How to balance customer service, patient care, and dental practice numbers

What happens when the management team is always looking at production and numbers and not focusing on the patients? I see this happening all too often in dental offices. I’ve been an office manager since 2002 and I understand there is a balance between numbers, production, collections, new patients, overhead and patient care. Each plays an integral part in the success of a dental business. We have to watch these numbers or have a team member that is focused on the numbers and understands the purpose behind the numbers.

There are two parts to balancing a successful dental practice.

“We have to remember what we do for a living, we have to keep in mind that we help people keep their teeth for life. Our purpose, our why, our mission, our belief, everything we do should be behind that.“ ~ Laura Hatch

Our purpose and our why should always be our patients, first and foremost. We help people, our patients keep their teeth for life and that needs to be on the forefront with every decision we make, everything we buy, every team member we hire, every policy we put in place, should always have that purpose underlying in it. We want to be more efficient to help more patients, we want to offer more services to be able to help our patients with the procedures they need. We want to have this new technology because it’s the latest and greatest, and is best for our patients.

If we want to treat patients, we need to stay in business. We do have to track how we are doing. We could help our patients all day long but if we’re not making money and we’re not covering the cost of the practice and we are not paying payroll, then we can’t help patients. A balance must be found between putting our patients first and putting the business first. In order to be a successful business, we have to stay in business, hire good people and make money at the end of the day, if we are really going to continue to help patients.

Finding this balance is really the only way we can know that we are helping patients, that we are growing, and we are all working with our purpose in mind.

Our job is to evaluate how the practice is doing and potentially, how the business is growing! We need to know that we are making money, that we are covering overhead, that we are paying our team, that we are covering everything that we need to and that we are doing better every month, every week, every year. We need to know that these are going up because this number, collections, productions, and new patients, all represents how many people we are ultimately helping. Production, collections, new patients, overhead, these are the parts of a dental business we have to all track because we are in business. We have to know how are we doing in these areas and how can we improve them. We need to consider how can we see more new patients, how can we produce more dentistry, because that is a direct reflection of, are we helping more people.

Is your dental office practice-focused?

The issue is we can get too one-sided alright and there must be a balance, it’s like a sailboat. If we go too far leaning one way, we are going to tip and if we go too far the other way, the same would occur. If we go too far towards taking care of our patients, we are going to end up with a practice that isn’t making money and we are giving dentistry away. We are in-network for all insurances, we don’t know how to talk to them about money, we’re not watching our numbers and the practice is going to tip over and sink because we’re not running it like a business.

There are a ton of dental offices out there I feel have this problem. They are health care providers, they want to care for patients but they do not know how to talk to them about money. They don’t know how to get case acceptance. They are really more an emergency clinic and not covering their overhead, they can’t afford to hire new team members, there is one person running around being the assistant, hygienist, and the receptionist, all at once because we are so focused on the clinical patient care that we are not running a smart business.

Or is your team patient-care driven?

Now if we take the sailboat the other way, the issue is going to be that we are too focused on numbers. If we are too focused on overhead and production and collections, we forget why we are here – which is to take care of our patients. So then, we get more focused on business and patients start to feel that, they start to feel like they’re a number.

The number one complaint from patients that leave your practice is because they used to feel like family and now they feel like a number. If we are too focused on getting dentistry done faster, getting patients in and out as fast as possible, with multiple rooms operating and the team running around and not taking a few minutes to really care about our patients and talk to them, patients start to feel like they’re a number. They will leave and go to another practice and then next thing you know will be so money, number, business-focused that you have really lost what you are here for, which is taking care of our patients.

My suggestion to ensure you are always keeping a balance, we need to continually remind ourselves why we’re here.

We are here to care for our patients, we are here to help them keep their teeth longer and live a better life but we also need to manage the business well and to successfully do that and grow the practice, we must run the numbers. The bigger the practice grows, the more control we have over the practice, the more we can help our patients and there’s a fine line. There is a balancing act. Much like a sailboat, right you know, if the sailboat starts to go this way too far, everybody runs over here and pulls it this way right and then if the sailboat starts to turn this way, everybody runs over here and pulls it that way.

If your practice feels like you are leaning more towards really taking your patients but not really taking care of the business versus the other way around, being so focused on numbers you have forgotten about patient care, it is time to bring your team to one side or the other. We need to make sure that we are always balancing, that we are always making sure that we understand patient care comes first and the numbers just represent how well we are helping our patients and running a successful business.

I suggest spending some time with your team reminding them about patient care. You might need to spend some time with your team talking about what the numbers represent and why we need to focus on the numbers and the details about the practice. If you do that then you can keep your boat afloat and everything goes in the right direction.

My purpose here is to help you better understand the fine line between really being there for our patients (which we do of course need to be) but also understanding why it is important that we run a successful business, and why we track those numbers. Because these numbers truly tell how well we are doing at our jobs and as a dental practice.

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.