If you think about it, dentists are truly remarkable. Part scientist, part doctor, part artist (and probably several other titles mixed in as well). What they’re able to accomplish as they care for each patient is nothing short of amazing. When “business owner” is added to this list of roles, that significant responsibility can seem overwhelming, and sometimes, in fact, it is overwhelming. In the daily battle of figuring out how to take care of everything that matters, dental practice owners face a real challenge: what should they be paying attention to?
There are lots of things we could or should be paying attention to in our practice. Most of the time, practice owners wisely default to the Big Three: Production, Collections, and New Patients. But are these the only important things you should be paying attention to? How can you know for sure? Even if they are the right things to pay attention to, you still have a decision to make: will you decide to do something about those things that matter most to your practice and patients?
Learning how to focus on both the clinical and business part of a practice isn’t really about whether or not you are using a certain kind of software solution. It’s about the decision to use tools and solutions that will improve outcomes for patients and improve the health of your practice and team. This choice can be stressful when a practice owner feels overwhelmed with all of the decisions they need to make — choosing to use yet another new “solution” can just feel like one more demand on your time and resources.
Thankfully, most of the doctors we speak to and work with care very much about their patients and are doing all they can to provide them with the best care — including using solutions that help them discover, understand, and impact the metrics that matter most. They just need the confidence to proceed into the unknown, trusting in the truth that insights come most often when we’re on the move.
Assuming you are both a caring dentist and practice owner, which key performance metrics should you be paying attention to? Let’s focus on two: lagging indicators and leading indicators. Lagging indicators show you things that happened in the past and can’t be changed. A leading indicator is something you may be able to change if you act upon the information you’re focusing on.
For example, production is a lagging indicator, as it literally refers to what was produced. Another lagging indicator would be what you produced in a specific timeframe (for example, what happened in the last three days). This can then become a leading indicator if you adjust through the remainder of the week to compensate for your current shortage in production. You are simply taking what happened (lagging) and making adjustments to impact future outcomes (leading). This is empowering.
In order for production to become a leading indicator, you need a goal tied to a specific metric. But knowing which metrics to measure and what goals to set around those metrics can be challenging — there are so many metrics! This is where being proactive in finding solutions that increase your ability to do more and better dentistry pays off.
Practice management solutions like Dental Intelligence do all of this intensive work automatically, eliminating the need to try and do this important analysis by yourself. Instead, you can quickly see the things that matter most, empowering you to convert lagging indicators into leading ones.
Here’s one example of a metric that you need data to see and respond to: Hygiene Re-Appointment %. This is the percentage of active patients who left a hygiene appointment with their next hygiene appointment scheduled. To make this a leading indicator, ask yourself this question: how well are we doing at scheduling our hygiene patients for their next hygiene appointment? Another way to ask this: how many of our patients left our office yesterday without a scheduled next hygiene appointment? This refers to ALL patients, not just hygiene patients, even if they scheduled a restorative appointment.
So, if three patients all left with a scheduled restorative appointment, but none left with a hygiene appointment, your Hygiene Re-Appointment % for yesterday is 0%. The good news? This can become a leading indicator IF you choose to make sure each patient coming in today leaves with an attempt to schedule their next hygiene appointment. See how that works? Lagging is what happened. Leading is what occurs because you decided to own what happened and then (the best part) acted in order to change what will happen.
Keep in mind that your team may have had valid reasons for not scheduling those hygiene appointments. Perhaps one or more of those patients doesn’t keep their appointments. Or maybe they indicated they needed to check their schedule as soon as they got home and would then give you a call…but then forgot all about doing so. The responsible practice knows about and keeps track of each patient, so that no one falls through the cracks.
We spoke recently with a dentist in Las Vegas who was seeing 50% case acceptance in his practice. At first glance, this is a strong lagging indicator. However, case acceptance % is tied directly to whether or not you are diagnosing treatment. This particular doctor was, on average, only diagnosing around $200 in treatment per patient, which translated to a lot of fillings and not much else.
In speaking with him about this, he said he felt hesitant to offer more significant treatment to his patients because he thought they couldn’t afford it. Perhaps that was true. But if those patients actually needed that treatment, isn’t the doctor responsible for at least diagnosing and then, if possible, working with them to get the care done that they need? Of course! To his credit, this doctor “owned” the insights he saw in his data and committed to making improvements. His patients and practice will both benefit.
As “big data” and the power of analytics continue to be integrated into dental practices, it makes sense, with the goal of providing the best care, for every owner and provider to do all they can to understand as much as possible about their patients and their practice. Choosing to stay in the dark about your data is a short-sighted choice, with long-term impact on the health of patients and the growth of the practice. As owners, dentists, and team members choose to take ownership over knowing what’s happening in their practice and then acting on that data to improve, everyone will benefit.