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Don’t look now, but the holidays are here again. If you’re like most practices you’re probably still in the midst of that last-minute “I’ve got to get my teeth cleaned before Christmas pictures!” madness. Then will come the slowdown that lasts into the new year, before things start picking up again.

That lull is the perfect time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions–for yourself and for your practice. If you’ve had difficulty in the past making practical resolutions that result in actual solutions, we’ve created a list of practical New Year’s resolutions for your office–ones you should find easier to keep, because it’s based on harmful behaviors you should STOP doing.

  1. Stop Trying to Do It All Yourself . Look, you have staff for a reason: trust them to do their job. If you feel like you have to follow along behind them to make sure everything is done correctly, you either need new staff or a new attitude. And while we’re on the subject, develop the habit of thanking your employees. Workers that feel appreciated are more likely to be happier, more loyal, and better team players. Catch people doing the right thing and praise them immediately. Tell them specifically what they did right, and encourage the behavior. Then watch your best employees perform even better.
  2. Stop Continually Worrying about Money . You can’t give patients your full attention while you’re obsessed with finances. Look at last year’s receipts, and establish an operating budget that works. An efficient practice should be able to run at 20-25% staff costs; anything higher probably means you have either too many employees or too many openings in your schedule. You may need to make some hard choices, staff-wise, but being able to operate efficiently can take away a lot of stress. It also helps to share the burden: once you’ve established a budget, make sure every member of your team knows they are accountable for helping to keep on-budget.
  3. Stop Being Controlled by Your Schedule . Your appointment calendar is the cornerstone of your success. The schedule needs to be full and productive, but unfortunately, that is a dynamic process: with just a few phone calls, a perfect day can suddenly become overbooked, a balanced week can fall completely apart. When that happens, your people need to know there’s no such phrase as “That’s not my job!” Empress upon ALL staff members that keeping the schedule as full and balanced as possible is everyone’s responsibility. There’s no room for prima donnas here: from the scheduling of appointments to timely reminders to the critical follow-up communications, your entire team must be fully committed to the maintaining the flow of the office.
  4. Stop Underselling Your Hygienists . Hygienists provide specific personalized, care that is highly important, both to your patients and to your practice: don’t be afraid to bill for what they do. Not only will this help your budget, it can provide a sense of validation for your staff. One thing to consider is how you invoice. For example, stop calling hygiene treatments a “cleaning” when you know there is so much more to the service. Feel free to itemize the process on the bill so that patients understand what all they’re getting. And in the same vein, stop calling the people who come to as “clients”: law firms and insurance agencies have clients. You’re providing specialized medical (dental) care for patients.
  5. Stop Letting Patients Off the Hook . How are you letting patients slide? Take a look at your accounts receivable. There should be no accounts outstanding for more than 90 days: the 90-day mark is when banks consider accounts to be uncollectable. If a patient has made no effort to pay you in 3 months, he or she has no intention of paying at all. Do your best to avoid bounced checks and/or chargebacks–even if that means insisting on a different form of payment from some patients. No one is saying you have to be mean or inconsiderate, and of course special cases will arise; even then, however, you are not out of line to require a repayment plan. Remember, in the end, it doesn’t matter how much you bill–only how much you collect.

These are just some starter suggestions, of course. The more efficiently your practice runs, the healthier your bottom line will long, putting you in a better position to achieve sustainable long-term growth.