HOW EVALUATIONS IMPROVE OVERALL PERFORMANCE.
When I meet with a new dental team, one of the first steps that I take is to conduct an in-office evaluation. I run through a systematic list of questions to get an idea of what specific remediation is necessary for a particular group. The questions help me to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and believe me, every team has a combination of both. My main objective in conducting evaluations and offering suggestions for improvement is to help practices improve their overall production and evolve from being a good or average practice to a great or exceptional practice. Why would anyone want to be a C student if they can be an A+ student? This mind-set holds true in the business and dental worlds, just as it does in an academic environment.
From my 30-plus years of experience in the dental business, I can attest to the fact that all dental practices—big and small, old and new—can benefit from regular evaluations. Without proper and steady assessments, practices have absolutely no way of knowing how they’re really performing. Dental offices need to know the answers to the following types of questions:
• Are patients happy with the services provided by the dentist and hygienist?
• Is the schedule organized in such a way as to provide maximum productivity?
• What kind of first impressions do new patients receive when they call to schedule an appointment?
To address the need for dental offices to regularly assess their performance (and the lack of anything readily available to help them to do so), I have devised a simple in-office evaluation plan that dental teams can use to discover how they’re performing—both internally (among the office staff) and externally (among their patients). This evaluation is meant to be a springboard—a system by which dental offices can get a basic idea of their performance, so they can obtain the training and consultation necessary to make any improvements, if desired.
The in-office evaluation is two-fold: The first part is intended for staff members, while the second part is intended for a selection of patients, who have both short- and long-term relationships with the practice and who have been treated for a variety of dental issues.
A Chance to Build the Team
I am a proponent of teambuilding exercises in a dental office environment. And that’s exactly what the evaluation should be used for—a way to help the entire team learn, grow and improve together. I do not recommend completing this evaluation during a morning huddle. The first hoorah for the day needs to be positive and upbeat so that the rest of the day can run smoothly. If you insert the word “evaluation” into the morning dialogue, the whole tone of the day may change.
The most appropriate time to complete the evaluation is during a special staff meeting. Set the stage so the team knows that their efforts are appreciated; order lunch from a favorite local restaurant and have it delivered to your office. Make sure that the team isn’t anxious about the evaluation. Each person needs to understand that the purpose of the evaluation is not to nitpick at any one individual and point out his or her shortcomings. Instead, the objective of the evaluation is to find out the great things that everyone is doing and what ways that each person can help the team grow and improve together. An emphasis on the word “team” will help accomplish this goal.
Team members may also feel more comfortable answering the questions anonymously. Tell the team members not to put their names on the evaluations and provide the same type of writing instruments (same color of pen, pencils or whatever you choose) for them to use. That way, no one will feel singled out and they will be able to provide more honest feedback.
The overall expectation for the team is that a truly great practice would be doing ALL of these things ALL of the time, or at least striving towards that goal. Be sure not to dismiss any of the questions with an offhand attitude like, “Oh, this one doesn’t apply to us, so we don’t need to worry about it.” All of the questions are important and impact dental practices in measurable ways. (Total Team Evaluation, click here)
Getting Feedback From Your Patients
The second part of the evaluation, the part completed by selected patients, is incredibly crucial. The data obtained from the pa-tients allows you to compare and contrast how you think you’re doing with how you’re actually doing. It is the “acid test” that lets you know if your team’s perceptions of the practice are accurate. After all, it really doesn’t matter how great your team thinks they are if the patients do not agree. Ultimately, the patients’ opinions are of utmost importance.
What methods are recommended for conducting patient surveys? First, each day for a couple of weeks, ask one or two patients to complete the survey. The best-case scenario is to choose a variety of patients. Choose some patients who are visiting for a cleaning. Choose other patients who are coming in for fillings. Choose still other patients who are scheduled for more advanced dental procedures, such as crowns, bridges, and implants. Finally, choose some patients who are longtime, loyal customers and others who are totally new to the practice. By choosing to survey a wide array of patients, the results will better represent a true evaluation.
Second, just like it’s necessary to make this evaluation a desirable activity for your team members, do the same for your patients. Keep in mind that the patients are using their personal time to complete the survey and may feel more inclined to do so with some kind of incentive. A suggestion is to hold a random drawing as an incentive. The drawing could be for a free dental procedure (like teeth whitening), a free product (like a water flosser or electric toothbrush), or a gift card.
