This year has been unique to say the least, and the impact of COVID-19 varies for each dental practice – not just when comparing practices by state or region, but for practices within the same community. With continued uncertainty and mounting financial pressures, some practitioners may be considering changing careers or transitioning into retirement. On the other hand, some practices may be busier than ever and are struggling to keep up with the demand from the backlog of patients needing care. No matter where you are on the spectrum, everyone is experiencing challenges as unique as the practice they have built. Co-founder of Dynamic Dental Advisors (DDA), Meghan Conger, weighs in on the current climate of the dental industry and the path forward.
Recently, I was asked by a student I teach at Marquette University School of Dentistry, “What does a day in the life of an independent dentist look like right now?” This is an excellent question, especially from someone trying to gain perspective on the career path they are about to embark on.
I responded that, in addition to providing care, private practitioners have taken on a considerable amount of additional responsibilities, both from a business and a leadership perspective. Dentists must remain flexible and proactive, preparing for a variety of scenarios that could impact their practice, including extended leave and/or loss of production in the event a team member of family member develops COVID-19. Practices have had to adjust their schedules and redesign their daily workflow to triage and prioritize incoming patient requests. Outside of navigating changes to the way they provide patient care, dentists also need to regularly check in with their team to offer support and address any anxiety or stress they may be experiencing during this unprecedented time. All of this doesn’t take into account the extra efforts needed to sustain their business right now. From researching and managing loan and grant opportunities, to procuring the necessary PPE, adjusting their operating expense budget to include all the new safety requirements and ensuring they are clearly communicating all safety enhancements and new protocols to patients and staff – the list goes on and on. While most practices experienced challenges before the pandemic, since then, the world (and the dental industry) has changed, and nothing seems to come as naturally as it used to.
The student’s response: “That sounds exhausting, when do they see patients?” Little did he know how right on the mark he was!
This leaves many practitioners wondering, where do we go from here?
Sit down and put pencil to paper. Begin to plan. Create.
The silver lining in all of this is that the pandemic has given us the opportunity to roll up our sleeves, get creative and do things differently. I know this can seem easier said than done and admit I have had my moments of skepticism over the past several months. I work with several practices in the Midwest and when they began to reopen there were times that providing guidance seemed downright daunting. There was no proven method or best practice for a situation like this, making it difficult to see a path forward. However, as time went on and we began to see subtle signs that things may be beginning to return to “normal”, it became clearer how to proceed.
We had the tools all along, we just needed to take a step back to see things from a different perspective. In fact, dental practices can be as profitable or more so then they were pre-pandemic. As an owner and practitioner, by understanding and utilizing the resources available to you, and with some planning, you can set your practice back on a path to thrive.
It is important to keep in mind that for most practices to achieve their maximum profitability potential, change is necessary. Producing and collecting more is no longer enough to sustain your practice. You must evaluate the other business aspects of your practice, including having a clear understanding of how your practice is performing compared to industry benchmarks for your area. From there, you can develop a plan to improve where you may fall short. To do this, it is important to note that:
- Periodically reviewing your financial statements is not a sufficient business management solution; you must also compare your practice financials against established benchmarks of a thriving practice.
- You should know the areas of opportunity and pain points for your practice, the statistics behind them and how to improve or correct each area.
- You should have a thorough understanding of the insurance landscape for the new year, including best practices for code submission and reimbursement.
- To be successful, you will need to spend time gathering data, setting goals, creating a roadmap and implementing new processes.
Change is never easy and if you need support, there is no better time to reach out to advisors you trust. They will work alongside you to help you develop a plan for your practice – to ensure your practice thrives, at a pace that is comfortable for you. A now-retired dentist that I worked with had a favorite saying that has stuck with me over the years:
“If your car begins to fail, and you don’t look under the hood, one day you will find yourself without a car.”
It is the same with your practice. Now is the time to look under the hood to identify and address anything keeping you from reaching your full profitability potential. While it may seem daunting or scary at first, by doing so, you will set your practice on the path to long-term success and enable you and your team to work smarter not harder. Operating a profitable practice amid a pandemic, despite the unique challenges, simply requires new knowledge, renewed purpose, a willingness to embrace change and a measure of accountability for yourself and your team.
The question is not, can my practice be more profitable but rather, what steps can I take to uncover the full profitability potential of my practice.
CO-Founder of Dynamic Dental Advisors
Meghan has been coaching and leading dentists and their teams for over 20 years through a variety of business development and practice management needs, as a consultant, speaker, and faculty member at Marquette University School of Dentistry.
For further questions and dialog, you may contact Meghan at: [email protected]