Imagine a drab business crowded with unhappy people kept waiting by disinterested staff counting the seconds to quitting time. If you’ve been in a DMV, a roadside fast-food joint, or an urban post office, you know the kind of place to which we’re referring–a business where staff unhappiness and disorganization compound one another before spilling out onto the customers. If you’re reading this article, when you’re mired in others’ inefficiency and drudgery, you probably have one question on your mind: who’s even running this place?
Dental practice management best practices
Here at Dandy, we know that a successful dental practice is a symphony of elements. But just like an orchestral symphony, even if every player has sheet music in front of them, it is the conductor’s job to harness and direct the energy outward to the audience. If you’re an aspiring dental practice manager, managing owner, or practitioner leading a team–you are the conductor, and it’s your job to unify every element under a single vision. Below you’ll find a list of best practices for managing a dental practice. These are not merely opinion, but formulations derived from statistical data we generated from our survey of over 600 participants, The Dandy Dental Survey: Patient Experience along with our reasoning. We’ll go over creating a welcoming office, streamlining communication, safeguarding patient data, the importance of leadership, flexible payment plans, marketing, and using new tech. Along with these, you’ll find suggestions and tips from experts in the field.
Tips for how to manage a successful dental practice
How do you manage your dental practice? The success relies upon a seamless experience, from proper phone etiquette at your front desk to timely payment recuperation post-procedure. To that end, here are crucial tips to elevate your private practice.
Dandy offers dental practices a free intraoral scanner.
Create a welcoming office
Our study of patient priorities, The Dandy Dental Survey: Patient Experience showed that, between dental practices, the quality of treatment is about the same, and patient satisfaction is largely driven by other factors. To wit: we found that, among those looking for a new dentist, perceptions of medical expertise and affordability ranked below overall pleasantness. “40% of all [Dandy Dental Survey: Patient Experience] respondents who read online reviews [of dentists] tended to search for specific words or phrases,” it continues, “…of those [respondents] a plurality (38%) searched for words specifically related to a practice’s overall demeanor.”
How does this translate to an actionable conclusion? Simple: make it nice for the people. The state of your office–from waiting room to exam room to bathroom–tells patients about your approach to customer-service overall. High cleanliness standards are your number-one priority, but that doesn’t mean your office has to be sterile or uncomfortable. Letting your waiting room (or any room where patients spend time) be an afterthought is a big missed opportunity. Keeping patients returning to your care means making them feel valued, and making them feel valued is a matter of executing considered choices at every stage.
Creating a welcoming environment is not just about the environs themselves. Hiring the right staff to interface with your patients is hugely important, and the ‘right’ staff aren’t necessarily those you might expect. “‘I would always be willing and able to [hire] somebody that doesn’t have a lot of dental experience, but they’re really good at customer service.’ [Says dental influencer and marketing expert, Dr. Len Tau] ‘Bartenders, people who work the front desk at a hotel–they give great customer service and they’d be great people to train for an office because that’s the kind of personality you want talking to your patients.’”
Whether accomplished via email, phone, in-person, or even social media, proper communication–both among the practice team between the team and patients–is the bedrock of dental practice management. A systematized information flow–that is, a standardized procedure for communicating with patients and cataloging said communication in the context of a schedule–not only makes daily operation possible, it helps avoid any major stumbles following the inevitable SNAFU. Let’s look at what we mean by effective communication and why it’s important.
When it comes to communication with patients, begin by cultivating the idea that every single inquiry to your office is an opportunity to introduce your practice’s customer-service ethos and increase practice value overall. If you recall our statistic revealing the importance of a ‘pleasant’ experience, the exercise of endearing yourself and your team to every patient at every opportunity becomes much more than nice for nice’s sake.
Consider our survey’s finding that even a satisfied patient will still switch dentists under the right conditions: a great recommendation or referral will prompt “14% of all patients to look for a new dentist, including 22% of the respondents who rated satisfaction with their dentist 5 out of 5. Further, 68% of all survey respondents who rated their dentist 4 out of 5 or below still search review sites for the words ‘Nice, friendly, caring, helpful, kind, patient, understanding.’”
