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3 Strategies for Private Practice Dentists to Run a Lean Dental Practice

By Planet DDS
October 1, 2021

The concept of “lean” business practices dates back to the assembly line made popular by Henry Ford. It’s the idea of finding efficiencies and reducing wasteful practices in a business. Applied to dentistry, lean practices can help your practice adapt to recent challenges including staffing shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The Need to go Lean 

The past year and a half posed unique challenges for dental practices, one of the most pressing being the staffing shortages.  

According to ADA Health Policy data, one of the biggest shifts in the dental industry relates to staffing challenges.  

“A May (2021) poll from the ADA Health Policy Institute found 35.8% of owner dentists are recruiting dental assistants, 28.8% are seeking dental hygienists, 26.5% are looking to hire administrative staff and 13.1% are in search of associate dentists — all four percentages representing a rise in recruitment since October 2020. 

Compared with before the pandemic, more than 80% of owner dentists who are currently hiring are finding the recruitment of dental hygienists and assistants to be extremely or very challenging.1 

The struggle is real, as experienced by Dr. De La Rosa, vice chair of the American Dental Association Council on Communications and a dental practice owner. 

“Weeks pass without applicant submissions, and temporary staffing services have no availability…I have experienced interview no-shows and poor attendance from new hires. This reduction in staff in combination with COVID-19-related patient screening and slower operatory setup and teardown requirements has resulted in fewer patients being scheduled.” 2 

The challenge also extends to administrative and associate dentist staffing.  

“Hiring of administrative staff and associate dentists has presented difficulties as well, with more than 70% of owner dentists saying recruitment of administrative staff was extremely or very challenging and more than 50% of owners reporting the same for recruiting associate dentists.” 3 

Suffice to say, running a lean dental practice can prove beneficial during this challenging season. With staffing shortages and lingering uncertainties of the pandemic, let’s talk about how you can run a leaner and more profitable private dental practice. 

3 Lean Strategies to Keep Your Dental Practice Competitive 

1.  Staff Strategically 

As you approach how to staff your office, it’s essential to build a flexible and adaptable culture. Your team workflows will benefit from being able to adapt and scale personnel around surges and dips in your schedule. 

While patient visits took a hit during the pandemic, patients are now growing more comfortable returning to receive dental care, making staffing shortages even more challenging. Uncertainty is common as your daily schedule ebbs and flows 

  • Consider having access to a pool of temporary dental staff. Previously furloughed or part-time dental hygienists, dental assistants, and business assistants who reduced their hours might have available time to fill your staffing gaps. Connect with local or online dental staffing services to create a pool of go-to assistance when needed. 
  • Utilize virtual assistants for front-office tasks. This is most effective if you use cloud-based practice management technology. Secure, remote access to your database gives virtual team members the opportunity to schedule, follow-up on patients, send appointment reminders, and more. 
  • Cross-train your team for flexibility. Cross-training your team members ensures that your office won’t be scrambling if someone needs to take the day off or if you temporarily need shift responsibilities. 

2. Monitor and Manage Your Overhead 

Your dental practice will always have overhead costs. The resources required to provide patient care, hire, equip, and train your staff, stock your supply room, and keep your facility and technology up-to-date cost money.  

To keep overhead in check, be sure to monitor your usage and spending. By eliminating wasteful spending and supply use, you can keep your overhead spending lean.  

  • Inventory your supplies and other necessary overhead. A number of on-hand resources might be able to sustain you for a period of time without having to incur additional costs.  
  • Empower a team member to monitor and manage supply ordering.  
  • Streamline your workflows and implement cross-training of clinical and front-office team members.

 3. Leverage Technology that Saves Time and Boosts Efficiency 

Going digital helps save costs, time, and team energy. Think paperless, touch-less, contact-less.  

Going further, cloud-based practice management and imaging solutions will transform the way you access, store, and share vast amounts of data for your practice.   

Technology helps your office save time and improve efficiency. And better efficiency enables you to scale your systems to accommodate potential staffing challenges or workflow interruptions. 

  • Utilize online scheduling. A virtual option gives patients convenient way to communicate with your practice without time consuming phone calls for your front-office team. 
  • Go paperless. Digital documents secured on a cloud-based platform are at less risk than paper files to loss, theft, and damage. Plus, they’re remotely accessible if you’re relying on virtual assistants to handle patient communication, etc. 
  • Eliminate complexity. Cloud-based technology requires less maintenance than bulky network servers. It’s common for support to be included with your affordable monthly subscription.  

Technology helps keep your practice lean and capable of pivoting more quickly when necessary. As the COVID pandemic has taught us, the need to pivot is essential when staffing, scheduling, and other unforeseen challenges confront your private dental practice. 

Staying lean as a private dental practice requires flexible staffing and operational integrity. It’s also vital that your technology helps you innovate and maintain productive workflows.  

Embrace lean thinking, stay competitive, and utilize innovative resources  

Check out the following content to sharpen your lean practice management mindset:  

5 Things You Can Do to Ride Out the Hiring Crisis in Dentistry 

Dental Career Track Pt. 2: What Dentists Can Do to Face the Dental Hygienist Shortage (And Attract Talent) 

How Digitally Mature Solo Dental Practices Stay Competitive 

Along the way we’ve mentioned cloud-based dental practice management technology. Planet DDS’s offers proven cloud-based solutions including Denticon Practice Management Software and Apteryx Imaging XVWeb. 

Contact us for more information about how Planet DDS can streamline your workflow systems and operational tasks that can help you stay lean across your dental practice.