Richard Scarborough, Area Sales Manager at Practice Plan, shares the key measures dentists need to be monitoring and explores what they can reveal about your practice
Prevention is better than cure is something that shouldn’t just be applied to your patients’ dental health, but to your practice’s business health. To have a sound and healthy business you need to be up-to-date with its current state and monitoring this regularly, which will give you the foresight needed to take proactive steps
In my experience, most practices are aware that they could be doing more to measure their business performance, but for many reasons they aren’t. It could be a lack of time or resource (perceived or real), an uncertainty in how to start or that measurement simply doesn’t excite a dentist as much as clinical work, so it is de-prioritised.
“Metrics are indicators of how your practice is faring at the moment and how it is likely to perform in the future. Without that insight, it is much more difficult to know whether you are heading in the right direction to achieve your goals.”
But while measuring figures and statistics might not stir the soul in the same way that transforming a patient’s smile might, it is absolutely vital for driving your business forward. Metrics are indicators of how your practice is faring at the moment and how it is likely to perform in the future. Without that insight, it is much more difficult to know whether you are heading in the right direction to achieve your goals.
Depending on your goals for your practice, you might attach more importance to some metrics and less to others, or delve deeper into the detail of some more than others. There can also be different Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for different roles, e.g. the practice manager may have a high level metric of less under-utilisation in the diary, which will feed into a more detailed KPI for the front desk team in terms of running a full appointment book.
However, there are some basic factors that you should be measuring for an accurate picture of your business’ current and future performance. Below are four key figures you should always have an eye on for an overview of how your practice is doing.
Knowing at high level what your recall percentage return rate is (the number of patients returning for appointments), is at the hub of measurement, with other metrics leading off from it. It is significant not only for giving you an idea of pipeline business, but also as an indicator of patient satisfaction. Happy patients come back, so if yours aren’t then what’s going wrong?
The percentage of patients adhering to their recall intervals will give you an overall picture, and by digging deeper you can begin to identify other issues which may be relatively easily fixed.
For example, your patients might be satisfied with their clinical experience and be happy to return but inefficiencies in the booking system mean they are unable to make an appointment. You need to examine the reason why this might be the case.
“Whilst many dentists are focused on how to attract new patients, time and effort might be better spent on monitoring and improving recall rates.”
It could be that you are sending out reminders by text in bulk, and lots of patients receive it at the same time so they all try to call to make an appointment but can’t get through. Not many are likely to persevere, and that could be all the encouragement they need to go to a competitor. Switching to scheduling follow-up appointments at the previous appointment could reduce that obstacle.
Whilst many dentists are focused on how to attract new patients, time and effort might be better spent on monitoring and improving recall rates. Making it easier for your patients to attend every six months, rather than recruiting enough new patients to fill the gap when they don’t, is surely a simpler solution?
Appointment utilisation – un-booked time
Some un-booked time in the diary is not anything to be too concerned about, especially as you may want to keep some aside for emergencies. Having said that, it’s worthwhile looking at how much time you actually spend on emergencies compared to how much is allocated to it, to ensure you’re not over-estimating.
Looking at how much white space you have is important but figuring out why is even more so, as only then can you know how to rectify the situation. It could be that patients are failing to attend because the appointment was booked six months ago and no reminder was issued, so they simply forgot. Or that a reminder text is sent to everyone but the list of patient’s mobile numbers isn’t kept up-to-date. Perhaps patients tried to call to tell you they couldn’t attend but couldn’t get through on the phone.
Knowing the reason why, will help you to know what action to take. Monitoring the phone line to see how many calls are unanswered or how long it takes to answer, or checking the bounce rates of texts, can help to pinpoint where the issue is. Maybe you need to make sure the first appointment of the day is a longer one so that the receptionist is available to take calls rather than deal with lots of patients coming through the door. Or, you just need another member of staff on reception at certain times of the day.
In my view, a practice should always have growing patient numbers. Patients are loyal to a good dentist and will generally refer other people to them, so a growing patient list is a good signifier of patient satisfaction.
“A growing patient list is a good signifier of patient satisfaction.”
Having an overall picture of the number of patients in your practice is useful, if it begins to drop off it can be a warning sign that patients aren’t happy. It is also worthwhile comparing patient numbers between individual dentists because even if the total figure is acceptable, it could be that one dentist is at capacity while others are losing patients or have poor recall rates.
When you recommend treatments to patients do they take up the right one, in your opinion as a dentist? If not, what is the underlying cause? It could be that due to time constraints the patient left the practice not fully understanding the impact of not having the treatment and the options available to them, and that inviting them back for another appointment, maybe with a TCO, would negate that issue.
Or maybe they did understand and want the treatment but there was an affordability issue, in which case introducing patient finance might be worthwhile. Understanding your conversion rate is important because if it isn’t where you want it to be, it can mean that patients aren’t having the right treatment in a timely manner. This can then impact on all your other key metrics, as it could result in a deterioration of their dental health, which will impact their satisfaction levels which can lead to lower recall rates, failing to attend appointments and patient numbers.
“These high-level metrics can provide a picture of your practice as it is, which can either be reassuring, show opportunities for growth or identify issues.”
These high-level metrics can provide a picture of your practice as it is, which can either be reassuring, show opportunities for growth or identify issues. But to ensure that picture is accurate, you need to delve down to the next level to understand the reasons for those figures and ensure you’re not misinterpreting the figures.
Monitoring these factors takes time, but it is well worth it as the insight they provide means you can always be on the front foot and stay ahead of the competition.
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