Taking Inventory by Dr. Elizabeth Burns

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Dentaltown Magazine

To improve your dental practice and the time spent there, consider and clarify your preferred pace and priorities

by Dr. Elizabeth Burns

How do you want to spend your time? We may be different in how we view the world and what constitutes a good life, but we can all probably agree that investing time and attention to our dental offices should be a priority. We’ve worked hard to get here, we have loans and bills, and we have commitments to our patients and staff. However, each of us will have a different style of working based on our personalities and temperaments. Knowing yourself and what works best for you is an important first step to taking control and managing time at the office.

You are a clinician, CEO, HR director … the list goes on. Sometimes I have been a plumber! We are the ultimate—the person who has to make sure it all keeps working. However, knowing where our time is going can allow us to analyze if we are using our time effectively or efficiently. Once we look at our actions, we can take control of our choices and achieve a better sense of balance in our lives.

Not all of these suggestions will work for all dentists, but try some out and see how they feel. Bring an awareness of “time” to your work. Remember, the office is important but it’s not the only thing in life. Make room for a life outside of work! Ask anyone of an older age and they’ll tell you that life is short. Time is finite and precious, so it’s important that you make the most of yours.

How busy do you want to be during the day at the office? How much money do you want to make?
Some dentists thrive on constant motion and don’t want a minute of downtime; they’re comfortable being double- or triple-booked and excel in high-stress environments. They’ll work through lunch and always see emergencies immediately.

Other dentists prefer a slower pace: They want to see one patient at a time and to have lunch, as well as breaks throughout the day. You get to choose which works for you! But it’s important to understand that your pace can affect what you take home after overhead expenses. You need to find the balance of stress and compensation that works for you.

It’s also imperative that you articulate to your team what you want the pace of the day to be. If you are high-energy, it’s important that your staff moves quickly along with you—and you also need to give them the freedom to fill your schedule accordingly, without micromanaging. (It also helps to try to be in a good mood and not let the stress agitate you.)

If you are slower-paced, there may have to be a trade-off where you work more hours per day or more days in a week. Knowing your production goals can help you to design your days to produce what you need to while keeping stress at a manageable level. You can decide if the decrease in stress is worth the difference in compensation. For some, it will be. Additionally, it is critical to train your staff to emphasize to patients the importance of keeping appointments, as well as having a protocol for confirming appointments and filling cancellations; one no-show or cancellation on a busy schedule may not be noticed, but on a slower schedule it can change the day.

Regardless of the pace, consider arriving at the office 20 or 30 minutes before your first patient. This allows dedicated time to familiarize yourself with the schedule to get a feel for the day and what patients will require of you. Same with your staff. If your hygienist has reviewed the treatment notes before the patient arrives, she will already know, for example, if treatment has been discussed but not completed. She can then focus her attention on educating the patient on any restorative needs to achieve case acceptance. Following up with a 10-minute meeting in the morning to address any patient concerns or special considerations can help your staff work cooperatively to make the day flow easier.

How many hours do you want to spend in your office?
If you have a family, or activities you like to do outside of dentistry, you may find it difficult to leave for “fun time” when you’re the one in charge of the success of the office. Parkinson’s law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, so if you allow unlimited hours to run your office, you’ll always find something you need to do.

How do you spend your clinical hours? The procedures you decide to do can make a significant difference in how many hours you need to work. Obviously, the more productive you are per hour, the fewer hours you need to work to achieve your goals. One way to do this is to invest in the education required to excel at procedures that are highly productive with lower overhead costs—endodontics and oral surgery, for example.

Then schedule your time so you work quickly and efficiently. Do you need an hour and a half for a crown prep? Maybe you do … or maybe you’re expanding work to the time allowed.

Also, having a well-trained, competent staff can keep production levels up without working more hours. Hire upbeat, motivated people and pay them competitively. Employees certified in expanded functions can increase the number of patients seen per hour with minimal increase in effort or time by you. (Check specific regulations to make sure you are in compliance with the laws of your state.)

Managerial tasks can be delegated—bookkeeping, payroll, ordering supplies, keeping up with licenses, letters to other doctors, tracking stats … the list is endless. If you want more time off or if you just don’t like to do these tasks, pay someone else to. Clerical duties and ordering supplies can be delegated to trusted staff members who’d like to expand their responsibilities. Have a target overhead percentage for supplies, and let the staff member in charge have the autonomy to order what you need within the budget.

We could spend hours each week looking at the statistics of our office from many angles. Pick what’s important and hand it to your staff. They can give reports on practice activity on a daily or weekly basis that you just need to review. Also, weeding through your dental software can be cumbersome. To keep your finger on the pulse of the practice more efficiently, consider using a third-party company that compiles data from your software in a user-friendly way. Finally, hiring expert accountants can save you not only time but also money. As a bonus, they can alert you if they notice your overhead costs or collections are outside the norms for a dental practice like yours.

Remember: Delegating to others is not a substitute for leadership; it is part of it. Decide what’s important for you to know and have done. Then do your work of analyzing the reports. It is your practice and responsibility.

Are you spending the time with your patients in the most efficient way, and with empathy?
When you’re at the office, are you really “there”?

Is your attention on your patients? Make the appointment about them. Try not to allow yourself to be interrupted when having a consultation or doing an exam—it can not only disrupt your ability to listen and understand, but also the patient might feel dismissed, and unimportant, or think that you’re easily distracted.

It’s interesting that the word silent is an anagram of listen. Stop talking and listen to your patients—with eye contact—to convey your empathy with them. Empathy builds trust. With a few minutes of focused attention, you can form relationships with patients that will increase case acceptance and keep them returning to the office for years—and sometimes for generations.

I realize that some of us are introverted, which makes this seem more difficult. However, whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you’re in the people business, and connecting with patients is as important a skill as the perfect crown prep.

Placing all of your attention on the person in front of you will increase your focus and you’ll be able to work faster and more efficiently. Whatever procedure you’re doing, concentrate only on that—try not to let your mind wander to the next patient. As much as we like to think we can multitask, we cannot; instead, our brains have to quickly switch from topic to topic. Remaining focused on one thing can make you work faster with less effort. When you’re in the operatory, “be” in that operatory only.

Also, there are many outlets to distract us during the day, including social media, telephone calls, texts and emails. Save those interactions for lunch or outside of work. Keeping your attention on your patients, staff and work can make you more productive.

Check it out!

Learn more online and earn CE credit
Dentaltown’s online CE content includes more than 60 courses on practice management topics from practice performance to patient relationships. To check out the full variety of courses, visit dentaltown.com/ce.

Author Bio
Author Dr. Elizabeth Burns graduated from the University of Missouri—Kansas City and has been in private practice for 28 years. She is also a registered yoga instructor, having studied at the Chopra Center, and a certified life coach through the International Coach Federation. Burns has lectured on yoga, meditation and stress reduction that includes a yoga class at the Mid-Continent Dental Congress. Contact: lifecoachingforwellbeing.com or ejburns6@gmail.com
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