR PRACTICE’S PRODUCTION
Don’t merely show daily numbers for the entire organization, post weekly production by team member. Remember, this isn’t only about congratulating the most productive performers or calling out the least productive people, it’s about making sure everyone has a sense of the big picture, and understands where to improve.
FOCUS ON REVENUE GENERATED BY DEPARTMENT
Break down revenue per patient visit and identify exceptions.
COUNT PATIENTS IN THE BUILDING EACH DAY
This is a leading (but overlooked) indicator of revenue, and it’s perhaps the simplest one to tally. More people through the door equals more opportunities to generate revenue.
MONITOR YOUR PROCEDURE CODE MIX
Tack it by doctor and identify opportunities for improvement. As you get more granular about your data collection and usage, this is where practice management software becomes increasingly necessary and useful.
TRACK MONTHLY ATTRITION
Of your active patients over the prior 18 months, how many are new? How many came from referrals? How many drifted away? This is easy to track with the right practice management software, and the same data can be automated to generate reminders that increase retention and reactivate patients who’ve gone missing—because it’s far less expensive to retain existing patients than cultivate new ones.
4. UPGRADE INTERNAL MARKETING
TAP INTO “FREE” MARKETING
Your patients are bombarded daily by messages for things like whitening and clear aligners. Not every consumer necessarily associates those treatments with the specific brands doing the advertising. Start taking advantage of increased awareness by letting patients know you offer these services, either through signage or hygiene appointments (see next item).
MARKET ENHANCED SERVICES THROUGH YOUR HYGIENE TEAM
Marketing isn’t a dirty word for hospitals and nonprofits, and it shouldn’t be for dental practices. Your patients have wants and needs like ortho, whitening and implants. Many won’t inquire about them because they don’t know who in your practice to talk to or when to do so. Therefore, if you or a team member doesn’t think to ask, you risk losing revenue...but more importantly, you risk patients leaving because they aren’t satisfied. (Even seemingly simple things like power toothbrushes represent an opportunity for better care: why leave them to choose their own at a drug store when they could buy one at your practice during a regular appointment?)
MARKET TO ADD HIGHER MARGINS, BUT NOT MORE WORK
Procedures like laser frenectomies or BOTOX® in the smile zone increase revenue without adding much time to appointments, making them highly profitable. But they require training and focus.
TRAIN EVERY TEAM MEMBER TO DISCUSS TREATMENT PLANS
Patients could ask any question, at any time, to any team member. For example, what if they’re anxious and can’t wait to finish their appointment, but relaxed while they’re finishing up at the front desk? Ensure that every team member is ready to talk treatment, anytime.
CROSS-MARKET WITH OTHER PROFESSIONALS
From physicians to mental health professionals to lactation coaches, the possibilities are endless. A strong network of cross-marketing partners in your market will also help with recruiting team members.
5. TIGHTEN SCHEDULING
WATCH FOR CANCELLATIONS
When things are busy, follow-ups can fall through the cracks. Here is yet another area where practice management software can be invaluable.
ENSURE EVERYONE LEAVES WITH A FUTURE APPOINTMENT
Always insist on scheduling another appointment...even if you know it will need to be changed. Reassure hesitant patients it’s OK if they need to reschedule, as long as they do so within your allowable time window. When goal setting, consider that the top 10% of practices report having between 60-70% of patients scheduled for a future appointment.
CHASE PATIENTS WHO ARE NOT CURRENTLY SCHEDULED
Retaining current patients is far less costly than generating new ones, so it’s worth the time and effort to track down patients who are not scheduled for reappointment.
IMPROVE SCHEDULING SKILLS AND FOCUS
Hire a scheduling consultant and add/upgrade your templates on a regular basis. Your team is busy, and a scheduling consultant can focus on improvement while the team focuses on their everyday functions.
TAKE A HARDER STANCE ON NO-SHOWS AND LATE CANCELLATIONS
Enforce the value of your time with policies that discourage poor behavior threatening productivity and revenue. You may even find that some patients are worth losing, and that you’re better off replacing them with new patients who are easier to work with.
6. DEVELOP YOUR PROCEDURE MIX
REFER ORTHO EARLIER
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends a check-up with an orthodontic specialist no later than age 7. Significant changes occur between 7 and 10 that need to be caught early and addressed promptly.
ADD/GROW TELEDENTISTRY OPTIONS
This doesn’t have to be a big part of your practice in order to add significant revenue while freeing up more time for in-person visits. Phone consultations, virtual initial visits and online patient follow-ups should be built into the regular schedule.
TAP INTO THE “ZOOM”
Consider using online meeting platforms to host events like individual or group smile makeover seminars. Ask attendees, “What do you want to change in your smile?” Use a pre-meeting sign up to gather patient info in advance, and then follow up.
ADD MONTHLY SKILL/PROCEDURE-FOCUSED TRAINING FOR DOCTORS
These can be as simple as short videos or as immersive as in-person CE. The goal is simply to start getting more team members comfortable with delivering key procedures.
ADD/GROW YOUR SEDATION OFFERING
The more comfortable and skilled you are, the more comfortable patients will be asking for it. Don’t let patients experience unnecessary anxiety. Also, be compensated fairly; charge full fee with patients paying their copay.
Excerpted from the Benco Dental white paper, "The Inflation To-Do List: Simple, Straightforward Strategies for Fighting Back Against Surging Costs."
BENCO DENTAL IS THE LEADER in cutting-edge dental practice theory, consulting, systems and design. They drive dentistry forward through their innovative solutions and caring family culture. The company is also the country’s largest independent distributor of technology, equipment and supplies with 1,400 associates across the U.S.