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Managing change and growth

Impacts on patient care and staff

August 07, 2017

By Tammara Plankers, CHBC

ADA Dental Practice Success logo
A goal of many independent businesses is to grow their success. For dental practices, this typically means increasing the size and scope of the practice over time — more space, better case acceptance, an influx of new patients and more advanced technology. Such an accomplishment can be gratifying as you see your dreams become reality — but also challenging when faced with unexpected changes and circumstances.

The key to successfully managing the ongoing growth and change of your practice is to be proactive in responding to new developments. Planning for change can help ensure that you keep your practice on track while minimizing the impact on patients and staff.

The risks of growing too fast
Practice growth is generally a positive development, but growing too rapidly may lead to too many changes at once and ultimately strain the harmony in your office. For example:

• You might create stress for your staff by adding more patients than they can reasonably handle.
• Your patients may feel the loss of a personal connection to you with the addition of new associates and partners.
• You may feel pressure to be more productive to cover the added debt from your practice expansion.

Managing your rate of growth can help you avoid pitfalls such as these and build a strong foundation for ongoing success.

How change can benefit your business
At the same time, it’s worthwhile to remember that embracing change can be good for you and your practice in a variety of ways. For example:

• Increased profitability. Meaningful change can help improve your practice’s workflow and lead to a healthier bottom line. It’s not just about making money. A profitable practice is a sign of a healthy practice.
• Better patient care. Changes in your practice should ultimately lead to a better patient experience. This may be reflected in more appointment options because you’ve added treatment areas and expanded your provider team or modern techniques and equipment that lead to faster recovery times.
• Your practice is better positioned to sell. A practice that has been kept up to date may be more attractive to potential buyers who are accustomed to current technology and systems. A practice that has been modernized has more significant appeal and should sell for a higher price.

Steps for managing growth and change
Guiding your team through the inevitable stress resulting from growth and change is a matter of leadership, and it is critical to the long-term integrity of your practice. Here are several steps you can take to help manage this process.

• Have an up-to-date business plan. The value of a business plan to prepare you and your team members for responding to growth opportunities and unexpected change cannot be overstated. A key component of a full business plan is the definition of possible “threats and opportunities,” such as current competition and demands for new services. It can, therefore, serve as a valuable resource when you and your team members are faced with new circumstances, providing a guideline for decision-making based on your original objectives for building your practice.
• Be sure staffing levels are in sync with your patient load. As your marketing efforts produce positive results through an increased patient roster, your staff will feel the strain of more phone calls to manage, records to maintain and foot traffic to supervise. Have a plan ready that allows you to modify staffing based on fluctuations in patient flow.
• Maintain your personal connection with patients. Remember that your patients can be affected by any significant change in your practice — whether a new partner is now attending to their needs or they need to navigate a new office location. Maintaining your personal connection with patients by acknowledging them at each office visit and through emails, letters and other means of direct contact can go a long way when shepherding them through practice transitions.
• Hold daily staff meetings. Regular, open communication with each team member is always important, but especially so during periods of growth and change. Hold a quick 15-minute team huddle each morning to go over the day’s schedule, identify new patients and share any information team members may need to know about upcoming changes in practice operations.
• Reward team members. Your team is the glue that holds your practice operations together — particularly during challenging times such as a practice upgrade or the addition of a new partner. Take the time to openly acknowledge exceptional performance by team members. This not only will help minimize the level of stress generated by new circumstances, but it may also lead to increased loyalty to you and the practice.

The bottom line is to remember that growth and change are inevitable aspects of business ownership. By managing the “business of change” through proactive leadership, you can help ensure it works to the benefit of your patients, team members and practice.

Ms. Plankers, a Certified Healthcare Business Consultant (CHBC) and manager of the Practice Management Group at Wells Fargo Practice Finance, helps doctors establish and grow their new practices. As a certified executive coach and practice consultant for over 15 years, she assists practitioners in successfully transitioning to practice ownership through the use of proper due diligence. She can be reached at 1-888-499-8871 or tammara.plankers@wellsfargo.com.