How to create and manage a successful safety net dental program

The environment in which safety net dental programs operate is dynamic and ever changing.

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What is a dental care safety net dental program? The dental care safety net is where people go:
• When they don't have a regular dentist
• Because they know their Medicaid card will be accepted
• Because they won't be turned away when they are in pain and can't afford care
• Because the clinic is close to home and linked to their other health care providers

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Creating, maintaining, and managing an efficient and effective safety net dental program is a continuous quality improvement process. The environment in which safety net dental programs operate is dynamic and ever changing, and programs need to be adept at quickly identifying and responding to new challenges and opportunities.

The way to do this is to continuously monitor dental program performance, and respond immediately to negative trends or challenges that interfere with successfully attaining program goals. Managing for success depends on the ability to generate accurate and timely program data, analyzing that data effectively, and being willing and able change the dental program in response to that data.

What sort of executive are you in your dental practice?

By using practice data, successful managers will create a business plan for the dental program that shows the department how to achieve and maintain financial sustainability, maximize patient access, and achieve meaningful and measurable quality outcomes. This business plan should be a living document that is regularly reviewed and shared with team members to create a culture of accountability, buy-in, and success.

Here is a list of the key practice data that dental programs should regularly collect and analyze to monitor performance:
• Number of visits
• Number of unduplicated patients
• Number of new patients
• Gross charges
• Net revenue (including all sources of revenue)
• Payer and patient mix
• Total expenses (direct and indirect)
• Emergency rate
• No-show rate
• Transactions (procedures by ADA code)
• Percentage of completed treatments
• Percentage of children needing sealants who received sealants
• Number of FTE providers (dentists and hygienists)
• Aging report (amount of money owed to the practice past 90 days by patients and third party insurers)

Programs with multiple clinical sites should generate and analyze this data for each site to understand how well each site is performing.

Why invest in training your dental team?

Setting realistic and achievable goals is crucial to effective dental program management. Goals are related to access (total number of visits, number of unduplicated patients, number of new patients), provider productivity (visits/day, procedures/visit, and revenue/day), quality outcomes (percentage of completed treatments, percentage of children who needed sealants who got them), and financial outcomes (gross charges, net revenue, bottom line).

Once goals have been determined, regular collection and analysis of data enables dental leadership to ensure that the dental program is achieving these important performance metrics. The keys to creating a culture of accountability within the dental program are 1) continuously monitoring and analyzing performance, 2) providing regular feedback to staff, 3) getting all staff at the table and engaging them in establishing solutions and goals, 4) rewarding success and coaching setbacks, 5) always leading by example, and 6) making it fun!

Mark Doherty, DMD, is the Director of Safety Net Solutions at the DentaQuest Institute.

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