Times are a bit tough for dental practices and dentists. We are in an economy that still, in some way, feels and looks as if it’s suffering a recession. People are holding on to their money or savings and only spending it on key necessities. Notably for some, spending their hard-earned money on dental health has ceased to be a priority.
Well, the year 2020 is here with us, is that likely to change? Will people feel free to spend heavily on their dental health? That is a question nearly every dentist is finding it difficult to answer. And wait, that’s not the only unsettling issue dentists are facing.
Currently, in every neighborhood, there are more dental practices than ever before. More so, with the entrance of corporate giants like Walmart and Walgreens in the dental business, how easy or effortless will it be for typical practices to compete and attract new patients?
Clearly, there are far more challenges that dental practices are likely to face that they cannot be exhaustively covered in a brief post such as this. Nevertheless, we will try as much as possible to predict the most probable issues dentists will struggle within the year 2020.
You may also take a few minutes to read on other daily challenges that even the most seasoned dentists face in their line of work.
Stay current — Update dental equipment and IT systems
Updating dental equipment and related technologies will still be a top priority for dentists in the year 2020. Here we are talking about dental equipment needed to attend to the ever increasingly diverse patient pool, including those patients seeking expanded services.
There is always pressure to stay current on such technologies. The pressure to upgrade is unavoidable and may come from various directions. For instance, for HIPAA compliance purposes, dentists must ensure a secure exchange of patient information. As a dental practice owner, you may also consider upgrading to systems that reduce administrative burdens, such as appointment scheduling, filing, invoicing, etc.
Modern dental chairs, Dental 3D printers, and laser technology are other things you might consider acquiring as part of your New Year plans. All of these things don’t come cheap. For a good number of dentists, this may be quite a challenge. However, you can always seek for financial assistance to fund such plans.
Accept that patients are consulting Dr. Google now
The patient-dentist relationship has changed drastically over the past years. Dentists will no longer be the sole receptacle of dental knowledge in 2020. Currently, information is a commodity which is freely available to everyone, dentists, and patients alike, which is not a bad thing.
That said, the freely available information on Google must be sorted out. Dentists should always be able to distinguish which information is valid and which one is not. Then try to advise their patients accordingly. Dentists, who refuse to accept that many patients are using Google to research their own diseases, will find themselves disadvantaged as patients opt for dentists with a more partnership-minded approach.
Ultimately, as a dentist, you can never stop patients from using the web to learn about their health. Instead of expecting or stopping them not to, dentists should deal with the ever-changing patient demands by enlightening them on which sources of information are reliable and credible.
Fill gaps in your team promptly
Unfortunately, this is a challenge many dentists face year in, year out; and 2020 may not be exceptional. Have your employees, ever refused to show up? Have you ever gotten requests for a last-minute day off? How have you dealt with gaps left when employees go for a sick off or vacation?
While it is great when one of your staff, let’s say a dental assistant, steps up to cover for such gaps, it is not an ideal solution for a modern dental practice. If the available employees feel pulled between tasks, they may not give their best when attending to patients. Instead of relying on your already overburdened dental staff to pick up the slack, consider hiring the roles you are missing, on-demand.
Yes, in this day and age, anything you need is available with the push of a button. On-demand technology is now giving dentists access to a large pool of dental professionals anytime they need them. Case in point, Cloud dentistry has significantly abolished the need for using unreliable and costly temp agencies and restored the hiring power to dentists. What’s more convenient than having access to cover-ups or additional staff, whenever you need them?
This is a challenge that shouldn’t persist beyond 2020. In fact, many dentists realized this back in 2014, when Cloud Dentistry was formed. Don’t be left behind.
The rise of corporate dentistry
We know that dental service organizations (DSOs) and chain or corporate dentistry are in a growth phase. Many private dentists worry about how this will affect their practices in the future.
Large retail corporations are not only selling household goods but have also started offering dentistry services. These types of stores are usually able to provide services at a much lower cost, which may not be a good thing for dentists running small private dental practices going forward.
So, should you be worried? Not to a large extent. Some patients will prefer this model, and some won’t. Thus, if you start accepting every plan and try “competing with corporate,” you will either lose money or work yourself to death.
You have to decide what you want your dental office to be. What is your vision? You must be sharp and focused on how you run your practice. Most importantly, you need to become skilled in management, communication, hiring, marketing, and so on. It can be done.
Balance appointments and minimize show-rates
What is the average no-show rate in your clinic? Are you considering booking extra patients to achieve the intended show-rate? Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be advisable. It’s unethical and can lead to your downfall.
But let’s be candid. No-shows have been a big challenge to many dentists, and you can be sure it’s an issue that won’t fade away quickly. Going forward, dentists should try to educate patients on why delaying dental treatment or dishonoring appointments is bad for their health. Alternatively, dentists can send reminders to patients either via email or text, to avoid unnecessary no-shows.
Deal with tax issues
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average dentist takes home about $156, 240 annually. This places them in the 24% tax bracket. As you can imagine, taxes are a big burden to many dentists and dental practices. To worsen the situation, many lawmakers are always thinking of raising taxes on people making a 6-figure income.
It is even more unfortunate if you fall behind on them. For example, if your practice doesn’t remit the required taxes during the first third of the year, you can have a lot of difficulties making up for it in the subsequent months. In short, tax issues have always been a challenge to practices, and dentists should strive to understand the tax codes to avoid unnecessary penalties.
Manage your accounts receivable
If improving your patient payment collections is not a priority this year, you’re in trouble. Some patients usually pay late. You can be empathetic about that up to some extent, particularly if they have undergone a costly surgery while facing other financial difficulties.
However, late payment is a common problem for dental practices. You cannot afford to offer patients too much leeway; therefore, it’s advisable to have a strict but sensible policy on overdue bills. For instance, you can try using appointment reminders to prompt bill payment or even involve collection agencies to act on your behalf.
Ever-increasing administrative requirements
You can run a practice for a while without someone to handle the administrative tasks, but that won’t be sustainable for long. While their role is not seen as vital as that of dental assistants or hygienists, a great administrator can have a profound effect on your bottom line.
And you know what; administrative requirements aren’t going to decrease anytime soon. Think about the rising demands for record-keeping and documentation in dentistry.
In short, dental staffing isn’t just about recruiting excellent RDHs, dental therapists, and nurses — it’s also about hiring hardworking and committed administrative staff.
All the above challenges can be dealt with. However, when you encounter them daily, or throughout the year, they can quickly become monotonous and end up as morale killers. Understanding patients’ demands, having enough staff, and improving your patient collections, is an excellent approach to overcoming some of these challenges.
All the best as you make plans for the year 2020!