How Private Practice Can Thrive Again

A lot of dental practices are hurting right now.  Yes, the economy is a factor, but the issue is much more complex than that.  The environment for dental practices has changed forever, as I explained in my last post.  Is private practice becoming a dinosaur in a more competitive world?  Will dentists in the future work for Wal-Mart?

I believe that private practice can thrive again.  How will we compete in a tougher climate?  By reclaiming our entrepreneurial spirit.  We can no longer sit by passively and expect our practices to thrive.  We must train ourselves to become true businessmen and businesswomen.  Here are a few ideas on how to do that:

(1) Rethink office systems – The next time you have a free hour because a patient cancels, don’t let yourself get distracted by Facebook, your Fantasy Football team, etc.  Instead, sit down with your office manager and ask questions.  What does your hygiene recall system look like?  How do you track uncompleted planned treatment?  Ask your colleagues and research ways to become more efficient.

(2) Engage and educate the community – We can fight the consumerization of patients by teaching them the value of our services.  We must reach out to our local businesses, schools, and leaders and let them know we exist.  I’ve spoken before about networking groups and why I think they are a hidden secret to growth.  I’ve grown my practice significantly by taking the time to be involved in Chambers of Commerce and the like.

(3) Market your practice intelligently – I’ve learned to stop spending money on traditional advertisements (e.g. newspapers).  We can develop a marketing strategy using social media that is free and far more effective.  It just takes a little sweat equity.

(4) Develop a dental niche – There are a lot of dentists who have the phrase  “Family, Cosmetic, and Implant Dentistry” on their sign.  What else distinguishes you?  Consider becoming an authority on TMJ/TMD, or dental phobia, or sleep appliances.  Broaden the scope of your practice to include a specific niche that will attract patients.

(5) Get tough on overhead – As much as we may like our dental supplier sales representative, we should shop around for better bargains.  Although our services are not commodities, our materials are.  Don’t pay $5 for cotton rolls when you can pay $3.  Seek out dental suppliers that will offer quality products for less.

We can enjoy a new era for private practice but it won’t just happen on its own.  We must take control of our practices.  We must stake our claim as entrepreneurs.  Passive business owners may not survive even after the economy turns around.  But active business owners will thrive.  We’ll do it together.

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Please note that I can no longer answer questions from the public regarding their personal dental care. I am unable to properly diagnose or recommend treatment over the Internet. If you are looking for a dentist, please visit the "Find A Dentist" feature on healthysmiles.org