Work Smarter Article
Client: OrthoSynetics, a consulting and professional services firm that works with 350 orthodontic and dental practices around the country.
Challenge: The company was seeking to market itself to practice owners and establish thought leadership through content marketing.
Result: Under direction of the marketing manager, Cap & Wing has written a series of articles published in trade magazines that establish the company as a valuable resource for the target market.
Article Title: Work Smarter, Not Harder
The purpose of your practice is to create beautiful smiles, and as the owner of a practice, you should have good reasons to be wearing one of those smiles. But many orthodontists are more stressed than happy. The multitude of tasks related to running a practice can be so overwhelming that practice owners feel they can’t get a handle on it all. Not only do all these tasks distract them from what they love about their jobs, aspects like helping patients and working on clinical issues, but stressed orthodontists also have little time to relax with their families or to dabble in personal interests.
Some may approach this dilemma by thinking, “If only I worked a little harder, I could get a handle on it all,” but realistically, there are limits. Days have only 24 hours, humans need sleep, and people can only do so much. A better solution is to work smarter, not harder.
Here are eight practical ways to put the work smarter, not harder philosophy into motion at your orthodontic practice. Underlying most of my suggestions is the concept that you should focus on your expertise of orthodontics. If you’re the type who needs to be in control of everything, find the peace of mind to allow it all to fall into place. Profits and patient care quality will increase as your stress levels go down.
You might want to do everything for your practice, from designing your logo to ordering supplies, but ask yourself, Where is my time best spent? It’s probably not best spent on graphic design or on rote administrative tasks. Also ask yourself, What is my time worth? Since you’re a medical professional, its value is high and it is best spent with patients. Delegate other tasks to your staff or to contractors.
In order to let go of tasks that aren’t worthy of your time, you should empower your team to make decisions. Give them direction, give them a budget, and set them free. Even if they can’t take a project to 100% completion without your involvement or do it exactly as you would yourself, if they can get 90% of the way there, you’ll come out far ahead.
2. Create an open environment
Your staff members work in the trenches of your practice. They know when problems pop up or when systems aren’t working, but if they don’t feel comfortable voicing their opinions, you’ll never know about these problems.
Create an environment in which your employees feel free to take chances. They will become more invested in their jobs and take responsibilities off your shoulders. One way to foster this environment is to schedule fun meetings or team retreats where ideas can be tossed around and solutions discussed.
3. Outsource when necessary
Just as you should focus your own time where it’s most valuable, your staff’s time has value, too. If computer issues are slowing the team down, bring in a tech person or software consultant. If your front desk people are so busy making collection calls or verifying insurance policies to the exclusion of patients standing right there in front of them, you should outsource those calls. Just as you can’t do it all, your staff can’t do it all. Consider delegating both high-level projects and rote, time-consuming tasks to a third party. A third party can often do a job equally well or even better for less money in the long run.
4. Recognize your limitations
Children grow out of their clothing, and plants grow out of their pots. You want your practice to grow, but sometimes growth can exceed capacity. If your practice is bursting at the seams, you’ll find yourself more stressed out then ever. When this happens, you have two basic choices. One is to turn down new patients. The other choice is to get help, such as hiring a new associate, hiring more staff, or outsourcing some work.
Limitations might not have to do with growth. A patient could be particularly difficult, or your practice might be starting an initiative without the expertise to do it well. Whatever the case may be, you have to recognize your limitations before you can find a solution.
5. Use technology
Computers are great at handling recurring tasks and disseminating information efficiently. Your office will save time with automated e-mails for communications like appointment reminders, payments due, and office closings due to bad weather. Your website can also include appointment request functionality, and patients would rather download forms than have to call your front desk and ask for them. Put it all online. Your patients are starting to expect these conveniences.
Your staff benefits, too, with streamlined communications and consolidated tasks. For example, patients will have all forms completed before they come into your office. Doubtlessly, your practice has computers in it, but are you using them to their full advantage?
6. Streamline processes
Suppose a staff member occasionally forgets to ask a patient a particular question during the check-in process. Your instinct may be to add another step to the process to plug that hole. But processes on top of processes and steps on top of steps typically lead to more inefficiency. The problem could be that a process is already too complicated, so adding to the complexity will only open up more room for error. Ideally, you should work to streamline office process so your team can do a job in as few steps as possible and everything runs more smoothly.
7. Set boundaries for patients and staff members
If you don’t have firm policies in place (or if you don’t stick to them), you’re not managing your practice. Instead, you’re letting your practice manage you.
Suppose certain patients habitually arrive late without calling. They throw off your schedule, which annoys other patients, squeezes your time, and leads to lost revenue. Or suppose one of your team members shirks a lot of his or her duties, thereby allowing work to pile up, aggravating co-workers, and creating an unhappy atmosphere. Admittedly, it takes some gumption to confront entitled patients (or their parents) or to discipline a sub-par staff member. But creating and sticking to firm policies establish the structure for you to work smarter, not harder.
8. Recharge your batteries
With smart phones and cloud computing, you can take the office anywhere. But just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. Give yourself permission to take time off. Enjoy your weekends, and when you’re on vacation, be on vacation.
There’s no need to feel guilty about taking downtime. It’s a key element of working smarter. When you’re in a pressured environment, it’s hard to think clearly. You’ll find that time off provides new energy and fresh perspectives on both clinical and business challenges. You’ll end up being more productive while you giving your life some balance. And a balanced, enjoyable lifestyle is one of the reasons you likely wanted to be a orthodontist in the first place.