A Guide to Dental Practice Management

After buying a dental practice, you’ll need to manage it well to make the most of your investment.

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Managing Effectively

Managing a dental practice involves a mix of good dentistry, marketing skills, customer service, people management, and a willingness to learn and improve.

Let’s get an overview of what you need to know.

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You know that old bear analogy? “I don’t have to run faster than a bear, just faster than my buddy.” Being a dental practice owner is a bit like that.

Most dentists are terrible business owners. They didn’t spend the better part of a decade in classes and residency learning all about staff management, accounting, and advertising. They worked on clinical skills.

Those clinical skills are important, for sure. But they’re table stakes. To outcompete other competent dentists, you need to be better than them at all the non-clinical aspects of running a practice. The bar is pretty low.

If you just do a bare minimum of research and implement a few best practices, you’ll be miles ahead of the competition and your practice will be the envy of your area.

Here are some areas to focus on to outperform everyone else:

  • Growth: advertising, marketing, referral networks, networking
  • HR: hiring, firing, staff management, incentives
  • Finances: accounting, budgeting, forecasting
  • Customer experience: communications, resolving complaints, managing touchpoints
  • Vendor relationships: evaluating costs, negotiating pricing, managing orders
  • Technology and systems: having the most efficient workflow possible
  • Facility management: keeping your operation humming along
  • Inventory control: keeping the right amount of the right stuff in stock
  • Regulatory compliance: not running afoul of OSHA, HIPAA, and other regulatory bodies

This article won’t go into detail on every one of these, but it will point you in the right direction. 

To learn more about managing your staff, I recommend The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman. It really deals with the people side of practice management.

What Is Dental Practice Management?

Dental practice management refers to the business operations and administrative aspects of running a dental office practice.

The goal of strong dental practice management is to create efficient systems and workflows that enhance productivity. This enables dentists and staff to focus on providing excellent patient care rather than being bogged down by administrative tasks.

Effective management is key for reducing costs, maximizing profitability, and ensuring a positive patient experience.

What Does Practice Management Include?

Practice management focuses on providing the behind-the-scenes systems and solutions to operate an efficient dental office. This includes several key areas:

Growing Your Practice

Growing a thriving dental practice requires you to wear many hats, including the one of master marketer. With increasing competition, you need strategic initiatives to consistently attract new patients and expand your base. This means going beyond sporadic print ads and investing time and resources into comprehensive dental marketing across multiple channels.

As the practice owner, you should take an active role in planning marketing campaigns, overseeing their execution, and analyzing results. Work with a marketing advisor or agency to design data-driven funnels that target prospective patients with relevant messaging.

With data-driven efforts to boost your reputation and outperform competitors, your practice can grow steadily. Sustainable practice growth requires a strategic approach across key areas like marketing, patient acquisition and retention, delivering excellent care, and monitoring metrics. 

Set clear growth goals, execute targeted campaigns to attract patients, focus obsessively on patient experience to build loyalty, and track key performance indicators to identify opportunities. 

Here are some tips for managing your dental marketing and patient acquisition efforts:

  1. Set annual new patient goals and conversion benchmarks.
  2. Segment your patient data to identify referral opportunities.
  3. Track website traffic, leads, and conversions to optimize.
  4. Monitor online reputation and encourage reviews.
  5. Test new marketing initiatives and measure ROI.
  6. Analyze marketing metrics to allocate budget effectively.
  7. Automate follow-ups and nurture leads.
  8. Provide referral incentives to active patients.
  9. Capitalize on all patient touchpoints for cross-selling.

With consistent measurement and refinement, you can attract more new patients and identify the most effective marketing channels over time. Regularly analyzing your marketing data and performance metrics allows you to optimize budget allocation, improve conversion at each stage of the funnel, and achieve the greatest return on investment from your efforts.

Managing Your People

Your team is the backbone of your dental practice. To provide excellent patient care and run efficient operations, you need to attract and retain talented staff. But effective human resources (HR) management requires skills beyond the clinical expertise you honed in dental school.

From your hygienists to your front desk, you want a team that is motivated, reliable, and well-equipped to do their jobs.

As the practice owner, you should take an active role in HR duties like recruiting, onboarding, training, performance reviews, and maintaining positive working relationships.

Your team is your greatest asset, so invest in hiring the right people, training them thoroughly, providing incentives, and fostering a positive work culture. Set clear expectations, give regular feedback, listen to staff concerns, and make employees feel valued through professional development and recognition. 

Here are some best practices for optimizing HR management in your dental practice:

  1. Hire carefully and fire when necessary to build a strong team.
  2. Conduct thorough new employee onboarding programs.
  3. Maintain compliant HR policies and provide regular training.
  4. Set goals collaboratively and give frequent performance feedback.
  5. Support continuing education and advancement opportunities.
  6. Get regular input on work satisfaction and burnout.
  7. Benchmark compensation packages against industry standards.
  8. Mediate any conflicts promptly and effectively.

