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Should you hire a consultant for your dental practice?

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As a young dentist I was hesitant to consider the help of a consultant. They cost money and I thought, ‘I can do it myself.’ It was 10 years and multiple costly mistakes before I first tried to ask for help. It was a few more years and some wasted investment before I landed on a consultant that actually made a difference. Here is my advice for you consider when choosing the right person to assist you.

Do you need a consultant? Is your practice growing consistently and meeting your goals on a regular basis? (Do you have any goals?) Are you happy with the direction that you are going, professionally, quality-wise and personally? Does your staff work well as a team and thrive with the practice for an extended period? Is your physical space working for you — do you have enough operatories, good work flow, adequate supply and sterilization space, efficient front office and consultation area and inviting waiting room? Each one of these questions, if you answered no, might be an excellent reason to ask for help. Multiple no’s could be a desperate scream for help. 

Still, aren’t there advice books out there that can help you without spending hard earned money? Yes, there are. I’d consider researching as much information as you can to help with your practice. The ADA’s Dental Practice Success is one effective tool among many. However, it can only take you so far before you have to tailor all the advice to your individual situation. That might be where a consultant can really be worth the investment.

OK, so you’ve decided you want a consultant. Where do you find one that will meet your needs? How do you know if this person will work well with your practice? Good questions and not that easy to answer! If you are serious about hiring someone to help grow the practice, you first need to do some soul searching to decide what you really want. Those questions that were posed at the beginning need honest answers. Success for each person is very personal. If your goal is to maximize income, you are on a different path with a different consultant than someone who might want a peaceful, slow flowing, personally engaging practice with friends. If you don’t know where to go, a goal oriented consultant might be the place to start. If your space is the main thing hindering your efforts to provide quality care in a comfortable environment, you might need someone connected to interior design. And your team’s lack of professional acumen might also be an overriding reason for assistance. The better you are able to identify your weaknesses and areas that really need help, the better you can identify the right consultant for you.

Consultants come in many colors. There are huge companies who have multiple consultants that are available to assist and can step in to get your practice going and focused in ways that may create more income than the cost of their services. They have formulas that have worked elsewhere. There are also special consultants who are focused on certain areas. The most obvious would be interior design consultants who often work with dental construction firms to redesign and improve the flow of the practice. Others might specialize in specialty practices, or specific issues. My preference and the consultant who worked best with me was one who understood that the practice needed to continue to thrive after their contract was completed. They realized that they needed to teach me how to lead the practice so that the operational parts and personnel were guided toward success. Too often the consultant brings knowledge and expertise to turn the practice around, but if the consultant acts as the substitute for the dentist as the leader to accomplish the goals, the practice is in danger of returning to its ineffective ways when the consultant leaves. Try to avoid that at all costs by committing to serve as the leader of your practice.  

To find the right consultant, look around. Other practices in your area have used consultants. You may be considering help because you’ve seen the positive effects of a consultant in another practice. Don’t hesitate to ask colleagues, classmates from dental school, dental society members and dentists you admire and respect to give you recommendations of firms or individuals that they have used. To ensure that you get valuable answers to your needs, bring specific questions to your search.  

You might want to know: Did the consultant solve the problems they were to fix? Did the consultant help with staff development or whatever task you outlined? Did the practice continue to improve after the contract was completed? Was the whole team happy with the process? Would you bring the same person or company back again? If you demonstrate that you really want good advice from your peers, they will try to steer you in the right direction.

Finally, be ready to be a good consumer. If you were buying a house, you would not just call any realtor and let them guide you to what they might think you want. Likewise, consultants vary in their focus and expertise. You need to interview them with the questions you want answered. You should ask for references and vet them through the local Better Business Bureau or your state or local dental society. And ask them: how would they plan to make sure the improvements they promise actually stick after they are gone; what is their philosophy about practice success — is it all about numbers or team improvement? Or philosophy and goals or patient satisfaction? Or new additional services and equipment for the practice?

The more time you spend getting to know yourself and what you’d like to accomplish, the better you’ll be able to ask the right questions to make sure that you’ve found the person for your practice. If you honestly need help, have the guts to ask for it. The right consultant can make all the difference in the success of a practice and the enjoyment that brings.  

About the author

Dr. William van DykDr. van Dyk practices dentistry in San Pablo, California, and teaches in the department of Dental Practice at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry at the University of the Pacific. He lectures on a variety of practice management issues. Contact him at bvddds1@gmail.com for more information.