If you’re looking for ideas on how to make your dental practice more profitable, it’s important to take a step back and look at your entire practice from a 10,000-foot view. It’s relatively easy to get very granular and evaluate benchmarks like advertising, marketing, and number of new patients. While these items are important, it’s often the big picture perspective that inspires a multi-fold strategy that ultimately increases dental practice profitability.
Establish a Practice That’s Less Dependent on Dental Insurance
Are insurance carriers killing your profits and having a negative impact on your patients? The fact of the matter is, dental insurance companies often dictate your prices, dip into your profits, and even reject your patient’s claims, thereby giving them a bad experience.
Jordon Comstock, founder of BoomCloud Apps, which specializes in dental membership software, shares a compelling account on this very topic at DentistryToday.com.
“I recently spoke with a doctor who told me about a patient who came into his office and needed a lot of treatment. The doctor made a diagnosis and created a treatment plan that was submitted to the insurance company. Then, the insurance company rejected the claim and had the audacity to tell his patient and his dental practice that her condition was not bad enough for treatment, as if it knew better than an experienced doctor. Insurance companies can be unethical in their business decisions.”
Comstock also mentions that “dentists say that dental insurance is like a gift card.” Patients are able to use their insurance benefits, however, it’s the carriers that determine what treatment they can and cannot get from a policy. In essence, dental insurance as a whole is often a major barrier to entry for most practices. This is largely because patients can lose their dental benefits, particularly retirees and those with employment changes, and they’re intimidated to visit the dentist because they think they can’t afford it.
What comes from these weaknesses and threats to the system are opportunities for your dental practice to create its own financial systems for patients. Comstock suggests creating an “in-house membership program” that allows patients to pay your practice a monthly or yearly membership, and in turn, they earn structured benefits at your practice. Essentially, your practice creates an alternative option that’s less dependent on the middleman. As a result, you cultivate greater loyalty with your patients, accurately diagnose issues, provide optimal dental care, and generate recurring revenue.
Expand the Responsibilities of Dental Assistant
Dental offices often underrate their assistants, and in doing so, minimize valuable profit potential. Successful practices have embraced the evolved role of an assistant performing expanded functions. In addition to standard responsibilities, like ensuring patient’s comfort and assisting dentists, dental assistants with expanded functions can take x-rays, apply sealants, conduct coronal polishing for hygiene patients, and perform other duties outside the realm of typical assistant roles. With these additional skills, hygienists should have an assistant who they can work effectively and regularly alongside to increase the productivity of the hygiene department. The improvement in efficiency between this dynamic simply can’t be understated.
The functions that these assistants are allowed to handle depends on the state in which they practice. Not only does each state set its own requirements for how to become an expanded functions dental assistant, but the job title may vary anywhere from Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (EFDA), Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), Licensed Dental Assistant (LDA), and Registered Dental Assistants with Expanded Functions (RDAEF).
In essence, an EFDA is a dental assistant with extra responsibilities and duties. Because they have additional training, their duties are extended into more specialized areas such as radiography, sealant and fluoride application, dental charting, topical anesthetic, and mold impressions. In turn, they help maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of a dental practice.
Whether a small dental office or larger practice, if EFDA is a foreign title among its staff, then it may warrant an opportunity to expand to the role of its dental assistants. While this will require additional training and certifications for assistants, the investment will help support the profitability of the practice in the long run.
Optimize Your Customer Support System
Poor customer service in any business model can severely cripple a company’s reputation. One bad experience can prompt a negative review, which in turn often leads to reduced patient retention as well as new patient acquisition. Highlighting this impact, data from Help Scout revealed that 91% of customers who were unhappy with their experience refused to do business with a company again.
It’s essential that dental offices provide patient experiences that will directly translate into benefits for practices. This is especially important when you consider the statistics behind acquiring a new patient being 6 to 7 times costlier than retaining a current one. Dental practices should establish a foundation of core expectations to hold team members accountable and ensure that exceptional customer service is being implemented across the entire practice. Not only will these standards help prevent negative experiences from arising, they will support a practice’s marketing efforts by ensuring patients are happy, and thereby leave 5-star reviews and spread positive word of mouth.