What can you glean from this? Every single patient or potential patient who reaches out presents a dollars-and-cents opportunity to maintain if not increase practice value, and if you’re not doing this, trust that the competition is.
We know it’s practically impossible to field 100% of inquiries at the moment they arrive, but if each must be followed-up, every missed-call returned, and all appointments confirmed–how can you keep up? Within the context of an established system for triaging unanswered communication and unconfirmed appointments (which we’ll get to in more detail shortly), you must delegate responsibility for following-up. It’s not pretty, but it must be done and it simply can’t be an afterthought. Yes, you may use dental practice management software that handles follow-ups for you with automated responses, but no software is fully comprehensive and an automated system simply can’t convey the secret-sauce that makes your practice special.
Since this catch-up phase is of huge importance to practice value, and since there is no guarantee of extra time during business hours, and since it’s less-than-ethical to single-out an individual to sacrifice their lunch-break or work off the clock, consider a wheel-watch system: a non-hierarchical rotation wherein every team member takes an equal turn at follow-ups either during their break or after hours. Is this ideal for you? Well, no, but the essence of compromise is that all parties are less-than-satisfied. And this goes to cohesive team membership–mitigating favoritism, fostering camaraderie, and helping build a strong dental team through shared goals. Of course, in practice it may not shake out to be 100% equal, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Adopt dental practice management software
Effective communication among your team is the essence of day-to-day efficiency. So how can you keep it clean, organized, with clearly defined roles/responsibilities, and on an easily digestible schedule while also allowing for contingencies like cancellations or emergencies?
You can devise your own system, but dental practice management software is indeed the easiest and most comprehensive solution. Not only can it facilitate communication between team-members and satellite offices, centralized data and records help you communicate with patients, and built in metric-tracking features can make it possible to visualize goals. This may be an added cost, but software’s capacity to save time and streamline communication give it immense value that you pass along to patients.
Here is what to look for in dental practice management software:
Most, if not all, dental practice management software have basic functionality allowing for scheduling, storing patient information, and accounts. As such, it’s important that you determine what precisely you are using the software to accomplish, who will use it, and how. Does your software need to be super user friendly, HIPAA compliant, used across multiple locations by different teams? Do you require comprehensive charting, thorough reporting for submission to medicare/medicaid, communication with different types of insurance (including medical)? Is it essential that it integrate with pre-existing patient communication software, credit card processors, digital labs? Must your software accomplish a paperless office and/or play nice with the technology you already use/plan on using, i.e. is it platform agnostic (PC, Mac, iOS, Android), cloud-based or on-premises.
Support and training
Consider that, not only will every member of staff need to be trained in the chosen platform, but that you yourself need to keep focus on piloting the ship, not darning the nets. A comprehensive training regime furnished by your chosen software gets your hires ready to hit the ground running. And, in the event of an impasse, your staff needs access to communicative, timely, hands-on assistance from experts like those at Dandy. How a platform handles support is, in general, indicative of its utility.
Digital dentistry software
Software is the the driving force of digital dentistry, as you adopt or expand in the modern practice you will want to ensure that you are working with the best interface. Reminder: not all scanners are compatible with all programs. At Dandy we are very proud of the intuitive interface of our proprietary software Chairside. Not only is it user-friendly, it is has unparalleled precision and even captures shade easily and effectively.
Safeguard patient data
These days, failure to secure data is tantamount to uninstalling smoke alarms or leaving your office door unlocked overnight. It almost goes without saying that your office is obliged to be entirely HIPAA compliant, but a $50k minimum violation is not the only consequence of failure to secure data; in the event of a security breach or data loss, some patients will invariably lose confidence in you and your reputation can suffer. That alone can be crippling to your business.
When it comes to patient data, it’s important to know that even the most mundane information is a valuable commodity for cyber-thieves. You run unnecessary risk when you fail to properly safeguard patients’ data against cybersecurity threats, tech SNAFUs, or even force majeure like flood or fire. So what are the best practices for protecting data?
