The Daily Grind offers readers a glimpse into the life of general dentists practicing today. Each post offers a perspective on managing a dental practice or balancing a life outside of the practice. The Daily Grind is written by several general dentist and student members of AGD. All content published on The Daily Grind is property of the Academy of General Dentistry and cannot be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Systems for Success

  • by Duke Aldridge, DDS, MBA, MAGD, DICOI, MICOI, FMISCH
  • Jun 5, 2017, 14:30 PM
Beautifully designed systems enable a well-trained team to deliver excellent dental care and superb customer service. Everything a team member does needs to be documented, rehearsed and mastered to ensure excellent results. Systems or standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be maintained in the practice’s operations manual and used for training new employees, continuing education, measuring employee performance and providing direction for the entire staff. Employees appreciate systems that are clear and concise and provide direction so they can perform to their utmost potential. Detailed systems that are adhered to help alleviate vague and ambiguous scenarios. They also help provide clarity and guidance that leads to increased efficiency, accountability, quality output and uniformity of performance.

Systems incorporate every operational protocol in a dental business. The level of success for the business is directly correlated to the quality of the systems and team’s overall effectiveness. Well thought-out systems include step-by-step instructions on how every aspect of a dental office should run. Excellent systems are analogous to a great recipe that yields predictable outcomes through step-by-step instructions. There should be systems for how to answer the phone, process payments and ask for referrals; systems for well-designed hand-offs that motivate patients to seek treatment; systems for how to turn over a treatment room; and systems for how every clinical procedure should be performed. There also should be systems on how to evaluate business metrics and data that incorporates the practice management software, marketing, insurance, phone call conversion rates and personnel. In fact, there are about 300 systems that should be part of every dental office. Can you imagine a pilot jumping into the cockpit of a beautiful Boeing 787 bound for the other side of the world without checking to make sure all systems are operating properly? Without systems, a business is flying blind.
Developing systems that work is not an overnight task, nor is it easy. Companies such as Starbucks, Alaska Airlines and The Ritz-Carlton have accomplished earning world recognition through the delivery of fantastic customer service and satisfaction. At the core of their excellence are integrated systems that promote teamwork and empower employees to reach their ultimate potential. 

While it takes time to develop and implement systems, the rewards are well worth the effort. Having a sound financial system that maintains high cash flow is one simple example that can eliminate devastating financial results. Cash flow is critical to any business, and in dentistry, the outstanding accounts receivable (A/R) ratio should never be greater than the average monthly production. In other words, the total outstanding A/R ratio should be < 1:1.

Have you ever had a patient in the chair for multiple extractions, alveoloplasty and delivery of immediate dentures, only to learn that the prosthesis is still at the dental lab? How does this happen? Is this an employee or a system deficiency? Usually, this a result of poor systems and not the employee — at least, if the business has hired and onboarded personnel with the use of systematic hiring procedures that includes background checks, verification of references, team interviews and much more. In fact, insufficient training for new personnel is one of the most overlooked and undervalued aspects of most employers. 

As an industry, we can do better. High employee turnover in the dental office can be demoralizing and expensive. Patients do not like to see new employee faces each and every time they come in the office.

If you do not have a comprehensive operations manual with standard operating procedures in place, then I highly recommended that you begin to develop one as soon as possible. This can be a team effort, or you can get help from a dental analyst or consultant who has experience in operating manuals and systems.
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