Connecting the dots and drawing the lines to success

Suzanne Wilson, Chief Operating Officer of Gaidge says that it’s time to reassess how practice data can empower you to make informed decisions.

Delaware-based Alpine and Rafetto Orthodontics has been leveraging business intelligence for the better half of the last decade and continues to stay on the cutting edge of team and practice performance. Pictured here are Drs. Ray Rafetto, Hilda Oweisy, and Mark Fiss (left to right)

Suzanne Wilson, Chief Operating Officer of Gaidge, discusses the importance of monitoring performance, analyzing practice metrics, and making decisions

While the pandemic continues to be a part of our lives, we now have the rear-view understanding of how this disruption has affected people and industry. We’ve experienced the unexpected high of the pandemic-driven economic spike and more recent leveling. The U.S. economy proved resilient, and we saw growth across the orthodontic industry through the first half of 2021, but during the second half of the year, most practices experienced a leveling or even declines compared to the anomaly of the previous year. The ups and downs facing business owners are fatiguing at best, but in order to thrive, a steadfast and thoughtful approach to managing your practice with business acumen is the key to successfully navigating fluctuations. Enduring in any market, especially long periods of unrest, requires focus and clarity of vision so as not to get worn out or drained from pouring precious resources that don’t provide returns. So how can practice owners connect the dots to better understand the whole picture?

As all industries, including orthodontics, continue to progress toward data management and data-driven decision-making, we will discuss what is separating the pioneers from the followers who are working to catch up. Delaware-based Alpine and Rafetto Orthodontics, featured on the cover, has been leveraging business intelligence for the better half of the last decade and continues to stay on the cutting edge of team and practice performance. This practice’s secret isn’t a secret. You’ve likely heard orthodontic experts and industry pundits call for better practice data, but what sets Alpine and Rafetto apart is its systems for monitoring performance, analyzing practice metrics, and making decisions for the betterment of the practice based on the insights they gain.

Does your practice lag behind when it comes to understanding your data? It’s time to reassess how practice data can empower you to make informed decisions and give you the ability to connect the dots, so you can clearly see the full picture of your practice’s potential as well as potential pitfalls. Robust data analysis and data-led decisions are not simply trends. Common sense tells us — and studies show — that practices that adopt data-driven decision-making enjoy a higher level of output and productivity. Specifically, there are some clear examples of why your orthodontic practice should collect better data, and how insights from that data can affect real, positive change in your business.

Gaidge net production versus net collection dashboard

Better practice data can improve collections

While tracking net collections is a must-do, most practices don’t dive deeply enough to gain a true picture of their financial health. Collections are just one part of the equation, and simply tracking data doesn’t help you understand if there are problems. Putting your data to work by leveraging insights from a grouping of data and putting it in a visual format helps you understand the next steps to take and how to increase your collections.

For example, consider the number of no-show patients. This simple metric alone can tell you a lot about opportunities to improve your operations and increase collections. Let’s say you’re already tracking no-shows: Your number of no-show patients makes up approximately 7% of your total appointments, and your average collection per visit is $250. Your business has always tolerated these missed collections and performs just fine otherwise. But look deeper.

What if you had the dataset to show that the industry standard was actually 5% no-shows, and regional comparisons for similar offices in your area only had 4% no-shows? Suddenly, it’s clear there’s an issue where you didn’t see one before. A loss you previously tolerated becomes the difference between your practice and your competitors — giving them an advantage. This data could incite you to change your appointment messaging, look into new scheduling options, scheduling reminders, staff training, and other methods to prioritize appointments, all of which could help increase profitability and efficiency per visit.

Gaidge between phases observation patients breakdown

Better practice data can reduce prospective patient attrition

Another common metric is new patient flow. If you’re keeping an eye on the number of patients coming through your door, that should be good enough, right? Not quite.

Let’s say, in addition to new patients, you begin tracking initial phone calls as “patient adds” to your system. In doing so, you might discover that the number of patients calling to learn more about your practice is only converting to 50% of those who schedule an initial appointment. New patient opportunities are dropping off before they even come into your office, and that’s a major problem relating to your patient acquisition and conversion. This information suggests there may be work to be done on your initial greeting, your intake protocol, marketing, and importantly your availability for new consults. Visibility to this issue is not exactly earth shattering, but note what it can mean for your marketing return on investment, and with a few simple internal fixes, watch that conversion ratio go up.

Another metric critical to your success is case acceptance. Many experts consider this to be one of the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) your practice measures. Let’s say out of the 50% of patients who called and came in for a consult, only 60% started treatment with you. By tracking this metric and measuring it against industry benchmarks and other offices like yours, you might see that your case acceptance isn’t exactly up to par. From here, you can now consider possible solutions such as a TC and doctor script or protocol, doubling down on patient education, offering a greater variety of treatment options, payment options, or perhaps changing your messaging tactics when delivering treatment plans, thereby increasing treatment starts.

