Close to 40% of health care in the U.S. is provided by doctors (MDs, Dentists, Podiatrists, etc.) in private practice. A large percentage of these practices are struggling. The reasons behind this are as variable as the people you might speak with. It’s the economy, unemployment, insurance companies, the housing bust or banks tightening their lending standards, creating a situation where people can’t afford health care anymore, etc.
Having owned a successful private dental practice, let me make one point: if a doctor is blaming their lack of business success on any of the reasons above (or anything similar), they are in trouble.
Here’s a short version of my story to illustrate my point: In 1992 I had a dental practice in a farm town in Indiana of ten thousand with eleven dentists. The grocery store which anchored the strip mall I was in moved. After that, all the other businesses left or went bankrupt with the exception of the public laundromat. I couldn’t leave because I had eight years left on my lease. And all this in the middle of the recession that Bill Clinton inherited when he took office. It killed the economy in northern Indiana and people were afraid to spend money (sound familiar?). I was having a hard time cashing my paycheck and was considering staff lay-offs for the first time in my (at that point) eleven-year career. Whatever I did, no matter what solutions I was looking for, I had no way out.
The stark reality was that, even though I was well trained as a dentist, I had no clue how to run a practice or business-certainly not how to pull my practice out of the the tailspin it was in. They don’t teach you those things in dental school. One day, I heard about MGE: Management Experts, a management training company for doctors and other professionals in private practice. I walked in with all of the usual “reasons” why my practice was doing poorly-the economy, my location, etc. This stopped when I learned a lesson early on from MGE: There are things you can control and things you cannot. Do something about what you can control and don’t worry about the rest.
So I got to work and learned how to build a business. Through this training, I learned how to do marketing to bring in patients who really cared about their oral health. I learned how to get them to go ahead with the dentistry they needed-in spite of the economy. And I learned how to run an efficient practice that rapidly expanded and made profit. Twelve months after starting my training at MGE, my practice had doubled, I’d brought on an associate and I was working twenty-two hours per week while the office was managed by my trained office manager. And she had never worked in a dental office before.
Life was great, but I could see that many of my colleagues were going through what I had gone through prior to training; unfortunately, not all of their stories ended happily like mine. It was frustrating and I wanted to help. I decided to do something about it and within ten months I sold my practice to my associate and came on board at MGE as a partner.
I have learned the hard way that it’s not the location of the practice, the insurance industry or the recession that leads to failure in these unbelievably tough economic conditions. I have found through experience that it’s the lack of know-how in running a business that gets most health care practitioners in trouble.
I know a dentist in the Detroit metro area with two partners who have done the same practice management training I did at MGE. They have since opened three new locations in the past four years-during the same time period the recession hit Detroit. Their business viewpoint is that while other offices are closing, somebody has got to take care of these patients so it might as well be them. They recently got five hundred seventy new patients in one month! Think about it, they are in Detroit which has (according to the news media) been hit harder economically than just about any area of the U.S.
I know another dentist in San Diego who did the same training and opened a practice in June, 2008, just as the recession was starting. He refused to participate in any PPO/HMO plans. His advisors said he was committing financial suicide and that he would be joining the plans in a matter of months. At the end of his first twelve months, he was successful financially and getting over sixty new patients per month. He’s working three-and-a-half days per week, has an associate three days per week and six days of hygiene. And he’s doing all that out of only three chairs and he has just added a fourth-to keep his expansion going. Just for the record there are about 170,000 dentists in the US and about 20,000 of them are in Southern California.
The dentists mentioned above are not out-of-the-ordinary, they are just hard-working, caring, quality people-with a few exceptions: 1) they were willing to step out and admit that they needed help, 2) they were willing to think for themselves and not buy in to the negativity spread about by the masses, 3) they were willing to think outside the box and never agreed that it was hopeless, and 4) they were willing to invest time and money in their most precious business asset…themselves!
So yes, the economy plays a major part in our lives, especially for small businesses and private practices. Overall, it’s not a pretty picture at all. But my viewpoint is: Doctors in private practice need to learn to manage their office so they can overcome those problems and really give people the quality care they deserve-insured or not, regardless of economic conditions.
Gregory A. Winteregg, D.D.S.
Source by Gregory A Winteregg, DDS