Have you ever watched a yoga video? Filmed in a serene nature setting, speaking in a calming voice, the yoga master easily lifts one
leg up behind her while leaning forward with the opposite arm. Slowly, smoothly, easily holding the pose for minutes at a time.
Have you tried yoga personally? I tried this exact pose and I could see my reflection in the window and burst out laughing as I was wiggling all over, waving my hands to catch some balance and still fell over at least 3 times – all while the yoga master was still calmly on one foot!
It’s just the same with dental practice management.
From the perspective of a new dentist, owning and running a dental practice can seem easy. The hours spent by the senior dentist (and perhaps also the highly trained dental office manager) to manage are generally hidden from view. When a new dentist enjoys a productive year, a nice uptick in new patients and feels like he/she is really carrying a decent load of patient care – it can be tempting to look over at the senior dentist and wonder, “How much more money could I make if I owned my own practice?”.
So, for new dentists who are wondering about dental practice management, here are a few things to consider:
Management isn’t glamorous
It’s made up of hundreds of little tasks that have to get done. And get done on time. The phone call to the plumber to fix the lab sink. Paying the bills. Dealing with the phone call from the security company when the alarm accidentally goes off. Look at your list of tasks that have nothing to do with patient care. Oh wait – do you have a list of tasks? You can get a feel for management when you have a never-ending, running list of tasks – and you’re making calls and solving problems between patients, during lunch and in your personal time.
Management isn’t free
How much is your practice paying for a bookkeeper/accountant right now? In almost all older (age 50+) solo practices, the spouse handles this responsibility. However I’ve seen an increase in younger dentists whose spouse either has another career or simply isn’t interested in handling the financial responsibilities of the practice. Realistically, the owner must find someone knowledgeable and trustworthy to take this responsibility – and work at least 10-20 hours/week!
Dentists are personally liable for all insurance coding – so, how well-trained is your office manager or insurance manager? Again, knowledgeable dental office managers can be hard to find and not inexpensive. If you find a great person, how will you train her? And then make sure she is doing her job properly? Most office managers handle payroll and depending upon who you trust to know all your staff salaries can cause major drama.
Management includes a financial focus
Every dentist I’ve ever talked to prefers patient care over management. Associate dentists enjoy the luxury of not spending any time on business management. Senior dentists are stuck – there’s no one else left! A large part of the senior dentist’s responsibility is to maintain profitability. Over the last 5 years, this has become even more challenging as PPO participation has increased and dental marketing has completely changed from yellow pages to online marketing. It takes a strong leader to handle the financial stress on the practice, personally and especially by managing the stress on the staff.
More challenges lie ahead
As the dental field watches medicine, we know we’re headed for even more challenges. We’ve seen physicians move to primarily practicing in groups, become hospital-owned due to the leverage needed to negotiate with insurance, increase staff size and experience a drop in income. Senior dentists will be faced with dozens of decisions as these trends move into our field. Add healthcare reform into the mix and electronic health records that require updated technology and all this adds up to more and more management required just to stay in business.
How much is it worth?
Personally, I love management and strategy. I enjoy the variety of tasks and decisions involved in running a dental practice. I ought to, I went to school to achieve an MBA – not a DDS degree. For dentists trying to decide if they would be better off (translation: make more money) by owning their own solo practice instead of working for/with a senior dentist, it’s no easy answer. Just because you own the practice, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll earn more money. Looking at the list of management challenges listed in this article, think about your management skills and training. How will you handle the business decisions necessary to make your practice a success? How interested and motivated are you to spend the time on boring, repetitive tasks that will easily replace personal and/or family time you’re enjoying now?
If you’re excited and motivated to become a small business owner – Congratulations! As you can tell, this is a choice made based on how you want to spend your time and how you see yourself. As dentists continue to follow medicine’s lead and practice together in groups, we need business owners and leaders who enjoy and are good at management. As you look forward, do you see yourself managing a practice? If so, welcome to management.