Louise Hunter is Principal Dentist and owner of busy NHS practice; Louise Hunter and Associates based in Northumberland, where she works alongside her dental therapist and support team. Louise bought the practice 12-years ago but recently noticed that while the surgery was getting busier, it was actually generating less revenue. Here she talks about how this realisation prompted her to sign up for Software of Excellence’s THRIVE dental business consultancy programme, a consultancy service that helps dentists look at their business and identify areas that can be improved - and why she’s so happy she did.
I decided to enrol on the THRIVE programme because, for a while I had been feeling that my time was not being used effectively. As a practice we were getting busier and busier, I was seeing more patients and my stress levels were rising, yet we were earning less money. I knew there was something fundamentally wrong, and for my sanity as much as anything, I just had to change something. THRIVE was a way of getting someone experienced in the dental industry who could use a fresh pair of eyes and be objective in terms of which systems within the practice needed to be tweaked in order to make them more efficient. I think it’s difficult to do this yourself, especially when you have been working in the same place, with the same team of people for a long time.
We began the programme in the summer of 2014, and having recently finished the six-month programme I have been very impressed with the results. Throughout that period, myself and my dental therapist billed an extra 183 hours simply because the appointments were better managed.
Our THRIVE business consultant Sean was really helpful and knowledgeable. Using key performance indicators, he set us various tasks focusing on the areas of the business that were under-performing, particularly recalls and financial management. It was small things like not letting patients build up debt and automating basic administrative processes that actually made the big difference. We use EXACT V11 as our practice management system so all of the information was there, we just didn’t know how to access and then act on it properly.
Implementing THRIVE was easier and more straightforward than expected through the guidance of our consultant, as was making the recommended modifications to our systems; but what I would say is that it’s a process that needs the whole team on board to be really successful. Fortunately, my team was keen to reduce some of the pressures within the practice, so all the suggested improvements were welcomed.
Overall, our systems have definitely improved for the better - although we made some fairly simple changes, they are things we weren’t doing previously and the improvements have been quite astounding.
The biggest lesson I have learned from THRIVE is the value of time management. I used to see my working day in purely clinical terms; patients come in, they have problems and I fix them. THRIVE has made me realise that every hour I am at work I have to earn and I have to earn more than it is costing me to be there. I haven’t altered the care, attention or standard of treatment I give to patients, but what we have done is change the way in which we book patients. By organising the diary, rather than allowing it to become a free-for-all, we have literally revolutionised our practice. Now work flows really well, and although I am working the same hours, it doesn’t feel like it.
It has been a really worthwhile exercise and I would definitely recommend other practitioners go through this process, especially other NHS dentists. Many NHS dentists see anything to do with business as being designed exclusively for private practices, but I disagree. THRIVE makes everything clearer and I think it really helps to lay the foundations for the direction in which you want your business to travel. By having someone else look at your practice, they see things you don’t see, and they are often simple things that make a massive difference to the efficiency and overall profitability of your practice. THRIVE has made me understand that I’m not just a dentist, I’m also running a business, and if I’m not making money then I’m not going to be here for much longer.
Although we have finished the THRIVE programme we will continue generating the reports to make sure we stay on track, as well as looking at those areas of the business that we can still improve.