Invest time into understanding your team’s needs, setting clear expectations, providing constructive feedback, and making staff feel valued through professional development, recognition, and competitive dentist insurance and compensation packages. By strengthening your HR capabilities as a practice owner, you can boost productivity, morale, and staff retention for a thriving dental practice.

Financial Management

As a practice owner, you likely went into dentistry for your passion for helping patients, not sitting in front of a computer managing finances. But maximizing reimbursement and maintaining a healthy cash flow are essential for supporting your team and sustaining a thriving practice. This allows you to focus on dentistry rather than stressing over the numbers.

From insurance billing and claims management to accounting and collections, the financial operations of your practice require time and expertise to optimize.

Proper financial management starts with accurate claims submission and efficient insurance billing. Submitting clean claims that are coded correctly and have proper documentation is key to faster reimbursement. Use dental billing software and services to ensure accuracy and simplify submissions.

Managing accounts receivable is also crucial for reliable cash flow. From sending statements and collecting patient payments to resolving claim issues with payers, stay on top of collections through dedicated staff and/or outsourcing. Use key metrics like days in accounts receivable to monitor effectiveness.

Beyond billing and collections, broader financial tracking and planning is required for profitability. Detailed accounting of revenue and expenses, budget forecasting, and financial analysis will provide visibility into your practice’s fiscal health. 

Here are some ways to win the game of dental practice financial management: 

  1. Implement dental billing software to streamline insurance claim submission and tracking. Leverage features like electronic claim filing, patient billing, and reporting.
  2. Audit claims regularly for accuracy in coding, documentation, and completeness. This improves reimbursement success.
  3. Educate staff on payer requirements and billing best practices through training and coding resources.
  4. Monitor key metrics like collection rate, days in accounts receivable, and denial rates. Set goals for improvement.
  5. Standardize financial policies and patient payment protocols across the practice.
  6. Automate patient billing and statements through dental software. Use text/email reminders and online payment options.
  7. Designate skilled billing staff or outsource to maximize insurance reimbursement.
  8. Routinely verify patient eligibility and benefits to avoid claim issues.
  9. Appeal denied claims promptly and follow up on outstanding claims.
  10. Review monthly financial reports with advisors to assess revenue trends and costs.
  11. Set annual budgets aligned to growth goals and monitor variances. Control expenses.
  12. Schedule regular financial review meetings to problem solve issues as a team.
  13. Consult with financial experts like accountants or advisors for guidance.
  14. Attend continuing education on dental practice financial management.

The financial side of dentistry is complicated, but proper management is possible with the right tools, people and systems. This enables you as the practice owner to focus on excellent dentistry while maximizing revenue cycle performance. With smart financial operations, your practice can flourish.

Technology Management

Digital innovations are rapidly changing dentistry. As a practice owner, you need to stay on top of emerging dental technologies and strategically invest in solutions that maximize clinical care, efficiency, and growth.

Leverage practice management software, digital equipment, automated workflows and data tracking to maximize efficiency. Research new equipment, dental practice software, and other trends to stay up with the latest.

Key tech management strategies include:

  1. Assess clinical team needs and pain points to identify solutions.
  2. Set objectives and timeline for adopting new equipment/software.
  3. Compare options for cost, capabilities, integration, training needed.
  4. Budget for initial purchase and ongoing costs like the cloud dental software system subscriptions.
  5. Use digital imaging systems, intraoral scanners, CAD/CAM mills, and automated workflow tools.
  6. Ensure IT infrastructure and security to support new systems.
  7. Develop standardized protocols and provide robust staff training.
  8. Troubleshoot issues and fine-tune digital workflows.
  9. Continually evaluate emerging technologies and stay ahead of the curve.

With expertise in dental practice management software and strategic adoption of the latest solutions, you can transform your practice through digital dentistry. This will optimize your management efforts, making the process quicker and fuss-free.

Managing Customer Experiences

In the competitive dental industry, providing amazing patient experiences is imperative for patient retention and word-of-mouth growth. Satisfied customers become loyal advocates.

As a practice owner, you should be highly focused on every touchpoint of the patient journey—from booking and reception to treatment and follow-ups. Warm, personalized service matched with efficient operations conveys quality care. Seek regular patient feedback to continuously refine processes.

