The 5 stats every dental practice should monitor

"Monitoring" means more than writing numbers on a spreadsheet.

Nov 15th, 2012

When I say “monitor,” I don’t mean write down the numbers on your spreadsheet, stick it in the three-ring binder, and forget about it. I mean for you to write it down, discuss it with your doctor, talk about it with your team, come up with strategies to improve it, or high five each other because you’re exceeding your expectations. Numbers tell a story. The numbers help you reinvent systems, protocols, and campaigns.

Earlier this year, I worked with a dental practice that has three front office team members. Each person has a list of statistics they have to track on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. When they hired me to do some training, they wanted help with extracting information from their software so it would be easier for them to monitor since it was becoming very time-consuming. I looked at the stats they were tracking and asked them a couple of questions — What do you all do with this information?How do these numbers help you with your job, your practice, and your patients? The answer from all three team members was the same: I don’t know, the doctor just wants it.

I recently had a similar conversation with a good friend. I asked her, What does your doctor do with the information? Do you all talk about it at the team meetings and discuss the numbers? Her response was, No, he just gives them to the consultant.

Another situation I encounter is the office that doesn’t track anything at all. I have asked doctors on the spot what their accounts receivable is, and they can’t tell me. Or I will ask the financial coordinator what the over-the-counter collections are for the office, and she doesn’t know.

I find that there is a common disconnect between just tracking stats and actually trending stats to use in your dental practice to help make it more profitable and productive. What I find with many offices is that the front office team spends hours throughout the month tracking statistics. They give the numbers to the doctor, and then never hear anything back. The next month, they begin the process all over again and get the same result.

Like I said earlier, numbers tell a story. Use the numbers to help write the next chapter and deliver an ending that is more predictable. When I talk about trending vs. tracking stats, I mean looking at numbers over a three-month average rather than on a month-to-month basis. I’ve worked in a dental practice for more than 20 years, so I know that every office can have a bad month. However, if you track the statistics on a three-month average, you can get a better picture of the health of the practice.

Monitoring the gross/net production and collection numbers goes without saying, so what other numbers should you monitor?

1. Over-the-counter collections — I’m a big enforcer of collecting over the counter, and I want offices to track this number very closely. Your money is worth more today than it is in 30 days or 90 days from now, and it makes a huge impact on the bottom line of the practice. This might sound high to you, but I want to see OTC at 45% to 55% for fee-for-service practices. Getting to this number starts with the new patient phone call, and training patients that payment is due at the time of service. It continues with the treatment plan presentation when creating a financial arrangement that conforms to this philosophy, and also at the time of the appointment when the patient is checking out. You must employ the right language skills to ask for payment before a patient leaves. My recommendation with your practice management software is to have separate payment types for OTC cash, OTC check, and OTC Visa/MC so you can easily isolate these categories for reporting purposes.

2. Net new patients— Note the word “net.” Many of the offices I work with brag about the number of new patients they have every month, until I ask how many patients are leaving the practice. Then they look at me like I’m from outer space. If you are getting 30 new patients a month but have 20 patients leaving every month, you really only have 10 new patients. Now it doesn’t sound so good, does it? I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but it’s important to know why your patients are leaving, and understand how you can use this information to retain patients in the future. I recommend that you follow up with patients who have left with an exit phone call to try to find why they transferred. If it’s due to something you can prevent in the future, this will help your “net” new patient number improve.

3. Percent of perio production to overall hygiene production— The hygiene department is an important piece of the dental team, and we need to keep a close eye on what is being scheduled out of this chair. What I see as the most common problem is lack of diagnosing in periodontal therapy. If your hygiene department produces less than 30% in perio services, I would seriously consider an evaluation with an experienced hygiene productivity coach. If you need a referral, contact me directly.

4. Unscheduled time units This number can go up and down, especially depending on the time of year. Offices tend to see more unscheduled time units during the summer months because people want to play hooky in the sunshine. Consequently, it’s important to trend this number over a three-month average just like all the other statistics. If you have more than three units of unscheduled time in the hygiene department per day, then you may want to look at new ways of making sure patients understand how important it is to keep their appointment. If patients are skipping out on their hygiene appointments, it could be because they don’t consider their oral health to be a priority. In these cases, it’s important for the hygienist to plant the seeds of patient education. For example: If that pocket on the upper right tooth doesn’t improve, we may need to refer you to a specialist, or We need to watch that crack on tooth No. 4 very closely. Patients may also skip out on appointments because they know that if they call to reschedule, they can get in within a couple days because they’ve done that before. The front office must have verbal skills ready to deal with these habitual schedule changers.

5. Accounts receivable Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for the dental office to carry balances on patient accounts more often than they do today. With today’s economy and uncertainty in employment, you need to be a little more cautious about extending a payment plan. This number should trend these days under a month’s production. What I mean is, when you take your total accounts receivable and divide it by your total monthly production, it should be less than one. It is also extremely important to monitor not only your positive accounts receivable but also your credit balances. I don’t know the laws in your state, but here in Washington we must report and send any nonactive credit balances to the Department of Revenue, which will list it on their unclaimed property report.

Over the years working in a dental practice, I’ve tracked and monitored many more numbers than the top five I listed here, but these are the big ones. These are the numbers that can be influenced by minor changes in financial policies or language skills that will have a big impact on the health of the practice. See if you can pull these numbers directly out of your practice management software. If not, you might need to create your own spreadsheet to keep track. Whatever way you’re able to get the numbers, start reading the story and then you can write the chapters and create a bestselling book for your office.

Author bio

Dayna Johnson, founder and principal consultant of Rae Dental Management, helps dental offices improve patient care, increase collections, and reduce staff headaches by implementing efficient management systems. With 20 years’ experience in the business and technical side of dental offices, Dayna’s passion for efficient systems is grounded in both personal understanding and professional expertise. She can be reached at dayna@raedentalmanagement.com, or visit her website at www.raedentalmanagement.com. If you’re a Dentrix user, you can check out her blog with front office tips and ideas at http://thedentrixofficemanager.blogspot.com/.

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