It was around three years ago that I was eventually convinced by my staff of the need for a computerised practice management system, prior to this I had been perfectly content with my paper based system. Although we were slowly running out of space, as thousands of paper records covered every inch of available floor and wall space, I hadn’t anticipated how significantly a computerised system would change things.
Three years later, I can say without fear of contradiction that installing EXACT has revolutionised my practice and the transformation has been even more apparent in the last 6 months since I took the opportunity to enrol with Software of Excellence’s THRIVE Business Services programme.
THRIVE first came to my notice at the beginning of 2011 and initially I was unsure that it had any benefits to offer. EXACT had already made such a difference to how my practice was operating, I didn’t think that there was much else we could improve.
‘THRIVE immediately highlighted the lack of any formal recall system as a major area for improvement’
However, we had recently ceased our involvement with Vocational Training and had lost the associated grant and in addition had taken on an associate and therefore had another appointment book to fill.
So, when SoE offered me a money back guarantee that they would improve my practice efficiency by at least 10% or refund the cost of THRIVE, I guessed I had nothing to lose and agreed to enter the six-month programme.
For me, the most surprising aspect of THRIVE has been that it has made me aware of issues in the practice that I had never previously considered as problems. I thought I knew my business intimately but THRIVE revealed several areas where dramatic improvements could be made. Without a doubt the programme has made me more ‘business-minded’ and I have appreciated the opportunity to look objectively at the performance of my business.
I think most dentists, me included, consider their business is successful if they are busy and are making a reasonable profit. I would venture that one positive aspect of the recession and associated downturn in patient attendance has been to focus our minds a little more on aspects of our businesses that should really be constant priorities. Dentists have had to consider efficiency and productivity – arguably for the first time ever.
In the current climate, there is no doubt that it is important to have your finger on the pulse of your business and I know that THRIVE has put me in the position where I am able to do this.
The two key areas where THRIVE has made an enormous influence on my practice is in Recalls and FTAs and although together with my THRIVE business consultant, I have analysed a lot of other data, these two aspects have had a fundamental impact on my practice.
Despite having used EXACT for three years, we didn’t employ a recall system of any type. Patients made future appointments before they left or phoned up when they remembered. In retrospect this approach sounds a little disorganised, however it was a ‘system’ that had stood me in good stead for over 20 years, so I had no reason to change it. THRIVE immediately highlighted the lack of any formal recall system as a major area for improvement and its introduction over the last six months has demonstrated that a significant number of patients were given recall appointments, who under the previous system, might have fallen through the net.
The system also highlighted that some patients who were returning for treatment and booking a recall when treatment had finished, were significantly extending their recall intervals.
As part of our procedure we now run a regular report that shows patients who have not responded to the initial recall, these are sent another reminder first by text or email, then by letter and finally a phone call is made if required.
In all these areas we are now much more efficient and the improvements in recall have been astounding. Earlier this year, analysis showed that 77% of patients had booked recalls.
By comparison, by the end of June we were achieving booked recalls for 98% of patients. One of our nurses, Paula Burgess, has taken full responsibility for implementing all of these changes and I am grateful for her diligence and hard work. Everyone in the practice team realised the importance of the changes and have embraced the different routine wholeheartedly.
Before THRIVE, I would have said that due to our long standing relationships with a very loyal patient base, FTAs were not significant and whilst THRIVE showed they were not at a serious level, we were able to see that improvements could be made in this area.
‘Both text and email are excellent methods of communication as they leave no room for ambiguity’
We now use text and email for appointment reminders and this is having the desired effect and has already brought FTAs to a negligible level.
Few people opt not to have a reminder and these are sent by email or text 24 hours before the appointment is due. In fact, far from perceiving this as a nuisance, the vast majority of patients consider this reminder to be an additional level of care on our part.
Both text and email are excellent methods of communication as they leave no room for ambiguity. The time and date of the appointment is automatically taken direct from EXACT so the information cannot be incorrect. One spin-off of our new rigorous system I now have no compunction about charging for failed appointments. Whereas previously there was always an element of debate as to whose responsibility the failure was, we now have documented evidence of communication so there can be no argument.
This level of performance combined with greater recall efficiency is creating a busy appointment book for me and my associate and we have increased our available chairside time by 67 hours in just 3 months, obviously this is having a significant impact of revenues and profitability. This increase has more than paid for the investment I initially made in the THRIVE programme.
I can see that THRIVE will help us enormously to implement more efficient marketing strategies. Within EXACT there is a field to log referral sources and having analysed the data it became apparent that the vast majority of new patients were referred to us by existing patients. This information has already saved us money by allowing us to re-direct marketing resources away from print advertising and concentrate instead on producing a website and creating practice newsletters using the function available in EXACT.
In addition, as a team we are now all focused on ensuring that patients know we are happy to receive their personal recommendation, this is a very simple strategy but I believe will be highly effective in the medium term.
Mine is a well-established practice with a very loyal base of patients and we thankfully do not suffer from patient debt and my treatment plan conversion rates are very good. As two of THRIVE’s 10 Key Performance Indicators information on these areas, whilst not highlighting subjects for improvement in our case, nonetheless provide a valuable tool.
The effect of improved recalls and an effective procedure for appointment reminders has obviously had an impact of chairside utilisation.
Although the team has always been very good at finding appointments to fill gaps in chairtime, we can now predict with more assurance when downtime is likely to occur and work to reduce it. We are much more aware of the need to be as efficient and productive as possible each day.
THRIVE has made me more aware of the huge capabilities of EXACT and has highlighted where we can improve our efficiency for the good of the whole practice. The Business Consultants have been extremely professional and knowledgeable and have helped me decipher the data and devise and implement improvement strategies.
The last six months have been as difficult as I can remember for the dental profession, increased demands on time and resources from CQC and HTM01-05, coupled with some patients’ reluctance to spend money on routine appointments has meant we have not been as busy as in years gone by. However, THRIVE has given me the resources to run my practice as an efficient business, I feel more in control than I ever have and am fully prepared for the upturn when it arrives.
The Thrive Business Service programme is available from Henry Schein Minerva and Software of Excellence.
For more details call 08700 10 20 43 or 0800 328 6227 or visit www.thrivewithsoe.co.uk.