– Lock all paper records in a high-quality, HIPAA-compliant locking file cabinet.
– Install reputable anti-virus and malware software on all in-office computers and keep it up-to-date.
– Create backups of all patient data (including scanned/digitized copies of paper records) by using HIPAA-compliant cloud storage services.
– Disallow any note-taking or photography on team members’ personal devices such as a smartphones or tablets.
– Transfer any/all data using HIPAA-compliant software OR HIPAA-compliant sFTP (secure file transfer protocol–basically, a basic yet high-security means of transmitting data, but note that not all sFTP services meet HIPAA requirements, so it’s important to insure compliance before subscription).
Analytics matter. Where and how you can improve your practice is a guessing game unless you have real data. Tracking your KPIs should be easy and clear, giving you a picture of case acceptance, attrition, and per-patient value. And this data should flow directly through your software as a function of day-to-day operation, requiring only minimal piecemeal additions. The point is that your dental practice management software should, on a near-automatic basis, present you with easy-to-interpret data so you can set benchmarks and goals for improvement.
Be a leader
Dental practice management is dental team leadership. If you’re a manager, your job is, essentially, to take the day-to-day tasks and duties off the practitioners’ plates while strategizing business growth. And if your name is on the door and you’re also acting office manager, well, it goes without saying that you can’t afford to wind the office up and let it go. In either case, the key to your sustainable success is building a strong team you can rely upon.
How do you build a strong dental team? Remember: a team is not merely an assemblage of talent, but a unit with a shared goal.
Hiring and training
As mentioned earlier, the people you want to hire aren’t necessarily those with quote-unquote relevant work experience. Think about restaurants, stores, or other venues where you’ve experienced great customer service. What makes the experience good? Is it consistent every time you go? Consider asking a manager about their training and onboarding, and even consider making overtures to past or current employees.
If you’re posting on an online hiring platform, ask applicants to describe their role in past customer-service and teamwork scenarios. If you’re interviewing candidates, tailor questions to the desired characteristic i.e. pose team-based problem-solving or customers-service scenarios for the candidate to talk through. The point is, don’t hire based on someone’s resume, get a feel for the person. It can be better in the long run to hire an eager person who can be trained than an impatient person with a lot of experience.
Once you’ve got a new hire, getting your new teammate on-board is critical, so patience is key. Part of your responsibility at this stage is clearly defining the role an employee will play within the team, but another key part is exemplifying standards and setting a tone. Be thorough, friendly, and supportive, making sure to encourage good work rather than disparage mistakes. You may have software with its own training regime, but you may also have to walk someone through their duties step by step. Remember: onboarding is an essential part of your job and taking your time here is an investment now will pay dividends later.
Goal setting and incentives
A great way to encourage a team to gel is to set a shared goal and create incentives for furthering it. The chosen goal is specific to your practice, so brainstorm ideas among management and partners, but no matter what you come up with make sure that it is A. quantifiable, allowing you to set metrics and track its progress, B. clear, so there is no question as to whether or not it benefits the practice, C. realistic, so you and your team can feel a sense of achievement when you’ve reached a benchmark, D. properly incentivized, so team members feel like they share in the practice’s success.
A good time to review progress toward goals is a morning meeting. Here, you can raise issues for which you don’t have time during the day, and simply don’t have the bandwidth for at the end. This powwow will also give you a chance to reiterate the day’s goals and tasks, flag any upcoming points of interest (e.g. appointments with a patient who requires special accommodation or even a staff/patient birthday) highlight a previous day’s great performance, and generally check-in.
Consider instating a policy of merit raises or incentives for employees whose consistent performance helps progress the practice toward its goals. This is more than just a carrot-and-stick tactic–showing teammates that you’re paying attention to and appreciative of their efforts to grow the business fosters loyalty. It can also help create what Dr. Tau calls a “reputation culture,” that is, a system in which every employee understands their responsibility for maintaining the practice’s overall reputation, and that burnishing it is the direct result of their own performance. “‘When you have this reputation culture, you understand that you have to be on your best behavior and patients who come into the office are actually grading you on your performance…’” Dr. Tau says in our survey. He goes on to say that online reviews and reputation represent so much value to a practice, that if a team member is able to encourage a satisfied customer to write a good review and mentions team members by name, “‘you should incentive that person for getting that done, each and every time.”
it’s a good idea to feature a page on your site or in your socials featuring a photo and bio for each team member. Not only will that make them feel like a valued member, it can be a valuable resource for any customers seeking to highlight a specific employee in their review.
