Former Technical Director at Practice Plan, Graham Penfold talks about the importance of taking some time out to look at the bigger picture.
With the arrival of my 60th birthday and the departure of my son to university, resulting in my wife and I joining the ranks of ‘empty nesters’, I decided to take some time out and reflect on matters past, present and future. So, we flew to Longyearbyen in Svalbard, which is mid-way between northern Norway and the North Pole, to join a cruise which would hopefully allow us to see polar bears, walruses and arctic foxes in their natural wilderness. I was also advised that mobile phone and Wi-Fi signals were questionable at best, making it the perfect setting for some serious thinking about what’s next and why!
In the busy day-to-day hustle and bustle of life and all the ‘stuff’ that goes with it, it is very difficult to take time out and just think about the bigger picture and ask those deeper, more searching questions that we need to address. In this regard, dental practices are no different, as it is all too easy to become totally absorbed in the numerous and complicated operational matters that comprise modern dentistry. Patient care and management, staffing issues, financial performance, regulatory compliance, market conditions, changing rules and laws, equipment malfunctions, clinical developments and so the list continues; how long do you want it to be?
Most practices now have regular practice meetings but, too often, these are just slotted into a condensed lunchtime, focused on fire-fighting what has gone ‘most wrong’ in the past few weeks against a background of answer phone messages, as the phone rings continually, and people munching crisps; not the most conducive setting for serious thought.
Probably I exaggerate to make the point, but the serious question is how often do dental practices take time out to view that bigger picture? Items for consideration might include improving customer care, widening the range of services available, improving internal communications and teamwork, cost-effective marketing techniques, monitoring patient satisfaction levels and so on. What is essential is that you address the most important issues for your practice and keep them to a sensible number; perhaps just two or three to avoid overload.
There needs to be careful thought and preparation ahead of the session to gain the maximum benefit from it. So if, for example, you are looking at assessing patient satisfaction levels with your service, then you might task a member of the practice to identify various patient questionnaires which might be used or adapted for this purpose. These can then be circulated in advance to allow everyone to contribute fully to the discussion.
If you are going to hold a practice review meeting, then it is best to hold it off site as you will be free from interruptions and it also shows that you are serious about the content.
If the subject matter that you want to address feels chunky and out of your depth, then you might wish to engage the services of a dental business consultant to guide and advise you; sometimes an objective, independent mind can be beneficial.
So, if you have not tried it, do so. Have a think about some of the bigger issues that you face, give them some thought, share them with your team and take some time out to discuss them; you might be pleasantly surprised by what you achieve. And you don’t have to go to the Arctic Circle to do so!