By Tabitha Jaquay Fernandez
It’s never the call we want to receive. The dentist has been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis is not good. The team is scared and clueless about what to do. The doctor and his family are coping with the news as best they can, but they’re basically in denial.
What do you do in a situation like this? How do you reassure a team and a family that everything is going to be OK? What do you communicate to your patient base so you can be certain you will retain them?
These moments are times when I’m so glad to have a close relationship not only with the doctor, spouse, and team, but also my own Jameson team who can rally support. These moments are times when I want to take out giant billboards all across the nation asking dentists the pressing question they never want to consider: Do you have a practice contingency plan?
I talked with Dr. Forest at Forest Irons, a locum tenens company, and forwarded some resources from him to the team. However, there is much more to do. I wanted to share with the dental world my friend's viewpoint of cancer treatment that isn't all "doom and gloom." I wanted to make the dental team aware of the importance of a practice contingency plan.
After just three weeks of a doctor being absent, the practice is most likely already losing existing patients. This depends on the size of the town the practice is in and the doctor’s community involvement. This doctor and his wife have been very active in their small community, so their absence from the practice was felt and talked about immediately.
Patients called to cancel or reschedule appointments within just a few days of the doctor going into the hospital “for tests.” Other local doctors reached out to the team and offered to help see patients until the doctor was able to get back into the office. After a week, the questions about how long he would be out started pouring in and the team had no idea how to answer appropriately. Of course, while the other doctors were kind with their offers of help, they have their own practices to take care of, so they soon began to request the doctor’s contingency plan. The “that won’t happen to me, my doctor, our practice” mentality was coming back to bite, and the bite was painful.
The phones rang less and less each day, and team members started to wonder if they should be looking for other jobs. Since they had limited conversation with the doctor and his wife, they were not even sure they would be paid for all the days they spent working in the practice.
Dr. Forest Irons says having a contingency plan for the practice is “as important as having the electricity on to run the drill. When the doctor is out of the office for more than a month and not taking new patients, you have already started losing thousands of dollars. Once you start losing patients, then the practice is evaluated on the equipment, the office space if you own it, and the number of “active” patient charts. Active charts are going for $60 to $65 per chart, which is just pennies compared to 60% to 65% of last year’s collections when a practice is healthy and thriving. After only 60 days of inactivity or sporadically seeing patients, this typically results in a 50% loss of patients.”
So, just as we advise our clients about the importance of finding a good accountant, saving for retirement, having a short- and long-term accident policy, and so forth, this is another crucial topic to discuss with the doctor, spouse, and/or practice owner. Once a plan takes shape, we must help the doctor determine what information needs to be shared with the team in the event of a catastrophe. Think of it like the fire drills we used to do in school. No one knows if a fire will happen or when, so you plan, prepare, and have a system in place just in case.
It is a tragic situation for our client and could get worse very quickly if actions are not taken soon. Don’t get caught in a similar situation. Reach out to a practice management consultant to help you develop a practice contingency plan before you are faced with a similar situation.
Tabitha Jaquay Fernandez is director of client relations at Jameson Management, Inc. She is often one of the first Jameson team members to hear your story and start paving a path toward the solution. Hear more of what Tabitha and other dental practice management advisors have to say on Jameson’s complimentary webinar series. Register today by clicking here or call (877) 369-5558 for more information.
Do you have a practice contingency plan?
By Tabitha Jaquay Fernandez