What is the leading cause of stress? Is it even possible to pinpoint one cause, when so many variables operate in busy dental practices? It is safe to say that every dental practice experiences too much stress sometimes. Some accept it as a fact of life, while others find ways to reduce that stress.
After consulting to dental practices for more than 23 years, Levin Group has observed that stress usually results from the absence of well-defined business systems. High-performance systems are the foundation of the most productive practices. These same practices also tend to have the lowest stress levels and are managed by effective leaders who help their teams to grow and excel.
It takes just five steps
The Levin Group method for total practice success includes five steps dentists can take to have an immediate and positive impact on stress:
1. Become a better leader
2. Hold morning meetings
3. Use the team as a resource
4. Revise the schedule
5. Improve communication.
Become a better leader
A mismanaged practice is a stressful place to work. Efficiency, productivity and communication are all reflections of your leadership skills. Therefore, dentists who work to improve their leadership skills can measurably reduce the stress in their practices.
Good leaders have learned to work through their teams – not around them. The most successful dentists have figured out how to delegate responsibilities to team members. Delegating responsibility reduces dentists’ stress and gives team members a sense of empowerment.
Leading by example is another facet of leadership. Team members learn how to act by watching the leader’s behaviour. A dentist who is positive and motivational inspires team members to act in the same way.
Hold morning meetings
One sure-fire method to minimise stress is to hold morning meetings before patients arrive. During these meetings, the dentist and the team must identify times during the day when:
• Emergencies can be seen
• Time crunches are likely to occur
• New patients will need the dentist’s extra attention.
Making preparations for what is ahead on a given day will greatly reduce stress in the practice.
Empower the team
The dentist’s best resource for reducing inefficiency and lowering stress is the dental team. Involve as many team members as possible in examining your systems. Everyone on the team will have valuable insights to contribute. Some strategies include:
• Ask team members to bring a list of 10 possible improvements to the next staff meeting
• Organise an off-site, all-day retreat to focus on current issues and strategic planning for the practice. This approach creates an opportunity to bring people together, forge a team spirit and identify problem areas and solutions
• Send your practice manager to regularly scheduled continuing education courses and training to
gain new perspectives and ideas on dental management
• Task the practice manager with creating a written operations manual for every major business system in the practice. These manuals must include a step-by-step analysis of each system so that a person not trained in dentistry can quickly learn how the practice operates by reading them.
Revise the schedule
Examine how your practice schedule is constructed. Are there too many holes in the schedule? That is a sign that appointments are spaced too far apart.
Levin Group recommends using 10-minute units to schedule appointments accurately and allow more scheduling flexibility. The longer 15-minute units can result in under- or over-scheduling patients. For example, if a procedure takes 20 minutes, the practice using 15-minute units would have to schedule this as a 15-minute or a 30-minute appointment.
The schedule’s format should be very similar every day. Mornings should be reserved for longer, higher-revenue procedures that make up most of the day’s production goal. Afternoons can then be scheduled with the more simple procedures.
Look at any successful practice and you will see a practice that communicates extremely well.
Communication affects every aspect of the patient experience, ranging from scheduling an appointment to case acceptance. For the dentist, the first step in improving communication is cultivating clear, positive and well-understood interactions with team members.
Clear communication and supportive coaching become more critical as the practice grows. As the leader of the practice, the dentist needs to inspire team members, individually and collectively, to achieve the highest levels of success.
Enjoy a better practice
Dentists can relieve chronic stress in their practices by taking more proactive measures as leaders. Team members rely on the dentist to set the tone, solve problems and identify strategies to control problem areas. Yet paradoxically, dentists who are working to become good leaders learn to empower their teams as much as possible.
Dentists become better leaders by tapping into team member’s insights, abilities and skills. These five steps can help dentists become better leaders, build better teams and enjoy a better practice.