Taking over, setting up, opening a practice: careful planning is key
Dentists thinking of taking over or setting up a practice should consider various aspects and prepare well before starting their project. We at Ivoclar Vivadent met an energetic young dentist, who took over a dental practice in 2017. Enjoy the interview below with Dr Stephanie Huth, owner of a dental practice in the town of Erlenbach am Main in Germany.
Dr Huth, what should dentists consider before taking over a practice?
Dr Stephanie Huth: Before taking over a practice, you should ask yourself where you would like to be based. Do you prefer to be in a rural area or in a city? I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be in the countryside. I have always lived in the countryside and feel at home here. I also like the fact that dentist-patient relationships are more personal in the countryside. In small towns, dentists often treat entire families, not just individuals. In addition, the range of treatments provided in a rural practice is very wide-ranging. As many young dentists prefer to live urban areas, there are more practices up for sale in the countryside. This has, of course, also an effect on property prices.
What else should you consider when searching for a location?
Dr Stephanie Huth: The location should be attractive to your desired patient base. It should offer recreational and educational facilities. There should be an adequate infrastructure - for instance, a sufficient number of parking spaces should be available. It is also important to check the density of dentists in the area. In this respect, too, a rural location can be advantageous.
What difficulties did you encounter before and immediately after opening up your practice?
Dr Stephanie Huth: Although I was able to re-employ some of the staff members from my predecessor when I took over the practice, I also had to find some new employees to fill in some vacancies at the same time. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find qualified staff for the administrative running of the practice in particular. Dental associations and online portals can be useful for finding suitable personnel. Another difficulty was related to the fact that I had not been working within the structures of the German health insurance system in the last few years and I was therefore no longer up to date in terms of fee schedules and invoicing guidelines. It was therefore particularly important for me to find an administrative assistant that could support me during the early stages.
How did you win the trust of your new team?
Dr Stephanie Huth: In the beginning, it is particularly important to be in close touch with the team. We are in the habit of having weekly team meetings where we discuss any difficulties that we may experience and look into ideas for improvement. Initially, sufficient time has to be set aside to discuss work processes in detail so that a certain routine can develop. In addition, we regularly go for meals with the team in the evening. This allows us to socialize with each other outside of the hurly-burly of day-to-day practice life and has a beneficial effect on team building.
What are the typical pitfalls when you take over a practice, and how can dentists avoid them?
Dr Stephanie Huth: Setting up or taking over a practice is a very big project. You should definitely seek professional support when planning such a project. Personally, I relied on the advice from a specialist agent to buy the practice. If you use an agent, make sure that they are independent and provide advice in favour of the buyer.
Another point: There is usually time pressure when refurbishing the practice facilities because patients cannot be treated during that time. That is why it is important to delegate some of the tasks to other people so that you have sufficient time to concentrate on keeping it all together. I was supported by my husband here. He coordinated the refurbishment whilst I focused on the regulatory and administrative tasks, i.e. on practice management.
How did you manage to maintain or even grow the patient base you inherited from your predecessor after you took over the practice?
Dr Stephanie Huth: When I see a patient for the first time, I schedule a long appointment with them. Initially, this may not be effective economically speaking, but it has beneficial effects in terms of patient loyalty in the long run. Taking time for that first dentist-patient conversation gives both sides the opportunity to get to know each other better. In addition to assessing the patient’s dental status in detail, I want to have enough time to find out about the patient’s history and talk about the following aspects in particular:
- What are the patient’s expectations?
- Does the patient have dental phobia?
- Which conditions are important for the patient to make the treatment as pleasant as possible to him or her?
A few weeks after having opened the practice, we held an open day, which proved to be very popular. It allowed visitors to come into the practice and have a chat with the team in an informal setting and to obtain information about different treatment options.
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What did you personally learn from taking over the practice?
Dr Stephanie Huth: It is important that you do not lose sight of your practice strategy and objectives. Nevertheless, you should be patient and allow yourself and your practice to grow, especially in the beginning. Although you try to plan everything as minutely as possible prior to taking over a practice, unforeseen changes to which you have to respond quickly always arise. I have learnt to take instinct-based decisions sometimes. And in most cases, those decisions proved to be on the right track. You should not underestimate the effort it takes to take over a practice and think carefully about it before you take this step. However, by being self-employed you gain a considerable degree of latitude and this makes it worthwhile. It is a great feeling to set up your own business.
Dr Huth, thank you for this frank and informative conversation.