Managing change

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At a time of revolutionary changes within the business world, is it really necessary to follow suit with a revolution in our own business place? Not necessarily, claim experts who instead call for a return to the fundamentals. By John Burfitt

shutterstock_134395142_webIt was 1960s UK prime minister Harold Wilson who famously proclaimed, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” While Wilson’s stirring words more than 40 years ago were made about the shifting face of Europe, his philosophy holds true in all areas of business today.

It’s something of an understatement to state the past 10 years in the Australian market, and specifically in the dental profession, have been marked by a range of radical changes.

Aside from the 2007 global financial crisis and new technologies that continue to alter the way we function, the Australian dental industry has had to contend with a unique set of challenges.

The industry has gone from under-supplied to over-supplied with the increase in the number of dentists entering the market. Corporate entities have taken a stronger hold, consolidating as well as establishing practices. There was also the decision by the Council of Australian Governments to establish a single National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for all registered health practitioners.

Some private healthcare companies have introduced preferred provider contracts. There has also been increased competition from cheaper medical tourism in South-East Asia (read more about that on page 15). The infiltration of the internet has also seen a growth in readily available health information so that some practitioners now contend with the opinions of Dr Google, not to mention an ever-increasing stream of reviews, likes and forum postings on social media.

“It no longer good enough to know what is going on within the four walls of our own practice, but we now need to know what the national economy is doing and what is happening on a global level as well,” says Adelaide dental practitioner Dr Peter Alldritt.

“We need to be more aware of not only that a patient has cancelled an appointment, but also look at why they have done so. Can they no longer afford it? Have they found a better price down the road? Have they made a deal with a preferred health fund provider? Did they consult another opinion?

“These are all real changes and challenges and a dentist would have to be silly not to think what has gone on in the world hasn’t affected dentistry as a profession.”

But instead of making impromptu radical changes in order to keep up with what is happening outside the surgery doors, it might be wiser, says Momentum Management trainer Joanna Gray, to focus on the core philosophy of the business. “Gaps in the appointment book shouldn’t necessarily be equated with a problem as I know many practices who have gaps in their books and are increasingly in profitability,” Gray says.

“Practice owners need to start by understanding their own philosophy—as in, what are we here for? Remaining true to that philosophy is an essential. That means attracting and retaining patients who are consistent with that philosophy, and in return, giving patients excellence in whatever that practice stands for.”

Even amid all the transition in the market, economy and ways of patient communication, Gray says there are simple methods to negotiate change wisely. “Practices run aground when they reactively try to be all things to all people, or when they’re unresponsive to change,” she says.

“Hallmarks of successful practices in the current climate are that they change with a purpose that is consistent with their philosophy, change with a plan, and change with discernment.”

Dr Peter Alldritt adds, “You are a healthcare provider, so offer a good health service,” he says.

“If your practice is based on sound, solid health care, offering quality dental treatment that gives patients value and you are building trust and rapport, you usually find those practices are stable.”

Failing to notice when changes begin to register on the business, claims Dr Phillip Palmer of dental management consultancy Prime Practice, can prove to be a dangerous miscalculation.

“All dentists need to be on the lookout for decreasing production, increasing overheads and decreasing profits,” he says. “It’s as simple as if the phone is not ringing as much as it used to, you need to act sooner than later to do something different to what you have done before.

“Everyone needs to keep up with the changing market. They need to increase the services they offer, and change the way they market those services. Then they need to increase the service level they offer to an ever more discerning marketplace.

“We need to learn more clinical skills, management skills and communication skills. Patients are expecting higher and higher levels of service from us now.”

What is an essential for steering a business through shifting tides is not only a better way of communicating with patients but also with all the members of the team within a practice.

“It comes down to communicating with your patients and letting them getting involved with their health care so they fully understand what is going on and what it will involve,” Dr Peter Alldritt says. “But if you are going to implement major changes in the practice, you have better be sure you have the whole team behind you. You need to explain why those changes are being implemented, what they are all about and why it is important for the future. It takes a team effort to tackle the amount of changes we are all dealing with these days.”

When deciding on how to most effectively communicate within the world of social media, Dr Vas Srinivasan recounts a tale of an ongoing dilemma he had about creating a Facebook site for his Sunshine Coast dental practice in Queensland. “I just didn’t feel comfortable with the idea, but plenty of my friends were enjoying great success with it,” he says.

When he finally considered it might be time to follow suit, he also decided to study the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency outlines regarding social media use.

By the time Dr Srinivasa had finished, he had made up his mind.

“The regulations on use of social media and the effects it has on a busy practice is mind blowing,” he says. “I could not be happier that we do not have an active Facebook site!

“So, do I feel like we have been left behind? Yes. And are we upset about it? Absolutely not!”

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