Recently on a Facebook page, an anonymous dentist member wrote, “How can I be more effective at marketing? I know that I need to become more effective at marketing so that I can reduce insurance dependence, but I have not had much marketing success so far. Help!”
This question caught me off guard. I wondered why this dentist chose a marketing company to help him reduce his dependence on insurance. Secondly, I was curious if he had consulted his team prior to making this decision. Lastly, I sensed that this dentist had spent little time thinking about his situation.
In this article, I propose that before you run and seek outside help for a problem, you need to look more closely at the issue yourself using your two best “internal resources,” your own personal knowledge and the knowledge of your team. With regards to this Facebook post, here was my response… “How about focusing on internal marketing first? Focus on excellence with your dentistry, your protocols, and with the relationships you have with your team and your patients. Look in before you look out.”
What do I mean when I say that a dentist should “look in?” “Looking in” means to first work with your team to find solutions and start by asking yourselves the question “Why?” Too often, I see dentists race to outside companies like marketing firms or dental suppliers for answers. When dentists immediately turn to outside companies for advice, their decisions, most times, are rushed, lack thought, and are made with a “shoot first ask questions later” mentality. Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe wholeheartedly that outside sources like coaches, consultants, marketing firms, and dental suppliers provide valuable information. I myself am a coach. However, I also believe that dentists, before making critical decisions, need to slow down from their busy practice lives, take a breath, “get quiet,” evaluate, and analyze their situations with the help of their teams. Once a decision has been adequately vetted, and everyone is clear about the “why,” then the practice can seek outside help if needed.
Most dental teams are a treasure trove of knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, the dental team is frequently underutilized, never asked for their opinion. Many dentists make critical decisions without ever seeking input from their teams. In truth, these teams know their practices better than anyone else. I recommend that dentists search for answers within their practices before they reach out to others. There are a few benefits to doing this. First, asking team members for their opinions validates them. It makes them feel special, establishes trust, and gives them a meaningful sense of purpose. Secondly, seeking input from your team is a great way to gather data and view a situation from varying perspectives.
With every critical practice decision, start by asking yourself the question “Why?” Why do I want to do this? What is the real issue at hand? What is the outcome I am looking for? What will the practice look like afterward? What are the important details I need to consider before making this decision? Finally, what are the risks? For example, in the case of wanting to drop PPO plans, the first question I would ask is “Why do you want to drop them?” Is the reason behind your decision low rates of reimbursement? Perhaps participating in these types of plans has caused a flood of unappreciative patients. Perhaps you are too busy, not productive, and need to slow down. Whatever the reason, make sure you are clear about the “why” before you make any decisions. Once you have clarity about your “why,” use the additional questions listed above to help you further vet your situation.
Here is a system I used in my practice for many years. It helped me problem solve and make better decisions quickly and collectively with my team. First, begin by defining the problem. In this case, the problem might be low reimbursements or delayed payments from a PPO plan. When defining the problem at hand, be as clear and precise as possible.
Next, you want to brainstorm the possible solutions. In this second step, you simply make a list of the possible solutions without discussing them. Like the first step, everyone contributes to the process and no answer is left out.
In Step 3, discuss each item from the list in Step 2. Using an easel, giant “post-it notes,” and markers, write down your answers so everyone can see them. In my practice, we would post our sheets on the walls around the room making them visible for everyone to see.
In Step 4, using your discussion list, choose the best option. As a variation, prior to picking the best option, you might try ranking the discussion items on your list. From that ranking, select the top five, and then from those five, pick the best one.
Step 5 is where you take action. Here, write out the action steps needed to complete the issue you’ve identified. With each action step, assign the “who, what, and when” to establish accountability. Doing this allows you to identify who is going to be responsible for completed the task. It specifically defines what action needs to take place. Lastly, setting a date determines when the step will be completed. For example, with regards to the PPO situation, you may decide that your administrative assistant is going to research how many PPO patients you presently have in the practice; she will report back to you with the data in one week. In this case, the “who” is the administrative assistant. The “what” refers to the analysis regarding the number of PPO patients. Lastly, the “when” is in one week. In summary, your assistant would report back to you and the team with the requested data regarding the number of PPO patients in one week.
The last step, Step 6, is to evaluate the results of your plan. To me, this step is the most important one. Essentially, it’s your measuring stick, a visible way for you to see how you and your team are progressing. In addition, it helps you make any necessary course corrections along the way. Most importantly, it motivates you and your team to carefully follow your results and celebrate your accomplishments. In your mind, imagine you and your team putting everything in place before you decide to drop a PPO plan. Imagine that as a result, your practice has fewer write-offs and increased collections, more profitable than ever before. Because of this added income, imagine increasing everyone’s wages and having a party to celebrate your accomplishments.
In conclusion, when it comes to making decisions for your practice, remember that “collective decisions are often better than individual decisions.” You and your team know what’s best for your practice. By using the few simple questions listed above, you’ll have a clearer picture of your “why.” When you combine that understanding with the step-by-step problem-solving system, you’ll develop more clarity, have more accountability, and you’ll be more productive. Together, you and your team will experience more fun, more fulfillment, and have everything you need to “look in before you look out.”