Intra-team staff engagement
An engaged, dedicated staff is key to a successful business operation. Especially when the costs involved in hiring a new employee—including resources invested in recruiting, training, dental software training, and employee benefits—require months to gain a return on investment. Further, British Dental Journal indicates that patients have increased trust and confidence in a practice when they see a dental team working together.
Yet, according to a survey conducted by DentalPost:
- 82% of dental staff members—such as dental hygienists, front office employees, and dental assistants—had not discussed their professional progress with their higher-ups in the past six months.
- 65% claimed they didn’t think their employers cared for them as a person.
When employees aren’t engaged, productivity and patient experience suffer. With simple initiatives—think bi-weekly meetings, individual discussions, setting realistic dental KPIs, continuing education, celebrations, and incentives for your staff members—you can ensure your staff feels valued, bolstering trust and loyalty.
Delegation and accountability
Being a leader means knowing that, ultimately, if you had to step away, your team could continue apace. A good leader knows what they don’t know, knows how to utilize the resources in front of them, knows when they need to step back. For all those reasons and more, smart delegation of tasks and responsibility is in important facet of your role as dental practice manager. You can’t be expected to be everywhere at once, so clearly setting fair expectations of your staff is both an exercise in cooperation and a vote of confidence. For example: You may learn that a team member is computer savvy, so they would be a good candidate for reviewing the day’s data and metrics at EOB. If a team member is especially responsible and detail-oriented, they would be a good candidate for keeping patient records safely stored and organized. Learning about team members’ strengths and goals can be mutually beneficial, allowing you to position them where they’re both happiest and of most utility.
No matter which way you delegate, it’s just as important that every person know the importance of the role they and others play within the team, making it clear that you function as a unit. This will keep team members from having overlapping responsibilities, and in the unfortunate event that a team member fails to meet expectations, there is a clear line of accountability.
Work with your community
While the Dandy Dental Survey: Patient Experience tells us that over ¾ of all dental patients pay for their visit through insurance, we know that 41% of all households with a combined income of less than $50k/year do not have or use insurance. If you’re located in an economically depressed area, the odds are good that, A. average dental health is relatively poor (source: CDC) and B. people tend to seek emergency rather than preventative care. Understanding who exactly you are serving and the needs of that community can change everything about how you structure your practice and what services you most often employ. But you can’t serve your community unless you the lights on, so drumming up business–getting new people in the door and keeping existing patients coming back–may mean offering flexible payments.
You may want to mention financing options on your site/in your socials, but as our survey of patient priorities tells us, in general, “just 8% of all respondents looking at online reviews when selecting a dentist search specifically for words related to ‘affordability’ with just 3% searching for terms related to ‘payment plan,’” indicating that, while it may be good practice for you to mention that you offer flexible payment options, marketing directly to that population may not be as strong of an incentive as you imagine. That is where smart marketing comes in.
Use smart marketing
The easiest way to increase your dental practice value is simply by attracting more patients. Yes, that means marketing. One of the less straightforward aspects of dental practice management is proactive image management, that is, meeting people where they are. “‘In this day and age you have to commit to marketing your practice,’” says Dr. Len Tau in our survey. “‘The reason you market your practice is you want to attract more new patients. In order to do that you have to make it easy for patients to want to come in and see you.’” This may feel like a tall order, but don’t be intimidated by the term ‘marketing’–after all of the buzzwords and jargon, it’s really just shorthand for identifying who needs what you’re selling and implementing a strategy for reaching them. So where should you start?