Another idea is to offer an automatic incentive for completing the survey. An automatic incentive may include a pair of free movie tickets, passes to a local museum, or a discount coupon for a local restaurant. Whatever incentive you offer, make sure it is something attractive to the patients and affordable for your office. Another way to encourage patient involvement is to help them feel that their input is needed and of value.
One patient whom I spoke to recently said that his dentist personally phoned him and asked him to complete a survey about a recent visit, asking him to be as frank as possible with his answers. During the call, the dentist explained that patient input was crucial for the practice to improve its overall treatments. The patient was very motivated to complete this survey for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, he was shocked and impressed that the dentist would actually take the time to call him. He remembers thinking, “Wow! My dentist just personally called me to ask me to do this! How cool!” If another member of the office team had made the call, it wouldn’t have left such a lasting impression. But the fact that the dentist was interested enough to take the time to solicit the patient’s opinion was impressive. Because of this action, the patient was eager to answer the questions. The patient felt that the dentist really wanted to improve the practice and he was making a real contribution to the way his dental care would be handled in the future.
The questions can be distributed to patients in a variety of formats. Simply print out the survey and ask patients to complete them before leaving the office. Or, if preferred, patients can send completed surveys by email. Alternatively, a dentist may choose to personally call a selection of patients and ask specific individuals to complete the survey.
Another way to distribute these surveys, according to some of my colleagues at Aesthetic Dentistry, is through an online survey-generating website. I personally have not used these platforms, so I cannot give any recommendations for specific websites. However, colleagues suggest you could easily find some by doing a quick Google search using the phrase, “free online survey” for some options. Once you find a survey website to your liking, you can then copy and paste the questions and answer options into the site and an electronic survey will be generated for you. Then, the link (or a QR code) can be given to your patients and they can complete it on their computers, tablets or smartphones. Some survey websites will also send you the results once the survey period has ended. (Dental Practice Evaluation, click here)
Tallying Up the Results
Once both the dental team and the patients have completed the evaluations, the results should be tallied and evaluated. Since the team evaluations were likely completed in a pencil/paper format, a staff member can simply tally the answers by hand. For each question, mark the total number of responses (“always,” “sometimes,” “rarely,” “never,” and “unsure”).
When I recently surveyed a dental team on the first question of the Total Team Evaluation (Does the dentist diagnose every pa-tient comprehensively?), the five members of the dental staff team reported the following: one member-always, two mem-bers-sometimes, one member-rarely, no members-never and one member-unsure. Remember, for a dental practice to be exceptional, ALL of the answers to the questions should be ALWAYS! Because this dental team only answered “always” once, there is room for improvement!
Once the staff evaluations are tallied, compare the results with the patient evaluations. Some of the staff questions are not applicable for patients, so only compare and contrast the questions that are asked to both groups. Does your team feel like they are doing better or worse than they are, or are the numbers about the same? A big discrepancy is a red flag, especially if your team members have more positive responses (“always” and “sometimes”) than the patients do. If the team thinks they are doing better than they actually are, then the results are a reality check. Also, pay particular attention to the amount of “rarely” and “never” responses from the patients. Such responses are crucial, since such answers provide specific opportunities for the team to learn and grow.
When discussing the survey’s results, make sure that no team member feels singled out. Remind the team that their answers are anonymous. Also, make sure that everyone knows that if changes are needed, all members of the team need to do their part for the improvement overall.
Taking It to the Next Level
As noted previously, this two-part questionnaire is just a basic way to get an initial idea of how your practice is doing and the ways that it can be improved; it is not a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan. To obtain a thorough understanding of team-building methodology, I recommend taking some office management educational courses—such as my Total Team Training seminar offered by the Dr. Dick Barnes Group. Another option is to schedule a one-on-one consultation with a team-training professional (like myself) who will come to your office and establish an improvement plan for you. Remember, you wouldn’t trust a mechanic to do your taxes or an accountant to do your root canal. Therefore, recognize your special skills and rely on team-training professionals to provide you with the expertise necessary for your practice to be the best it can be.
Don’t settle for average. Don’t settle for a C grade on your office-management report card. Make the changes necessary to move your practice to the top of the honor roll! Start with this in-office evaluation and use the results to move forward. If additional training and consultation are required, resources are available. Keep climbing this office management ladder of success.
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