Using data to transform practice performance
Guy Meyers discusses how setting goals and tracking data is transforming the performance of hundreds of dental practices across the UK.
As a profession, it’s fair to say that most dentists run good dental practices. But being ‘good’ can create a false sense of security. A happy team, loyal patients and a financially sound business can mask underlying inefficiencies, which if identified and resolved could quickly transform a good practice into a great business.
It’s true that the definition of what constitutes a ‘great’ practice comes down to the personal preference of the principal or practice owner, but we do have some data-led models for setting targets and benchmarking, which can help dentists understand what’s possible for their practice and help create a financially sound business.
Setting objectives and communicating these to the whole team is the starting point for every successful business. Every member of the team should be able to clearly articulate what the practice’s objectives are and furthermore, understand their role in helping achieve them.
Objectives can be broadly categorised into two main areas: finance and patient satisfaction. Once defined, it is useful to break these down into individual goals and capability key performance indicators based on job roles.
Revenue is generally regarded as a core business target, but principals are often reluctant to share this data. I always urge them to do so, as it encourages ‘buy-in’ and generates a sense of togetherness. It’s imperative that everyone appreciates the wider picture, so they can understand their individual role within it. Objectives should be kept simple, normally a maximum of three will suffice. They should be ambitious but not unrealistic, otherwise this can quickly become demoralising.
It’s a fact that the vast majority of dentists assess their business performance based on gut feeling, but this is simply not enough when trying to maximise the potential in a practice. Using all the software tools available, principals and managers can now regularly track data and understand exactly how their practice is performing.
Understanding performance progress is important because it presents an opportunity to tweak the processes that affect results and change things before it’s too late. For example, in 2016, 31% of practices missed their UDA target. If these practices had been constantly monitoring their UDA progress, they may have been able to introduce tactics to avoid the shortfall.
It’s always important to react to data, as immediate action can help to solve any potential problems. If one measurement for patient satisfaction is patient referrals, there needs to be a process established by which this data can be captured on a regular basis. The process needs to be understood and followed by every member of the team.
Our work with thousands of practices over recent years enables us to confidently make some key recommendations with regards to the principles that underpin a successful practice:
- Automate – all the processes that you can, using the software tools available
- Establish a disciplined patient workflow, to ensure each team member knows what is required of them
- Use targets to manage team performance each day, week and month.
It’s crucial to get team ‘buy-in’ to targets because this creates accountability for the success or otherwise of the business. Hitting targets is critical to overall success, as every small target reached will have an impact on achieving the overall objectives of the business. Having a daily huddle for five minutes is a useful tool for reminding the team of the key objectives and the role they can play during that day to help achieve them.
The theory of continuous improvement is not a new concept in business, but for dentists it represents a different way of thinking about how a practice operates. Transforming your practice from good to great doesn’t happen overnight, but nor is it a complicated or unachievable aim for the vast majority of high-street dentists. Knowing which tools will make the transformation possible and understanding how to use them is a pre-requisite, but once understood and with the right guidance, it is a simple path to follow.