A practice’s staff should also be proactive in ensuring patient satisfaction. This involves assessing individual patient’s needs and employing a systematic process to satisfy those requests. Start by establishing benchmarks to measure the system’s effectiveness, and later make revisions by gathering feedback and input from other staff members. A simple system can better ensure patient satisfaction continues to improve, which in turn will promote greater retention and profitability.
Leverage Dental Software Solutions
Whether by making certain processes more efficient or by automating time-consuming tasks like appointment reminders, most dental software platforms are designed to free-up valuable time spent on otherwise manual operations. Patient communication software, for example, can help to minimize no-shows while improving patient recall. If you find that the system has reduced X number of no-shows per month on average, then you can multiply that number by your average production per appointment to calculate the value that this particular feature is adding.
Although it’s slightly more ambiguous to assign a dollar amount to the time saved by your staff as a result of a software investment, this too is an important factor that should be factored-in when evaluating a platform’s ROI. A simple way to account for this is to estimate how many hours per month the software system saves in administrative and patient management processes, and multiply that estimate by their hourly wage.
Quantifiable metrics, such as staff time savings and a reduction in no-shows, are some of the most obvious ways that dental software platforms can help you save money. However, these tangible metrics are only part of the bigger picture. Oftentimes, investing in the right software platform can also lend to a better patient experience. For example, online appointment scheduling systems allow patients to book appointments online without having to call your practice. In turn, this helps reduce overhead in scheduling appointments and offers your patients an added level of convenience.
If your practice has yet to go paperless, there’s ample evidence supporting the cost efficiencies to do so. The first reason is sheer space. Data collected by MultiBriefs claims that 50 to 70 percent of office space is devoted to filing and storing documentation in practices that do not have paperless processes in place. Similarly, searching through paper files can consume as much as 30 percent of an employee’s work time throughout the day, according to ILM Corporation.
Aside from office space and workflow efficiency, the tangible overhead costs of paper-based operations can be substantial expense over time. According to a report by InformIT, the average employee uses about 10,000 sheets of paper per year, accumulating to approximately $80 per year per employee – and that’s just the cost of the paper. The cost of printer ink, envelopes, and other office staples can cost even more depending on the practice.
Is your practice already paperless? Before you say “yes,” it’s important to draw the distinction between “paperless” and “chartless” – two very different terms are often used interchangeably.
The term “chartless” refers to how a practice stores patient information, while “paperless” refers to how a practice receives and retrieves that information. If you operate a chartless dental practice, then you have gone to measures to replace paper charts with electronic records. However, patients complete and sign forms (such as personal information, medical history, financial documents, etc.). In most cases, office staff then enters this data into your computer system.
Conversely, with a paperless office, the redundant and time-consuming paper-based processes are entirely bypassed. Patients fill out forms on an iPad in your office or on your website. This information is immediately sent to your practice where your team can view and upload this information into your practice management software with just a few clicks.
Revamp Your Practice’s Marketing Plan
Your practice may have some form of marketing plan in place already, but how much of it is properly executed versus haphazardly enacted?
A cohesive dental marketing plan should be organized from beginning to end. It should outline specific campaigns and strategies, schedules and budgets, target goals and objectives, and incentives. Your dental practice’s marketing plan should be shared and understood by everyone in your office. Not only does this support a unified effort, but it improves communication so staff members can better pinpoint shortfalls, offer insight, and pay attention to small details that may have slipped past them if they weren’t involved in the big picture.
In today’s digital era, it’s vital that online marketing is at the forefront of this plan. Many practices fail to update their marketing strategies and don’t maintain a robust online presence. Data suggests that over 90% of consumers search for local businesses online and 40% of consumers today say that information found on social media affects their health decisions. This makes it vital for dentists to ensure their information is reaching current and prospective patients. If dental offices limit their practice to archaic marketing techniques, it can have a detrimental impact on both its profitability and sustainability.
Dentistry can be a challenging business to thrive in. In addition to unexpected events and uncontrollable expenses, patients often don’t fully appreciate the difference between average dentists and great dentists. This leaves many dental practices struggling to find tangible and proven ways to improve their dental practice profitability. We hope that with the ideas mentioned above, you can break-through financial barriers and improve the profit margins of your practice.