Going to Centralize?  Standardize First!

Centralization refers to efforts to take a distributed function and causing it to occur in one “centralized location”.  There are countless functions that might be centralized in a dental practice. Inbound or outbound calls can be the responsibility of an individual, allowing that individual to develop expertise with these patient interactions.  Insurance verification can be centralized by creating a role that deals only with that process. Software can be centralized and distributed to multiple work-stations. The examples are myriad. However, in order to realize benefits from these processes, there should be a careful analysis of the process to determine if the benefits of centralizing that function outweigh the status quo.  

Typically, offices will not discuss centralizing functions until they believe that they can afford to dedicate a “corporate” office and several full-time people.  Reality suggests that some elements of centralization can and should occur much earlier. In order to achieve centralization across multiple individuals or locations, it is wise to focus on standardization before attempting to centralize those functions.  Any office can make these efforts and they not only ease the path to centralization, but they can also reduce the headaches of day-to-day operations within the practice. If processes, terms, and procedures are not systematized, a centralization effort will be increasingly difficult.  

Several large dental entities missed the opportunity to fully standardize and then centralize their practice management software.  By the time they grew to a significant size the effort involved in correcting the lack of common systems was cost-prohibitive in several areas. Situations like this serve as valuable lessons to any practice.  Standardize early, so that if you choose to centralize down the road the processes to support that effort are already in place. Any one of several functions can provide tremendous benefit both immediately and down the road.  Let’s examine the patient record within the practice management software as an example.  

The data used to record interactions related to a patient can and should be standardized. The information gathered during each interaction with the patient should seek to be identical.  These practices are often already present within a dental office; however, it is equally important that information is recorded in the patient record identically as well.  As an example, when entering a date of birth, the same date format should be identical across all records.  If some use Jan 26, 71 and others input 1/26/1971 or 01/26/71 you have three different methods of recording the same data.  Imagine attempting to run a report to track all birthdates in January of 1971 with this varied data. This example illustrates how a standardized process can eliminate issues both now and in the future.  If we expand this example to integrating and centralizing multiple sets of patient records from a newly acquired office, the complexity expands dramatically.  

Creating a single patient record system with common expectations throughout the data entry process can tremendously streamline efforts within any practice.  Reducing variables allows users of the data to find the same information in the same place each time. An office can take a similar approach to hundreds of other repeated functions within that office, thus creating a strong backbone of standardized functions that are simpler to use, and simpler to train. 

With this set of standardized processes, centralization becomes much easier to achieve.  If the decision is made to allocate a single staff member to all interactions with insurance providers, that individual can then build upon the standardized processes that already exist and create documented protocols for insurance management.  If additional staff members are allocated to this function down the road, the processes will already be common and thus easier to learn. Scaling up such functions with ease is one of the tremendous benefits of centralization.   

Businesses must plan strategically, and the devil is in the details.  An effort to centralize is a strategic endeavor, and the success of that effort rests squarely on having the correct foundation in place to ensure that the centralization achieves the desired outcomes.  An early and consistent focus on standardization of processes and systems is a crucial element to these efforts.  

John Budish is thrilled to fill the role of Professional Development Manager within Henry Schein Dental.  In this role, he leads the Dental Business Institute and contributes to the efforts of the Sales Professional Institute. In both roles, John brings his lifelong passion for helping others get better at what they do.