Improving Efficiency and Increasing Profits in Implant Dentistry
Kanyon R. Keeney, DDS
Learn the three core factors to building a successful implant dentistry practice.
Establishing a successful dental implant practice requires most dentists to modify their business model. There are three core factors to building a successful practice around implant dentistry: managing the cost of delivering care, reducing the number of office visits, and improving collaboration and communication between the practice staff and the referring doctors.
Before deciding to build an implant surgery practice, talk to other implant specialists to get a firsthand look at how their practice operates. They will say patient satisfaction and profitability requires reducing complications and improving the patient's experience. Fewer complications always mean a better experience for the patient and fewer office visits. For both practitioner and patient, this is the ultimate "win-win." The following are tips for improving efficiency and increasing profitability in implant dentistry.
Strategic Scheduling and Patient Flow
One of the ways to became successful in improving workflow is through block scheduling. Think about consolidating new patient consults and postoperative visits into a day and a half each week and leave the rest of the week open for implant surgery. This scheduling tactic allows the practice to run more efficiently with the option to average between 10 and 20 new patient consults per week in addition to postoperative visits and surgeries. In turn, reducing the number of postoperative visits means there is more time available for patient consults.
When the patient is referred to the office for consultation, they first speak with an implant coordinator. The implant coordinator gets to know the patient, assesses their expectations, and shows them an educational video, providing them with a basic overview of the procedure and process. When the patients are informed and educated upfront, there is less likelihood for miscommunication and confusion during the process.
Before speaking with the patient, the implant coordinator briefs the surgeon on the referring dentist's wishes and the patient's clinical situation, background, and health. During the initial patient consultation, the surgeon discusses the treatment options, explains the procedure, and addresses the patient's questions and concerns. An excellent option is to use consultation software programs to provide images of the treatment and present handheld implant models that enable the patient to visualize the process better. The patient will then meet again with the implant coordinator to arrange the procedure and discuss payment options.
Finally, a letter is dictated to the referring doctor outlining the surgical treatment plan, often with photographs and cone beam images if necessary. This is a critical step in the communication process. It can be sent electronically or by traditional mail. If the dentist does not have a clear understanding of where the implants can be placed, which implants will be used, and other surgical considerations, then the dentist will not have all the information needed to properly restore the implant. More importantly, without this letter, the dentist may find that the surgical treatment is not what was expected. When there is a communication breakdown between the general practitioner and the surgeon, the success of the case and the patient's satisfaction is at risk.
Pick Your Partners Wisely
Gaps in the flow of treatment planning between the surgeon and the referring dentists translate to repeat visits for patients. When selecting an implant system, the referring dentist's requirements and experiences may be different than the surgeon's. Often the surgical advantage of one system may not equate to a prosthetic advantage for the restorative dentist. The delivery of dental implants must be profitable for both practices, as well as clinically beneficial for the patient.
Clinicians must also consider the implant company as a partner in the patient's treatment. The implant provider can be critical in streamlining communication between the surgical and restorative practices. The best companies have well-educated sales representatives who can support both practices with technical knowledge and the support they need. Having the "right" representative available to the restoring doctor is invaluable especially when the doctor is new or less experienced in implant dentistry.
Choosing an implant system based on cost alone is a mistake. While the price of an individual implant does affect the bottom line, not having the proper support or poor implant and abutment quality affects the total cost of the procedure significantly. Remember, the saying, "you get what you pay for," is very accurate when it comes to dental implants. While the upfront cost may be less on a generic implant or abutment today, if the component fails or the clinician does not have support from the sales representative, he will spend more time and money fixing the problem later. This support includes having an implant sales representative who can be in a restoring doctor's office on short notice if needed.
As previously stated, one way to reduce the number of office visits is by reducing or eliminating complications. To avoid complications, an implant needs to work reliably in a combined procedure, such as simultaneous graft and placement. It needs to have a high success rate even in patients with compromised healing capacities, such as smokers or diabetics. Selecting a dental implant system with a surface treatment and thread design that integrates quickly with the surrounding tissues, demonstrates excellent soft tissue characteristics, and supports precision prosthetics is one way to avoid extra office visits. It is also important to use implants that are backed by a warranty. On the other hand, if there is an implant system that has less than a 1% complication rate during the surgical phase, this significantly reduces the number of office visits, thus opening schedules for more procedures and more patients, which will enhance the bottom line.
Marketing your Expertise
Establish yourself as a leader in oral surgery and the "go to" doctor for implant dentistry. Techniques for branding yourself as an expert, such as lectures, articles, and even advertising can be very effective. In developing relationships with referring doctors, personal contact is important, but providing an excellent surgical outcome is even more important.
Once you have improved your efficiency in placing dental implants, you need to let your referral base know about it. Be proactive in communicating with general dentists, making it clear that you understand the needs of their practice. Recognize that for implant dentistry to be profitable for the referring dentist, patients must return to their office with dental implants that have been placed properly, that are easy to restore, and provide excellent support and superior long-term results. The ideal implant system will provide excellent long-term crestal support of the bone and soft tissues and result in fewer complications.1
In dentistry, like any business, the best marketing tool is a satisfied customer. When the general dentist and specialist work together to improve efficiency, we can treat more patients, we can deliver better care, and we can establish a business that is right even in today's challenging economy.
1. Blanes RJ, Bernard JP, Blanes ZM, et al. A 10-year prospective study of ITI dental implants placed in the posterior region. I: Clinical and radiographic results. Clin Oral Implants Res. 2007;18(6):699-706.
About the Author
Kanyon R. Keeney, DDS
Dr. Keeney is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in private practice in Richmond, Virginia.