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What is Dental Office Management?

By Heartland Dental

A lot of education and training is needed to become a dentist. Still, there is a gap between the knowledge and skills needed to provide quality dental care, and those needed to actually build a profitable dental practice. This is why dental office management is so important.

Dental office management (sometimes called dental practice management, dental support, or dental support services) is a set of practices, procedures, and skills that go beyond clinical care, and that is needed to turn an education in dentistry into an actual viable practice.

Most dental health professionals are familiar with the more outwardly obvious parts of dental office management, like setting appointments, sending out reminders, and handling billing. While important, these activities are just the tip of the iceberg. Dental office management is, first and foremost, about maintaining and growing a practice where supported dentists can focus on providing the highest quality of care. Doing all this requires a strategy, supported by a diverse array of business skills.

What kinds of skills? These days, modern dental office management includes things like:

  • Formulating an overall plan for growing your practice
  • Collecting the appropriate metrics to measure your business success
  • Managing overall practice finances
  • Reviewing suppliers and supply costs
  • Maintaining your online presence, including social media channels
  • Reducing patient cancellations and no-shows
  • Educating patients even when they are not in your office
  • Streamlining operations

Again, these skills typically go beyond the care of patients. But they are essential for supporting your dental practice.

The Need for Good Dental Office Management

To see why dental office management is important, consider what could happen to a practice if one or more of these skills is missing.

Missing financial skills. A practice that sees a steady stream of patients but still struggles to turn a profit might have problems with financial planning and control. This can manifest in many ways. For example, perhaps patient bills are not being paid in a timely manner, leading to a cash crunch. Perhaps prices are not appropriate for the location and market, and so need to be rethought. Or maybe vendor contracts are too costly and need to be renegotiated.

Missing communication technology skills. We no longer live in a world where people communicate solely by phone. Patients are used to getting texts and emails, finding information on the web, and interacting on social media. These technologies can be used not only for setting appointments and sending reminders, but also for educating existing patients and attracting new ones. A practice experiencing many patient “no-shows,” or failing to get new patients in the door, might need to master new communication technologies for dental practices.

Missing business analytics and metrics. How many new patients does your practice see in a month? And what is a patient's average spend? Are these numbers growing, or shrinking? What procedures are the most profitable, and how can you effectively advertise them? Many times, a practice will be unable to diagnose exactly why it is unprofitable, despite the fact that everyone is working hard. The trouble is either that they are not collecting the needed data, or are collecting it but simply lack the analytical skills needed to analyze that data, look for trends, and take appropriate action.

Missing business leadership skills. Even if a dental professional has embraced new technologies, mastered finances, and made a point of measuring everything, all while maintaining a high standard of care, he or she might still reach a plateau with his or her practice. It is the practice owner’s job to make sure that everyone is reaching their highest level of potential. This means offering ongoing training, investing in new treatment procedures and technologies, and building a “team environment.” Without the business leadership aspect, a practice will quickly stagnate, or else be overshadowed by local competition.

Should Dental Office Management Be the Dentist’s Job?

It helps when a dentist has a good general knowledge of what is involved in modern dental office management. Still, a dental professional’s expertise should be in providing care and treatment, not in the minutiae of running an office.

This is why dental support organizations are so important. Dental support organizations (or DSOs for short) are independent companies that contract with dental practices to provide many of these non-clinical dental office management skills.

In the past decade, there has been a huge shift from more traditional dental practices to ones that rely on DSOs, with the goal being to provide more affordable and more consistent care to patients. As of 2019, roughly 16% to 20% of dental practices are in a DSO agreement of some sort.

DSOs also give dentists an opportunity to “plug in” to a larger dental community, taking advantage of ongoing training, mentorship, and professional networking. Some DSOs, including Heartland Dental, actively recruit dentists and help them land jobs in existing supported offices. This helps dentists who are new or looking for a change take control of their careers while offering a valuable support service to existing dental practices. (For a list of currently available supported positions, visit https://jobs.heartland.com/.)

Importantly, being placed in a practice through a DSO helps guarantee that the practice is being run as efficiently as it can be. A dentist can find a placement with a practice knowing that he or she will be able to focus on providing care, and will not be required to handle all of the aspects of running a practice (including those listed above). In other words, finding work through a DSO is a great way to ensure that you’ll have a career focused on the skills you were educated for, not just a job with an endless list of tasks.

If you have more questions about dental office management, DSOs, or Heartland Dental’s available jobs, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Tags: Dental Support Organization, Dental Practice Management, Heartland Dental