Gaidge overhead expense percentages dashboard

Better practice data can enhance operational efficiency

There’s a chance you’re already measuring many of these practice metrics, but that doesn’t guarantee the way you collect data is efficient. If you or your staff are manually gathering and inputting performance data into spreadsheets, pulling and sifting through reports and spending significant time compiling, let alone interpreting the data, these are strong indicators that your practice is not being operationally efficient. Even with robust practice management software in place, orthodontic practices are still missing the comprehensive level of data analysis necessary for practice health. It’s a mistake to view your business from only a clinical perspective — though patient care is top priority — your competition is waiting for the opportunity to eat your lunch. The solution is a better practice performance data analysis tool.

With the proper data analysis tool, you can automate the process of measuring practice performance information. This saves time and resources that could be devoted to improving your practice, creating a better patient experience, team environment, and the operational efficiencies that will truly drive long-term revenue and profitability. Data automation produces reliable, accurate practice analysis by eliminating the risk of human error from manual data entry. Furthermore, the right tools will help visualize data in eye-opening ways, allowing you to quickly catch nuances and insights that would be much more obscured in a report or clunky spreadsheet.

Visualizing data in graphs and charts accelerates your reaction time to opportunities and setbacks

It’s not necessarily the size of a dataset that matters most (although it certainly helps when identifying large-scale trends) but rather how fast you can react to it. By drastically reducing the amount of time you spend looking at data and figuring out what to do, you can use your expertise to act more quickly and take advantage of opportunities or reverse setbacks as soon as they appear. And the best way to accelerate data analysis is through visual dashboards.

The best data analysis tools provide intuitive visual representations of a practice’s performance. By seeing your practice performance data through graphs and charts, you waste less time trying to digest and understand data and more time responding to important data findings. Furthermore, visuals can steer you away from bad assumptions or incorrect “gut feelings” about your data.

Gaidge mobile net production versus net collection charts

Data analysis helps realize capacity and HR needs

A common problem practices have faced more in the past 24 months is team turnover. Looking into your schedule and understanding how virtual appointments and treatment efficiency metrics can be used to get ahead of HR needs and/or restructure responsibilities are far superior approaches to following emotional impulses. Practices are focused on their most important goal first — treating patients with excellent care. But the business side of this equation comes down to available chair time and staff to fulfill essential functions. When things change, how do we know where we should focus resources during busy times? For example, having your eyes on your observation pool is an area that often becomes overlooked in practices because there are no red lights beeping or external triggers that something needs to be solved. In your practice perhaps this task falls to your already swamped treatment coordinator (TC)? When is the right time to consider hiring another TC or dedicated observation coordinator? Industry consultants advise practices should pull ~20% of their starts from their observation pool, but only those who put forth a concerted effort are able to achieve and sustain this. If you are not using data and internal resources to understand your starts conversion from observation patients, you are leaving money on the table.

Tracking expenses helps realize the value (or cost) of change

Implementing new technologies often comes with a lot of promises and hopes. But as many business school graduates have been taught, hope is not a strategy. Exploring and adopting new technologies is progressive and often worthwhile, but in some cases it’s not as easy as it seems. The first step should be to create a plan to ensure that the health and profitability of your business is top-of-mind. Creating a baseline of understanding from the current state of staff expenses and treatment expenses is the next step in measuring the impact of change. It’s not uncommon that practices may experience a spike in treatment-related expenses and even staff expenses depending on the technology. The only way to know if the change you’ve implemented is bringing positive impact or not is to be able to follow the data trends and observe how the expense, production, starts, and efficiency metrics perform over time as the newness turns into routine.

Get the metrics, benchmarks, and reporting you need to compete —and win

Imagine a vast warehouse of data that contains the secrets to running a better business — but you can’t get inside. Every practice that’s capturing data through practice management software is sitting on “warehouses” of operational data. The trick is to ensure all that data is synthesizing, analyzing, and displaying trends and insights that result in something that can be translated into meaningful action. For all the good that large quantities of data can bring to a practice, none of it is usable without a way to connect the dots, so practice owners can clearly see how it impacts the big picture.

No matter the size of your practice, you must first harness the power of data to first sustain your success in a competitive market, but second, how else can you effectively manage without understanding what’s driving and, equally important, what’s dragging your practice? Leveraging data takes out the guesswork and provides facts to build upon. Whether you’re focused on operational insights or industry benchmarks, the right data will augment your approach and help you understand why your practice performs as it does, support you in your efforts to implement the highest priority changes, measure your results, and follow a path of continuous improvement.

The task of tracking the essential practice KPIs doesn’t have to be daunting. Take it in bite-size pieces, tackling your practice like the CEO of a business. With business intelligence tools, software automation, comparison data, plus the expertise of industry benchmarks, your practice can establish where you truly are and then unleash the clarity required for your go-forward plan on achieving your goals.

Gaidge has added electronic intake forms to its suite of technology solutions. Read more about how that provides an even more streamlined workflow. https://orthopracticeus.com/industry-news/gaidge-debuts-electronic-intake-forms-for-orthodontic-practices/

Suzanne Wilson is Chief Operating Officer at Gaidge, the leader in orthodontics business intelligence and practice analytics. A driven operations and marketing leader with over 20 years of experience in technology and medical devices, Wilson is an expert in strategic planning, customer insights, data-driven decision-making, process creation, and brand building.

Learn more at www.gaidge.com or email info@gaidge.com.

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