Here are some keys to excellent customer experience:

  1. Set key performance indicators for satisfaction scores and monitor results.
  2. Gather patient feedback through surveys and review sites.
  3. Train staff on exemplary customer service protocols.
  4. Follow up after visits to address any issues promptly.
  5. Review phone and in-office wait times and bottlenecks.
  6. Enhance comforts like entertainment options and refreshments.
  7. Leverage CRM tools to segment outreach and communications.
  8. Resolve problems with transparency and compassion.
  9. Track patient retention and aim to optimize it.

Patients feel cared for through warm, personalized service, short wait times, clear communication, and prompt issue resolution. By obsessing over each patient interaction, you can provide experiences that exceed expectations, build loyalty, and fuel referrals and practice growth. 

Managing Vendor Relationships

Develop strong partnerships with vendors and negotiate favorable terms to reduce costs and ensure reliable supplies and services.

As a dentist and practice owner, vendor relationships with labs, supply companies, technology partners, and other service providers are essential to operate efficiently. But you need management strategies beyond just ordering what you need.

Approach vendors as strategic business partners to optimize value. Offer loyalty in return for favorable terms and reliability.

Here are some best practices for managing vendor relationships:

  1. Compare vendors on cost, quality, service, reliability and warranties.
  2. Negotiate discounts, bulk pricing, and payment terms upfront.
  3. Designate purchasing decision makers and processes.
  4. Consolidate purchases with preferred vendors when possible.
  5. Set and communicate performance expectations.
  6. Provide feedback to improve relationships.
  7. Pay promptly to maintain good standing.
  8. Share insights to help vendors better serve your needs.

Proactive vendor relationship management will help you reduce overhead, secure favorable discounts, and build long-term partnerships that drive success.

Managing Facilities

A smooth-running office with tidy, comfortable treatment rooms and waiting areas projects professionalism and supports staff productivity. Your office environment plays a major role in delivering exceptional patient experiences while enabling smooth operations.

As practice owner, you need strategies to ensure your physical facility is an asset, not a liability.

Effective facility management approaches include:

  1. Optimize patient and staff flows in office layout.
  2. Equip exam rooms and lab with latest technologies.
  3. Display a tidy reception area showcasing your brand.
  4. Maintain rigorous infection control and disinfection routines.
  5. Schedule preventative maintenance on equipment.
  6. Monitor inventory levels of critical supplies.
  7. Refresh designs, artwork, furnishings periodically.
  8. Provide comfortable patient areas with entertainment options.
  9. Ensure safety features like emergency exits and lighting.
  10. Plan for future facility needs and expansion.

With expertise in facility operations, you can cultivate an office environment that works for your team and wows your patients. Efficient facilities enable excellent patient care, so improve the appearance and efficiency of your practice for further success. 

Managing Inventory

Proper inventory management ensures you have the supplies you need with a minimum of waste. As a practice owner, you need processes to avoid stockouts while also not overstocking.

Effective inventory management strategies include:

  1. Forecast demand and planning inventory needs accordingly.
  2. Track stock levels and usage trends of critical items.
  3. Calculate ideal reorder points and inventory levels.
  4. Automate reordering through practice software.
  5. Monitor expiration dates and rotating stock.
  6. Provide secured, organized storage areas.
  7. Document inventory processes for staff training.
  8. Conduct periodic inventory audits and adjustments.
  9. Evaluate supplier performance and costs.

With expertise in managing your dental inventories, you can improve your ordering efficiency, cash flow, and supply chain management. Tight inventory control and planning ensures you have what you need when you need it, while avoiding tying up excess capital in supplies.

Managing Regulatory Compliance

To run a dental practice, you must vigilantly adhere to dental care laws, regulations, and compliance standards.

Common areas to manage include HIPAA privacy rules, infection control protocols, and state dental practice acts.

Effective regulatory compliance management involves:

  1. Designate a compliance officer to monitor new regulations.
  2. Closely monitor bodies like the ADA and OSHA.
  3. Review policies and procedures against current guidelines.
  4. Document protocols in an employee handbook.
  5. Provide robust new hire training on compliance.
  6. Conduct annual refresher trainings for the full team.
  7. Post key regulations and contacts visible to staff.
  8. Perform self-audits or external audits to identify gaps.
  9. Correct any issues immediately to avoid violations.

With diligence and expertise in compliance, you can ensure your dental practice meets all legal and regulatory obligations.

HIPAA Guidelines

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides federal protections for sensitive patient health information. HIPAA guidelines cover privacy rules, security protocols, and safe information sharing practices.

As part of managing regulations, dental practices must ensure they have proper data privacy protocols and annual training to keep patient information secure and HIPAA compliant.

OSHA Guidelines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets standards for health and safety in the oral health and dentistry workplace. OSHA guidelines address hazard communication, infection control, ergonomics, workplace violence, and more.

