The 3 Drivers for Operational Excellence in 2021

We have finally made it to the new year after enduring 2020. Unfortunately, we are still not out of the woods yet with the pandemic still out there claiming lives and closing businesses. But there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine now being distributed and a more normal year ahead. 

Now is the time for reflection and proper implementation of new practices in your clinic that will not only benefit your practice but also your patients and provide for a much more successful 2021. 

A well-run, successful clinic practicing operational excellence relies on three very important things: hygiene appointments, future treatments, and staying on top of accounts receivable. 

In order to understand why these three drivers are so important for your clinic’s operational excellence, you need to better understand each driver in more detail, including what they consist of, and what the benefits are to you and your patients. 

What are the three drivers? 

1. Hygiene Appointments 

 The first driver is hygiene cleaning appointments. All dental practices have income and expenses with the two main income channels being patients and insurance companies. Even though insurance companies are the biggest income channel, without the patients there would be no income at all.   

Hygiene appointments, though lower in incomeare much higher in volume and are therefore important enough to be the first driver.  A successful dental practice should be routinely scheduling these hygiene appointments twice a year  

There are three ways to ensure that this driver is managed properly. First, don’t let the patient leave the chair without booking their next cleaning. My dentist has done this after every cleaning, and I have not missed one, yet. My dentist always reminds me of the importance of each hygiene cleaning.  

With COVID-19 still rampaging across our country, the old ways of reminding a patient about their appointment should be replaced with safer alternatives, such as a proper reminder system to allow for email and text reminders.  

The benefits of this first driver being implemented properly in your clinic is it contributes to better oral health for your patient and a lower chance of oral cancer, reduced decay, and gum disease. Problems that are found can be quickly diagnosed and a treatment plan created to take care of any gaps as well.  A benefit to you is the repeat business generated by these booked in advance hygiene appointments   

2. Future Treatments 

This second driver is based on the idea of excellent customer service and patient care. A future treatment can occur when there is a walk-in emergency, when new patients come in, or when a dentist diagnoses treatment based on a checkup after the hygiene appointment. This is where excellent customer service comes in – when performing exams, conversing with the patient to establish a relationship helps you learn about their lifestyle while allowing them to learn more about you. If you don’t want to establish that relationship between you and the patient, and you just think of the patient-dentist relationship as something you must do because it’s your job, you lose a lot of points. Patients rely on their dentist to be honest, experienced, but most of all, sincere.  

An aspect of setting up future appointments involves documenting health records. Everything you learn about your patient you are obligated to document properly, including the pros and cons of different treatments as well as the treatment you eventually recommend. Discussing and documenting the patient’s treatment, options, risks, and potential side effects not only provides exceptional service but is the standard for providing oral health services. Patient education of this kind establishes trust and authority in you and your practice. 

It is important to have a digital charting system that allows for the necessary data generated in the operatory to be synchronized with the patient database.  

Another facet to consider is that of insurance preauthorization approvals. Are they being tracked properlyHaving a software system is the first step, but the staff must use the system and have a process for calling, e-mailing, and/or texting patients to follow up on the preauthorization approval and book the appointment for the treatment. 

The benefits of this second driver are that this type of social interaction allows for an established trust and increased case acceptance when it comes to recommending treatment that you know is good for the patient.  

3. Accounts Receivable 

The third driver is staying on top of your accounts receivable. This driver requires knowledge about where your income is coming from and how you can properly manage and track it moving forward. 

In a non-assignable office where all income comes directly from the patients, there are zero dealings with the insurance company, however, since these practices only deal with patient accounts receivable, accounts must be written off if patients can’t pay or don’t meet the payment plan. A way to offset this risk is by having a financial establishment with which patients can work; this way, patients can make more affordable monthly payments, while the clinic gets paid in full after every treatment.   

In an assignable office, practices are dealing much more with insurance companies, and the biggest portion of income in your dental practice comes from those insurance companies. From a cash flow perspective, it’s important to have a system in place to make sure that you know which income comes from which insurance company and when it can be expected.  

Make certain you have a system and a process in place to ensure that you are collecting what you are due in a timely manner. When you and your team know at any given time what you are owed from the patient and the insurance company and when you can expect payment, you will have a sense of control over your cash flow. 

The benefits of staying on top of your accounts receivable are the reduction of stress in the office and a sense of stability.  

How do these three drivers inspire operational excellence? 

Implementing the first driver means that your hygienists are fully booked with appointments two to three weeks ahead and that you’re on top of hygiene cleaning appointments for your existing patients.  

The same applies to the dentists and their booked future treatments. If there is a proper tracking system and a process for booking the prescribed future treatments, all dentists in the practice will be solidly booked for two or three weeks a month. 

The third driver—staying on top of your accounts receivable—gives you an awareness of how much income is coming in and when. You can quickly see if there’s a problem with the insurance companies that you need to tackle. It also informs you of when you will be paid for work you did two weeks earlier and assures you that you are getting paid for work rendered. Knowing what income is coming, where it is coming from, and when, gives you a sense of control.  

Having all three drivers in place – hygiene appointments, future treatments, and staying on top of accounts receivable – fosters operational excellence and allows for a responsibly-run and successful practice in 2021. It is important to keep in mind that, with COVID-19 and the ushering in of a more technological era, proper implementation requires the proper tools, technology, and software 


Zlatin, Alex. Responsible Dental Ownership: Balancing Ethics and Business Through PurposeAdvantage Media Group. March 2018.