The value of having written goals, office manuals, and practice checklists cannot be overstated. These seminal documents lay out the practice goals and the steps needed to achieve them. Much like a plane needs a flight plan and a destination, our practices need goals and a means to get there. Without written plans, we are buffeted by headwinds that can either push us off course or make achieving our desired end point much more difficult.
While many of us consider ourselves clinicians first and foremost, we are also small business owners and/or associates and in a leadership position in our practice environments. Leadership, among many attributes, requires a written plan over which to marshal support for the goals of the office.
The written documents we must have as leaders, owners, and managers in our small businesses include primarily:
- An office manual (which includes, among other material, a statement of the corporate vision and values; procedure descriptions and needed armamentarium; all job descriptions, HR policies, and procedure checklists (of all of the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly tasks that must be accomplished at every level in the practice).
- A marketing plan
- A strategic plan that includes a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis (done yearly) and business forecast
These documents must be written; they cannot remain in our imagination. Unwritten, they are wishes and have no power. We cannot buy these documents off the shelf. While someone else’s material can be a starting place, they need to be closely aligned with our own personal goals and values. These materials cannot be delegated. Any major bookstore or online Amazon search will provide ample resources to gain source material to start these documents.
A clinician might think that his/her practice is successful and profitable at the present time, so why do these tasks? Success leaves clues. No Fortune 500 company in the United States exists without these documents both written and updated continually. The landscape we practice in is ever-changing. For example, who in 1991 (when I began practicing endodontics as a specialist) could have foreseen these events?
- The economic crashes that have kept many in practice now because they have not saved enough for retirement
- The rise of implants
- The rise of corporate dentistry, which generally does not refer patients out for endodontics
- The rise of Sonendo®
While an answer to each of the economic threats we face as owners is beyond the scope of this column, to stick one’s head in the sand and believe that things will continue as they are without change is naive and in an economic sense, quite dangerous.
At an operational level, many of the troublesome daily issues that arise can be alleviated with clear and consistent written expectations of our staff. Clearly defined and frequently reviewed policies and checklists will prepare the staff for everything from a medical emergency and its management all the way through the simple detail of who changes the toilet paper in the patient bathroom among many such similar mundane tasks.
Written practice documents might be thought of as the U.S. Constitution, a document that sets out the rights and responsibilities of the government in relation to its citizens. While it can be modified by consent of the governed, at any given time, it is the North Star of the Nation. Our practices need such a North Star that clearly defines who we are, what we stand for, and how we are going to get there. Continuous reevaluation and renewal of these documents as circumstances change allow the clinician to adjust course as needed to meet current threats and take advantage of opportunities.
I welcome your feedback.