Laying foundation and building credibility
The importance of online presence can’t be overstated. Your practice must have a well-designed website, active social media, and claimed online review platform profiles. If you want to successfully market and grow your practice, this is non-negotiable. We won’t get too far into the weeds here (if you want hard numbers, check out our full survey), but suffice it to say that this conclusion is not opinion, but a data-based insight. Our study revealed and then reiterated the importance of cultivating online presence, specifically reviews, which, Dr. Len Tau explains, should be the bedrock of your marketing efforts.
“‘…Generating reviews, making yourself more visible [online]–that’s something I consider foundational [to growing a business]. You have to do that before you start marketing your practice.’” He continues. “Review generation or what we call now, ‘listing management’ [the practice of ensuring that your name, phone number, and general information are consistent and accurate across online platforms] are two of the most foundational things you would have to be doing prior to doing anything else for your practice…”
Dr. Tau goes on to say that, even if you aren’t boasting 1000 5-star reviews, some is infinitely better than none–a business with zero reviews simply does not appear credible. And don’t lose sleep if not every review is great–too perfect of a score comes off as suspicious.
Still balking at the importance of online reviews? Think about this: potential patients don’t even have to visit review sites to see your ratings; when a person looks up directions to a business on Google maps, an average user rating is displayed automatically.
Reviews on third-party sites (Yelp, Google, Healthgrades) are not enough. Your socials page should be active with new content, but don’t get carried away–this isn’t about you or memes or about internet stardom. It’s about harnessing your strengths to buoy your business.
In terms of good social media practice, consider portraying before/after treatment outcomes, happy patient testimonials, and check-ins with staff around the office. If you’ve got a photogenic office, show it. If you sponsor local events or sports teams, that’s great social fodder. Try to think about social media as proof that your business plays an active role in helping the people of your community. When it comes to your site, you should feature a basic “About” page, bios for every team member, testimonials and reviews, a list of achievements and accolades (including those of your team members!), policies, ways to schedule appointments/contact, and a list of procedures offered and new tech in use. And make sure you keep your site up-to-date (listing management).
Who should you target and how?
One very important note up top. Our data shows that, in order for a patient to even consider you, you must both:
A. Be in close enough proximity that it’s convenient
B. Accept a patient’s insurance, so don’t get hung up trying to reach people who don’t fall in these parameters.
When it comes to marketing, you can cast a wide net but it may be smart to focus resources where they’d be most effective. There is a difference between accuracy and precision. Ideally, you want your efforts to embody the best of both so you’re not burning resources unnecessarily.
You know your community and the population you serve, so you should definitely rely on your own knowledge and connections as a guide. But in addition to those polestars, you can use data from the Dandy Dental Survey: Patient Experience to give a general idea of who is most likely to be looking for a new dentist at any given time.
We found that age is one of the most durable factors in determining who is presently looking for a dentist, and their tendencies as a group. Nearly 75% of all patients aged 26-35 switched dentists within the last five years. That means that, at any given time, people in this age range are a reliable target for a cleaning or one-time procedure, but as a group, they will only meaningfully affect your annual balance sheet in volume. Still, targeting this group may not be a bad strategy as this population tends to be more online as an average, so connecting with them can be an outgrowth of keeping your socials active and staying on top of listing management. What does this group value? Time. Our study shows that this group–in particular–is sensitive about the time they spend in the waiting room.
In contrast, patients older than 55+ are reliable and faithful to their dentists, and are much less likely to switch. However, a full quarter of these were forced into the market due to their current practitioner retiring. What does that mean for you? If you know that a dentist in your locality is getting up there in years, it may be worthwhile to discuss referring their patients to you upon retirement. Failing that, it might be a good idea to keep track of places older folks tend to frequent or publications they tend to read. What exactly should you advertise to these patients? Our study shows that, compared to their younger counterparts, older patients tend to search specifically for keywords related to specific procedures and the use of new technology–the overall importance of which we’ll address in the next section.
