When you set out to do something, how do you know when you have done it? How do you know when you’ve reached an objective? The simplest answer to that question is that you measure where you are. If it’s where you wanted to go, you did it.

All of us have goals. Each morning I awake and begin to find my way toward a series of goals I set on an ongoing basis. Like having my breakfast; I am thinking that today feels like oatmeal. That warm toasty feeling in my stomach tells me I reached my objective. Exercise? That’s always one of my goals...it often seems to happen exactly as I say it will...“I am definitely going to exercise tomorrow.”

dental metrics analogies

Goals (objectives) and metrics are inextricably linked together. Unlike that simple warm toasty feeling, most metrics are not as clear or as immediate, and goals that are bigger than these daily ones usually require frequent and significant course correction as we move toward them.

We do not usually think of daily goals as “goals.” Like oatmeal, they sometimes arise spontaneously and we generally don’t think of ourselves as “working toward achieving them.” We just DO them, or we don’t, since they generally don’t happen with the same level of thought or commitment that accompanies those larger objectives in our life, both personal and professional. 

These “larger” goals, Big Goals if you will, are different. They require significant thought to visualize and create, and they require a plan so that they may be achieved. They frequently require the assistance of others in getting me to the finish line. As I work toward achieving them, I must collect and observe metrics about where I am presently and in what direction I am headed if I hope to reach that objective, my Big Goal.

Indicator goals are a metric that tell me where I am, like the dashboard on my car. They report present status continuously. You are going 140 km/h right now! SLOW DOWN!

Directional goals are a metric that let me know I am moving on the correct vectors, like the GPS system in my car. If I am not on the correct path to the objective, it tells me that it is time for a course correction (it recalculates) and then shows me I’m now moving on that corrected course. RETURN TO ROUTE!

My recent move to spend more time with our consulting division, Spear Practice Solutions, has made me keenly aware of both the need for these metrics and their value in dental practices.

Take the goal for new patients, most assuredly a Big Goal and one that most dentists are continuously interested in. Once I have decided how many I seek in a given period, usually a certain number per month, the Practice Solutions platform provides a metric that tells me how many new patients I’ve seen in the last 30, 60, 90 or 120 days. If this indicator goal metric meets or exceeds my goal for new patients in that period, I smile and move on. If not, I have to consider how I will change my behavior to increase new patient flow.

why metrics matter

You have seen 15 new patients in the past 30 days. No patients have become inactive or been reactivated and none are at the risk of becoming inactive. Great to know! Worry about something else, but not that.

In my practice, one of my daily goals was choosing one person from today’s schedule who I would ask to tell their friends about us. This was an ongoing effort, because we wanted a healthy flow of new patients in the practice. When I did that religiously, we rarely wanted for new people looking to join us. When I got lazy about it, I felt the difference. The metric gave me a number to aim at and shoot for; another metric told me how I was doing in that quest. Metrics matter because I can usually see them before that “feeling” that things are amiss.

As I have investigated the metrics available on the platform, I’ve become interested in some that I was unaware of, or at least unable to easily see using analog collection methods: the number of patients who have become inactive (those who have not had an appointment for the last 18 months) and those in danger of becoming inactive (in other words, the patients who are leaving the practice by the back door). In a practical sense, this is a metric that is often not able to be “felt” like that new patient one. If there is a healthy flow of new patients, it will mask the flow moving out through the back door.

Here’s another interesting one: the percentage of patients who have a prophy or periodontal maintenance appointment in their treatment plan who have that appointed in the future. 

scheduled recare patients

Since this is only 58 percent, my team is doing an awesome job of getting people in when they are due, since none are newly inactive or in danger of becoming inactive; but could we be more efficient?

Imagine if we could get our patients to pre-appoint for these visits at 90 or 95 percent. The front desk team would potentially be freed up for other tasks that might dramatically impact practice numbers. That’s powerful.

Metrics give us the means to know if we are moving toward and achieving our goals. Real-time metrics do this in a way that allows for course corrections outside of the usual monthly review of numbers that dental practices have used for decades to determine where they are and what route recalculations are required. I could have talked about and illustrated so many more examples, all of which create the capability of the dentist and the entire team to focus more energy and more time on the thing that matters even more than metrics: the patient in the chair right now. It’s a great time to be in dentistry.

(Click this link for more dentistry articles by Dr. Gary DeWood.)

Gary DeWood, D.D.S., M.S., Spear Faculty and Contributing Author



Commenter's Profile Image Gene M.
June 22nd, 2017
Just started with Spear Practice Solutions and see stuff that I did not know to even look for......excited for the future and the possibilities !!!!!!!
Commenter's Profile Image Gary D.
June 22nd, 2017
Thanks Gene! Looking forward to some fun times together!