What’s the Most Expensive Thing in a Dental Office?

Pop quiz: What’s the most expensive thing in a dental office — and more importantly, why should you care?

We’ll give you a hint: It’s not your CBCT scanner or your shiny new milling machine. And no, we’re not looking for a philosophical answer, like your reputation.

The most expensive thing in a dental office, hands down, is… an empty dental chair.

If you’re not filling your chairs, then you’re cutting into your overall revenue. Because empty chairs often also mean there’s a problem with your marketing funnel, you’re probably wasting a big chunk of the time and cash you’re spending on marketing and scheduling as well.

And any members of your team who earn a percentage of collections are losing money as well.

You Should Track Your Empty Chairs

Small wonder that utilization rate, or the percentage of time that your chairs are in use, is one of the most important metrics that every dental office should track. But few do (we estimate only about 1 percent)!

Now, part of this is because the utilization rate is notoriously tricky to pin down. Are you calculating based on the number of chairs you have, the number of providers you have scheduled… or the number of providers you should have scheduled?

You can see how this gets complicated. But here’s a quick and dirty way to get a good sense of your overall utilization.

  1. Track how many hours your providers were available during each month.
  2. Compare that to how many hours of appointments those providers actually filled.

Divide the second number by the first to get a snapshot of your utilization rate.

How to Boost Your Utilization Rate

We suggest that practice leaders aim for a utilization rate of between 85 and 90 percent (based on the formula we just shared). If you’re not consistently reaching that mark, what can you do about it?

Obviously, consistent marketing efforts are key. But perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit is taking action to reduce no-shows and same-day cancellations.

Here, a little extra effort goes a long way. One of the most powerful things you can do to make sure that patients keep their scheduled appointments is to have one of your doctors call each patient (especially new patients) a day or two before their appointment.

This need only take a couple of minutes but can make a real difference to a patient who may be thinking about canceling. The doctor can check in, listen to any concerns patients may have, and most importantly, help them feel safer and less anxious about coming in for their visit. 

Practices that do this tend to see significantly lower no-show rates than those that don’t.

Yeah, that’s time out of your doctors’ days. But it’s cheaper than an empty chair.

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