Back in the 1980s, my dental practice was floundering and I didn’t know why. Patients canceled or didn’t show up for appointments which made my schedule look like Swiss cheese. Although I was making a living, my production was dropping and I wondered if the economy was worsening or perhaps I wasn’t a very good dentist. I never suspected my appointment secretary was driving down the practice even further.
One Thanksgiving day, my wife Terri, who sometimes helped with our books, went into the office to nose around while no one was there. When she did, she discovered our patient recall system—a stack of index cards for patients who needed to be contacted—had been thrown out by the appointment secretary! Terri had also been looking for a cash payment from a patient, but it wasn’t there. I called my appointment secretary to ask her where it was; she said she had brought it home “for safekeeping.” I told her to bring it in the next day along with her resignation.
One day, shortly thereafter, I received a call from Sterling to attend one of their seminars. When I told the caller I wasn’t interested, she asked if there was one issue she could solve for me, would I attend? I told her my patients were canceling all the time, but that she couldn’t fix that, it was just dentistry. She asked, “What if you paid your appointment secretary based on the number of appointments kept?” That was a novel idea, paying the staff based on what they actually did. I went to the seminar and discovered the problem wasn’t really the economy or my dental skills—it was that I didn’t know how to deal with patients and staff. I signed up on the spot.
Working with Sterling, we addressed the exact issues in our practice. We implemented an organizing chart that identified the key functions in the practice and the staff responsible for them. We wrote up job descriptions and trained the staff in their jobs. We learned how to fill the appointment book and started contacting patients; it didn’t take long to pack the schedule. Sterling also taught us how to find good staff; we hired a new appointment secretary who had the energy and work ethic to do the job.
Within three months of starting their program in 1987, our monthly production rose from $15,000 to $35,000. Nowadays, we average $300,000 per month. Through Sterling, we were able to avoid the quagmire of corporate dentistry and managed care. And our patient base grew large enough and was so well taken care of, we were voted best dentist in our city and have been for the past 20 years.
If I wanted to say one thing about Sterling, it would be that they are the most ethical company I have ever dealt with. They always did what they said they would do and genuinely cared about us. When I look back, I thank that appointment secretary for trying to wreck my practice—because of her, we found them.
Robert G. Marx, DDS