Finally, as referenced earlier, our survey showed that nearly ¼ of all respondents, regardless of age, have left their dentist due to a “poor experience.” Precisely what constitutes a poor experience is somewhat nebulous, but based on other data we gleaned, we can make an inference on what constitutes a good experience: people want to feel like their visit was pleasant, want to spend a minimal amount of time in the waiting room, and want thorough explanations with high transparency. Broadcasting your attentiveness to these three specific facets of patient experience in your marketing material (i.e. on your site and social platforms, and any literature you distribute in the community) are sure to attract everyone, but especially anyone who’s had a “poor experience.”
Streamline operations with a digital dental lab
As a the only 100% digital dental lab, we at Dandy know better than anyone else just how much new technology can impact your practice. Our unbiased study of patient experience underscores patients’ preference for the use of new tech in their dental treatment, which has a 46% correlation with the highest possible satisfaction rating. When taken with the context that only about ¼ of all respondents’ dentists used an intraoral scanner, a picture of opportunity begins to clarify. If you’re not already using an IOS, you should be.
Speed, accuracy, and comfort
Traditional dental impressions are to IOS imaging as a telegrams are to video chat. Both accomplish roughly the same goal, but one is inarguably superior. Accurate, durable, inexpensive, easily performed, and fast to accomplish–an IOS scan enables you and your patient to focus on what matters. In just two minutes, an IOS renders a detailed, manipulable 3D image of your patients teeth, gums, and bite which can be easily integrated into your patient’s electronic records.
Digital dentistry bonus: marketing boost
In speaking with practitioners who’ve adopted an intraoral scanner, we’ve encountered unanimous agreement that the imaging produced by an IOS wows patients who then can’t wait to share their excitement. “‘Seven out of 10 patients are putting [their Dandy scan] on social media or sending it to their friends,’” says Dr. Barry Bartusiak whose thriving dental practice boasts over 250 5-star reviews. Citing metrics from a third-party service his practice utilizes, he tells us that internal referrals went up 15% percent since partnering with Dandy. “‘[Dandy] has been an accelerator for growth. It has kept us on the forefront of the technological boom that is taking place across all industries.’”
Dandy’s digital dentistry difference
For any dental practice owner, the prosperity of the practice also rests on three critical elements: time efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and patient comfort. Through our digital dental lab, you and your patients can experience end-to-end digital solutions with new dental technology that enhances workflow and streamlines operations. Specifically with Dandy, your team receives:
- Intraoral scanners – An intraoral scanner will curb the amount of time your patients spend for oral impressions. This handheld device allows you to make precise digital scans for crowns, dentures, types of nightguards, aligners, and more.
- Patient portal – A mobile patient portal—which is part of Dandy’s digital dental technology offering—enables you to track and manage lab cases, whether you’re at your patient’s chairside or prepping for your day over coffee at home.
Why patient experience is the most important factor in dental practice management
You mange a team, build a schedule, and facilitate the day-to-day operations but never forget that, as a dental practice manager, you are literally and figuratively in the smile business.
Up to now, the factors responsible for patient satisfaction may have felt mysterious or generated from anecdotal sources. But thanks to the Dandy Dental Survey: Patient Experience, you have an empirical roadmap with landmarks.
Remember: you may have an office that operates like a Swiss watch, you may have a beautiful facility worthy of magazine covers, you may be the dental hygiene daVinci–none of it matters unless it’s reflected in your patients’ experience. Satisfied patients equal return patients equal reviews and referrals equal solidifying your importance to your community. If you want to increase your practice’s value, keep that equation in mind.
Whether you’re making your office more welcoming, polishing communication and logistics, safeguarding information, leading your team to higher standards of customer care, mediating with the underserved in your community, getting your services to those who need them, or increasing efficiency and speed with new tech–patient experience sits at the very heart of each section in this guide.
How Dandy can help with dental practice management
Expert management is the lubricant needed to ensure your dental practice operates like a well-oiled machine. From managing billing to guaranteeing your practice is HIPAA-compliant, a top-notch dental practice manager is the golden ticket to a profitable, booming business.
With Dandy by your side, you can take a digital-first approach to your dental clinic. We provide expert, timely support and a range of innovative tools and technology to save you time and resources—ensuring you can focus on what you do best.