How to Run a Lean Dental Office (and Why You Should)

February 28, 2020 Karen Axelton

lighthouse 360

What is a lean dental office? It doesn’t mean hiring only slim employees. The principles of lean business began with Toyota, which decades ago implemented what’s known as the Toyota Production System (also called “just in time” manufacturing) to streamline production and reduce waste.

The concept of lean business has since spread throughout the business world and has applications far beyond the manufacturing industry. At its core, according to, lean business means maximizing value for customers while minimizing waste. That refers to reducing not just physical waste, but also wasted time, movement and effort.

Here are five things you can do to turn your dental office into a lean, mean profit machine.

1.     Get a grip on your supplies

Dental supplies are one of the biggest expenses for dental offices. In a national research study from Bankers Healthcare Group, 32% of dentists report spending more than $30,000 annually on supplies. Not only are supplies costly, but they often go to waste if they expire before being used.

To reduce supply waste, conduct an inventory of your current supplies. Then put one person in charge of ordering supplies, stocking them, and tracking when products are running low. To prevent products from expiring before they get used, regularly rotate items with expiration dates so older items are brought to the front and newer items go to the back.

Don’t forget to inventory your office supplies, too. The cost of pens, paper, ink cartridges and other office basics can quickly add up and it’s easy to overbuy in this area, as well. Finally, take stock of any magazines you provide in your office. Do you really need all those subscriptions?

2.     Go digital

The world may never truly reach the goal of the “paperless office,” but you can get pretty close. Switching from paper records to digital versions whenever possible will reduce paper and ink waste and save employees time. Lighthouse 360’s Patient FastTrack feature lets new patients fill out and sign digital registration forms quickly and easily right on their smartphones. With no need to re-input data from paper forms, you’ll also enjoy greater accuracy in your patient records.  

3.     Streamline your schedule

The more effectively you schedule patients, the better you can serve them and the more smoothly your practice will run. Effective scheduling isn’t about packing in the maximum number of patients, however. It’s about making sure that the time spent with patients is used productively and downtime is minimized.

Regularly study the average amount of time it takes you to perform certain procedures. This will give you a benchmark to use for the average appointment length. Note in your records any special cases, such as patients with dental phobias or young children, whose appointments may take longer so you can schedule those patients appropriately.

Appointment reminders help to ensure patients arrive on time. Lighthouse 360 simplifies the reminder process by sending automated reminders in a variety of formats—email, mail, text or phone. Reducing no-shows is another key to effective use of time. Lighthouse 360’s Fill-in feature can help by automatically detecting last-minute cancellations and finding a patient to fill the open time slot.

4.     Automate repetitive tasks

Making phone calls or individually emailing appointment reminders wastes valuable time your front desk team could spend on more rewarding work. Lighthouse 360 can help by automating appointment reminder calls, emails and texts, as well as recall messaging. Email, text and phone confirmations are sent directly to your PMS so your staff doesn’t have to manually update the calendar. Instead, they can focus on interacting with patients, managing your marketing and handling billing. 

Lighthouse 360 even generates a “smart” task list for you and emails it to you every morning so your front desk team always knows what to focus on first. On average, clients save over 16 hours per week by using Lighthouse 360 to automate common tasks.

5.     Organize your office

A lean dental office is well organized. Do dentists at your practice frequently have to leave the patient’s side to walk across the room for supplies? Assess which tools and supplies are most frequently needed and place them where dentists and hygienists can access them without pausing during treatment. Supplies should be labeled, stored, and organized in a way that makes sense for procedures. Creating checklists of tools and supplies used for each type of procedure is a good way to ensure your team can quickly prep.

Lean business is a process of continual improvement, so keep making small changes, and watch them pay off big.


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