Mike Hesketh, principal dentist at The Exeter Dental Centre offers some tips to grow your practice and improve efficiency

If I tell you that at The Exeter Dental Centre we’ve taken revenue from £450,000 to £2.5 million in under four years, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that aggressive growth was always the plan. The thing is though, there wasn’t a lot else to the plan. We have steadily and ceaselessly been building for growth on that blank canvass since 2012. It just shows what you can achieve if you chunk big challenges down into manageable steps. Our first aim was to solidify, survive and then stomp forwards! When we started succeeding, we got the buzz and kept going.

Below I’m going to share with you five standout things I’ve done that have really improved practice efficiency and facilitated revenue growth.

Figuring out these kinds of building blocks for yourself is hard and time consuming, so I really hope you’ll be able to take away one and try it out in your practice (if you have been thinking about making a change to improve life at work).
I’ve worked through 168 things on my Gantt chart since my wife and I took our savings from our time in the military and placed a big bet on ourselves. I suppose having a military background helped because it encouraged us to approach the puzzle of growth strategically. It turned out that a fully private practice with high-value treatments and a focus on excellent customer care was the right way to go in our location and so we set our minds to delivering this and expanding the practice.

The Exeter Dental Centre has gone from nine staff to 35 and four treatment rooms to eight. We now have more than 5,000 patients and get 150 new ones every month. Meanwhile I’ve gone from practising four days a week to none; my time’s spent on the business rather than in it, and I do consulting for Fine Company, using The Exeter Dental Centre as a kind of showroom for clients. My long-term plan is to expand this single site business into a family-run group of practices.

So, here are my five tips to improve efficiency and facilitate revenue growth in your dental practice:

1. Double desk reception

Having separate check in and check out desks in reception with a member of staff on each one is a really simple step that will make a big difference in your practice. You don’t necessarily have to revamp your reception, you can do this with the same old single desk if you like, just as long as your team members know which group of patients they’re dealing with; arrivals or departures.

Your check in receptionist will, as you’ve probably guessed, handle check ins. They will also deal with walk-in enquirers and serve refreshments. We have a neat little café-style hub behind sliding panels in our waiting room and we offer patients tea, coffee and cold drinks. The receptionists take coats and bags and maître d’ the patient lounge.

When patients have finished their appointments they are personally led back to reception by their clinician and handed over to the check out receptionist. The clinician outlines the treatment plan and cues the receptionist to take payment and book the patient’s next appointment. Taking this longer process away from arriving patients increases patient flow. The result is a better patient journey, happier receptionist staff and punctual clinicians.

2. Error-free ordering

We have a smart system with QR codes (those black and white boxes you can scan with your phone), and it has eliminated human error from materials ordering. In fact, this system takes away your head nurse’s ordering requirements completely, so she’s free to see more patients. There’s no human error on her side, no human error from the supplier, and we get a fixed contract price from the suppliers that saves us money into the bargain.

Here’s how it works: whenever anyone runs out of something in their surgery, they come into the stock room, grab what they need and scan the QR code on the box. If the box is empty they turn it over, put it to the back of the shelf and pull the spare box to the front. On the following Thursday, as if by magic, a box of new materials arrives at the practice. This is a constant stock rotation and replenish system; the prices are on a fixed contract that we check quarterly against our supplier’s competitors.

3. Automated instrument tracking

Automating the repetitive daily processes in a busy practice lightens the admin load for the team, freeing them up to focus on patients and drive up revenue. We invested in software that helps nurses track instruments as they’re being cleaned.

Automating processes such as decontamination of instruments frees up time for the practice team

We have MELAtrace software on a touchscreen PC in the decon room so we can track instruments that have been used on a patient all the way through to the next patient. The software tracks the barcode on the patient’s instruments straight to their notes. It’s simple and efficient, a really great piece of kit. Our suite of top-of-the-range Melag products has also really speeded up the sterilisation process.

4. Performance reporting for the team

In our business hub we have a big screen on the wall that shows all the vitals of the business. We display our Key Performance Indicators so the whole team can see how they’re doing. You can see things like how many patients you’ve had that day and the average number of patients that month, and also the average patient value and average daily yield per surgery. You can also see the demographics of your patients.

We use software which uploads live data to the cloud, so it’s just a case of logging in through a browser. I find that having performance data highly visible really helps with team morale and especially with my system of bonuses, where everyone gets £100 at the end of the month if all targets are met. There is a great team atmosphere and although I ask a lot from my team, they are motivated and really well looked after. Being able to see the business performance has really helped everyone feel personally invested in the business and take their share of responsibility for our success.

5. Isolate inbound traffic

If you shift all inbound telephone calls, emails and live chat from your website off the reception desk, I guarantee something amazing will happen to your customer service. In our practice we’ve put the business hub up on the fourth floor. We have two dedicated agents who handle the inbound traffic and respond to each enquiry immediately and in full, to the point where the caller is satisfied.

Having a dedicated business hub takes away all the paperwork from the patients’ sightline and it increases our efficiency and the quality of our calls. The phone rings all the time but now we never waste a lead or let a patient down by being too busy, so our lead conversion rate has improved dramatically. If you need to spend 30 minutes talking to someone on the phone, it’s always worth it if you get a new patient. It also means existing patients in reception get a quality experience.

Key points

1. Double desk reception
Manage patient flow to keep the patient journey smooth

2. Error-free ordering
Automated ordering to manage consumables

3. Automated instrument tracking
Use technology to ease the burden of admin

4. Performance reports for the team
Have everyone working towards the same goals

5. Isolate inbound traffic
Deal with incoming calls away from distractions