ADA Guidelines

The American Dental Association (ADA) publishes comprehensive guidance across clinical dentistry, practice management, and patient care. ADA guidelines cover infection control, occupational health, dental procedures, patient confidentiality, and ethical practice.

What Are Some Best Practices in Dentistry?

To deliver exceptional dental care, you need to excel across many disciplines. Here are the best practices that every quality-focused dental office should have in place:

  • Patient-centered care: treating each patient as an individual with unique needs and concerns. Excellent chairside manner.
  • Cutting-edge techniques: utilizing the latest evidence-based clinical techniques and technology. Continuing education and skills development.
  • Infection control: rigorous sterilization, disinfection and hygiene protocols to prevent disease transmission.
  • Attention to safety: evaluation of medical history for potential complications. Careful patient monitoring. Emergency preparedness.
  • Clear communication: explaining dental conditions, treatment options, costs and timelines to patients transparently.
  • Treatment planning: developing appropriate treatment plans tailored to the patient’s oral health needs, lifestyle and budget.
  • Documentation: thorough clinical charting, images, dental models and narrative reports in patient records.
  • Follow-up care: post-treatment check-ins, recalls and maintenance visits to sustain oral health.
  • Office operations: efficient systems for scheduling, billing, inventory and workflows. Leveraging technologies.
  • Patient education: guiding patients on proper oral hygiene and preventative techniques and addressing questions and concerns.

Ideas to Improve Dental Practice Management

Optimize your management with these dental practice management tips for reduced costs, increased efficiency, and higher profitability. Here’s are 11 tips to improve practice management today:

  1. Utilize practice management software to automate administrative tasks like billing, scheduling, and reporting
  2. Institute phone call tracking to capture missed calls and improve front office communication
  3. Offer online booking to enable patients to schedule appointments 24/7 in ways other than via phone
  4. Implement automated appointment reminders via phone, email and text
  5. Develop standardized protocols and checklists to systematize workflows
  6. Monitor online reviews and patient feedback to identify areas for improvement
  7. Provide continuing education and training to keep staff skills up-to-date
  8. Streamline supply reordering to ensure inventory is accurately tracked
  9. Upgrade equipment like autoclaves and sterilizers to the latest models
  10. Perform regular audits of processes like billing, charting, and collections
  11. Digitize paper records through scanning to free up space and enable quick access

About Dental Buyer Advocates

We help dentists become dental practice owners. If you’re looking to buy a dental practice, we’ll help you through valuation, negotiations, and all the rest. 

Our 27-point checklist is a pretty good roadmap to the acquisition process.

Contact us today to learn more. We’re ready to help you get into a practice of your own.

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FAQ on Dental Practice Management

What is dental ethics?

Dental ethics refers to the professional code of conduct and moral principles that guide dentists. It covers ethical patient care, upholding professional standards, proper research methodology, and a dental professional’s overall behavior and integrity.

What does CRM mean in dentistry?

CRM or customer relationship management in a dental context refers to systems and strategies for effectively managing patient relationships, interactions, experiences, and data. A CRM is also a type of software that assists with managing customer relationships. CRM—both the discipline and the software—enables dental practices to provide personalized service and communicate with patients across multiple channels.

What is PMO in a dental office?

PMO stands for the practice management office which is the team and organizational systems responsible for handling administrative operations in a dental practice. The PMO manages non-clinical tasks like scheduling, billing, supplies, staffing, and practice finances.

What is the function of practice management?

Dental practice management solutions help practice owners analyze, optimize, and automate office systems and workflows. This improves efficiency so dentists and clinical staff can stay focused on delivering an excellent patient experience and quality care.

Who runs a dental practice?

A dental practice is typically managed day-to-day by the dentist owner who oversees all aspects of practice ownership. Some dentists opt to focus on their craft and hire an experienced practice administrator to handle administrative leadership duties.

Do I need a dental office manager?

Hire a dedicated dental office manager or designate an internal business leadership team if you want to delegate routine administrative duties. This type of dental office management enables the owner, other dentists, dental hygiene experts, and dental assistants to focus on dentistry while the office manager handles personnel, systems, compliance, finances, and facility needs.

What does OMS mean in dentistry?

OMS stands for oral and maxillofacial surgery—the dental specialty focused on surgery of the mouth, face, jaws, and related structures like the neck, head, and nervous system. OMS requires additional specialized training beyond general dentistry.

What are the types of MDS in dentistry?

Some common Master of Dental Science (MDS) specializations include orthodontics (braces), periodontics (gums), pediatric dentistry (kids), prosthodontics (restorations), endodontics (root canals), oral medicine, and radiology.

What is the Dental Group Management Association?

The Dental Group Management Association (DGMA) is an association that provides resources, education, and collaboration for dental support organizations, practice administrators, office managers, and other dental practice management professionals.

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