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Dental practice strategy, Pt. 1: SWOT analysis



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Having current data points about your practice – and previous metrics to compare them to – gives you vital transparency into the real-time performance of your practice. You can see what’s going well and what needs to be addressed, and react accordingly. In addition, effective practice management leverages both reactive and proactive business strategies.

You don’t necessarily need fancy high-tech forecasting software to develop a proactive strategy that helps you plan for the long-term success of your practice. In fact, one of the most commonly used tools – a SWOT analysis – requires only pen and paper.

A SWOT analysis allows you to look at four key areas of your business environment: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Using the template is easy. However, completing a comprehensive analysis can be less so, especially if you’ve never done one before or if the business piece of your practice is out of your comfort zone.

You can complete a SWOT analysis on your own, but you’ll get more valuable information as well as alignment on goals and next steps if you pull your entire team into the process. Some practices even bring in external support to conduct and moderate this process, but you may have someone on your team who can serve in this role. It can be a great professional development opportunity for that person.

Before you start, also consider reaching out to a mentor or another professional colleague to see if and how they’ve done a SWOT analysis. One of the benefits of this tool is that you can use it for any type of business, so don’t limit yourself to colleagues in the dental profession. You may get great ideas and insights from professionals in other fields.

Completing the SWOT analysis template

If you’re doing your SWOT analysis on your own, simply take a sheet of paper and draw a box with four quadrants. Label the upper left, “Strengths”; the upper right, “Weaknesses”; the lower left, “Opportunities”; and the lower right, “Threats.” That’s all it takes to build the basic template. The top two boxes encompass elements that are internal to your practice; the bottom two are external.

In a group setting, use a physical or electronic whiteboard. You can even conduct the session virtually and use collaboration software to get everyone’s real-time input.

Strengths

For strengths, focus on what your practice does best. This is your opportunity to brag a little. You can use existing practice data to get started. Which key performance indicators (KPIs) are the strongest? Which have been trending upward in recent months? You also can use anecdotal information. What traits and skills get the most compliments from your patients? Look at your internal patient and social media reviews. Do you see any common themes?

Be sure to accurately identify each strength; the more accurate the items on your list, the easier it will be to determine how that strength can benefit the practice in other ways. For instance, “case acceptance rate” isn’t a strength, it’s an outcome. Dig a little deeper: What skills or tools have helped case acceptance increase? Those answers are what you should put in the strengths box.

Weaknesses

This is the flip side of the Strengths coin. Don’t hold back. Be brutally honest here. What’s not working as well as you would like? Which numbers are going in the wrong direction? Then ask the group why do they think that is?

Be sure to also look at which skills may be missing across your team. If you’re doing this in a group setting, be careful not to turn this conversation into a blame game. At the start of your process, assure your team that this is an exercise designed to move the practice forward, and you want this to be a productive session. If you anticipate that this portion of the session could get contentious, you may find value in bringing in an outside consultant to run the whole workshop. Be prepared for some disagreement about what the weaknesses are, especially if a specific weakness puts a particular staff member in the crosshairs.

Opportunities

Now that you’ve done an internal inventory, it’s time to look outside the practice. What new or existing opportunities could you be taking advantage of? Are there procedures or treatments in the marketplace you’ve been considering but aren’t yet offering? What would be required to increase your production numbers? What would your practice have to do to increase revenue?

Consider marketing opportunities as well. For example, your practice might be the only one in the area that’s not on Instagram. However, not every opportunity will need to be acted upon. Take the Instagram example: If your practice specializes in geriatrics, an Instagram presence may not be necessary even if it is an opportunity. Lean on your team for their insights. Include wish-list items as well as items that can be implemented more quickly.

Threats

Take this time to acknowledge what’s keeping you up at night. Highlight your business fears, such as a network failure, and consider business environment threats, such as patients leaving en masse for a different practice. Realize that some threats are more likely to happen than others, but you can’t always predict the nature of the next crisis.

The threats review also can help you identify elements of your practice that might not be successful because of the business environment. For instance, if you identify one of your threats as the economic decline of your geographic area, you may decide to limit how much you focus on and promote cosmetic dentistry due to its elective nature and higher out-of-pocket cost.

If you find the number of items in each list too cumbersome to navigate, consider doing an individual SWOT analysis on specific business areas. For example, you may want to do one exclusively on social media or production. This approach can help you have more focused conversations, but you may miss critical connections.

Part two: From SWOT to TOWS

In part two of this series, we’ll examine how a SWOT analysis might look through the lens of COVID-19, how to apply the learnings of your SWOT analysis and how a TOWS matrix can help you further connect the dots.

References

Farran H. The SWOT analysis. Dentaltown. February 2013.

Forsyth J. The importance of SWOT analysis in dental practices. DentistryIQ. January 27, 2015.

Peters B. Why complete a SWOT analysis for my dental practice? Oral Health Group. June 30, 2021.

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This article was first published in the Fall 2021 issue of Advantage magazine. Read the original article here.

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Patterson Dental

At Patterson Dental, we are committed to partnering with dental practices of all sizes to help oral health professionals practice extraordinary dentistry. We do this by living up to our promise of Trusted Expertise, Unrivaled Support every day.

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