Time to step-up

Gym smallVision and focus is paramount when setting up a new dental practice and the need to be thorough is vital, says practice manager Sukriti KC

Dentistry is primarily a heathcare vocation that undoubtedly requires the focus to be patient care oriented, as such the business aspects of the profession is often considered secondary. However a reinforced approach to setting up and establishing a new dental practice requires integration of aspects of patient care with effective management strategies ensuring proper start-up, success and sustainability of the practice. In essence, dental practices must be effectively managed as a business to facilitate the provision of highest level of dental care.

Here are a few important keypoints to consider as a start-up practice to ensure that your practice is heading towards the right direction of success.

Clear ethos and framework Having a clear business ethos gives a structure to the business model and growth. The ethos should reflect on aspects of commitment to patient care, health and safety considerations, GDC standards and of course provision of treatment of the highest standards. A clearly outlined practice ethos provides a framework for all staff to refer to and brings cohesion to the team since all members are adherent towards common goals. It also provides a snapshot overview of the professional excellence your practice aims to practice and provide to all patients.

Although commitment towards the providing the highest care and patient-centred approach are an unanimous ethos for all practices, it is essential to ‘think outside the box’ and establish guidelines that is central to your practice.

For example as a specialist periodontal practice we needed to consider ways to mitigate treatment invasiveness and discomfort, something that most patient complain of when undergoing periodontal treatment. As such, we integrated ‘a minimally invasive approach’ and ‘patient comfort’ into our practice ethos and this is practiced across the board by all our team members. With this in mind, our team constantly focus on ways to make periodontal treatment seem less daunting, something that which our patients have come to appreciate.

Visibility

As a business, one sure way to start getting noticed is by improvising your visibility both as a dental care professional and as a practice. For a new practice, it is important to work on the branding game and discover ways for patients and practices to start noticing you. The Internet has revolutionised the concept of discovering, deciding and developing. I call it the 3D formula. It is important to have a) creative contents online that help patients Discover your practice, b) have useful information to influence their Decision to attend your practice and c) back it up with excellent in-house clinical as well as non-clinical care to develop a patient-practice relationship.

Similarly social media activity using platforms like Facebook and twitter can be useful marketing toolbox helping you to start getting noticed. Giveaways and contests, as well as sharing patient friendly information on social media, are the easiest way to expand your social media footmark. However, careful considerations must be made to ensure that electronic regulatory requirements relating to data protection, electronic privacy and GDC professional standards are met.

Also third party accreditations and affiliation like BDA good practice schemes, Denplan Excel, Investors in People, Toothpick membership etc. provide commercio-professional recognition.

Staff visibility is also equally important in setting a benchmark for the whole team. Continuous teaching, learning and professional growth of staff members helps create a unique rapport with fellow DCPs and dentistry related organisations, which is a very useful platform for establishing prominence within the profession. As a practice you can benefit by allowing flexibility for staff to utilise their potentials outside of work. Staff growth helps the practice to develop as well.

Effective management

Like with any other business, strong business framework and management strategies are imperative to drive the practice to success. Business management is of course central to smooth running of the set up process and financial sustainability however, other components of business ownership like patient and staff management play an equally significant role.

Human resource management

Previously staff hiring processes involved simply finding someone who fits the job role. But now practices are focusing more on finding someone who likes the job, fits the role, is willing to stay and wants to grow. As a new practice you need to have a clear idea about the number of clinical and support staff required, establish a clear job role for each and be open to the opportunities of growth of staff within the team as the practice grows.

High staff turnovers are time consuming and harmful to the productivity of the practice so it is very useful to have a carefully considered HR strategy.

Stringent interview procedures must be mapped to select the right candidate who meets the level of competency required, fits the team and shares the practice goal.

Selecting the right candidate comes with the obvious responsibility of creating the right work environment for staff to perform and grow. Regular meeting, staff socials, open staff-management communication are helpful ways to make all staff feel like a valued member of the team.

It is equally important to have a clear practice policy and protocol.  This helps to set up and foster a system of delivery of care of the highest standard. A clear practice policy will help you benefit by caring for patients and staff alike to achieve high organisational performance, team work organisation and maintain professional integrity.

Patient management

One of the key management goals is to provide a unique and satisfactory experience to all new patients registered with your practice. At Pure Periodontics we practice a two-step system to increase our patient flow.

Step 1: Convert enquiries to consultation

In doing so it is important to have all required resources handy. Most patients enquire about appointment length, appointment types, clinican’s credentials and costs involved, so it is useful to have a comprehensive website to direct them to or produce an information leaflet with all required information.

Step 2: Consultation to treatment scheduling

Every patient missed is a service lost so as a second step, efficient appointment schedule must be in place to convert consultations into treatments. Consider priority booking and slot reservation for appointments that generate most revenue.
Staff cooperation is required to accommodate reasonable flexibility when booking appointments. Communicate the need for cooperation early on with the team members and have effective rota and work management system to make sure that patient requests are met without overstraining the staff.

Amalgamating skills

Not all managers have a clinical background, or they might be out of practice. Although beneficial, it is not mandatory for a manager to have proficient clinical knowledge. Combining the management skills with the clinical expertise of the principal can compensate this shortcoming.

It is therefore useful for the principal and manager to have a shared a vision and common goals for the development and growth of the practice allowing staff to work within practical targets. A strong clinical knowledge is imperative to provide excellent patient care and exceptional non-clinical service is important to ensure patient and staff satisfaction. A new practice needs to establish this balance early on to ensure that staff are provided a practical yet driven working environment whereas patients receive an all rounded care oriented service.

For example, when managing appointment schedules, the clinician can advise on mapping the treatment length and priority type and the manager can work on scheduling appointments to meet daily targets while pushing the business forward.

Vision

The first year of a practice is like an experimental ground to check whether the established objectives and goals are realistically achievable. If not, they need to be reconsidered to allow smoother running of services. Often the initial set-up process and teething issues make it difficult to focus on plans for further growth. However it is important to have both long term and short-term objectives in place for development and progression of the business.

Similar to a personal development plan that guides the plan for individual growth, a plan for business development helps to boost practice growth. Short-term vision for growth can be minor additions to increase business revenue like sundries /stock sell, target oriented treatment conversion etc.

Based on these goals long-term objectives for business expansion and further staff recruitment can be set. Having realistic vision provides the opportunity to continue business growth and increase profit. It also works as a motivation to push forward the team towards improving and increasing the services.

Management in the context of dental services does not pertain to business aspects only. Effective management of a dental practice reflects upon the level patient care, health care provision, team work, interdisciplinary cooperation and PR relationships which collectively drive the business to success.

The first year will be a lot of trial and error, but a more carefully considered plan of action can be the key differentiator to maximising the success as a new practice.


 

Sukriti KC currently works as a practice manager and treatment coordinator at Pure Periodontics. She has a degree in psychology and also lectures as NEBDN Dental Nursing tutor for both theoretical as well as practical (OSCE) aspects of the course. Utilising her background in psychology with over six years of experience in dentistry, Sukriti has extended her knowledge and practical skills to areas of treatment provision including practice management, treatment coordination, education, mentorship and research.

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