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

February 28, 2020 Karen Axelton

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect patient volume, many practices are operating with fewer employees than usual and bringing in less income than normal. This makes it more important than ever to get the most from the resources you have. Running a lean practice can help.

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 four 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, and it’s only gotten worse since the pandemic struck. According to the ADA, COVID-19-related protection measures and personal protective equipment (PPE) cost dentists an estimated $15 to $20 per patient. If shortages of PPE, disinfectant and other supplies recur, as in the early days of the pandemic, dental practices could be forced to pay higher prices for scarce supplies. 

To ensure you don’t run out of essential supplies, conduct an inventory and put one person in charge of ordering supplies, stocking them, and tracking when products are running low. You may want to reorder supplies earlier than you normally would to allow for shipping delays or other unexpected problems.

2.     Go digital

You can help compensate for increased spending on PPE and related supplies by canceling your office’s magazine subscriptions and cutting back on the need for office supplies, such as pens, paper and ink cartridges, by using less paper.

COVID-19 has accelerated dentistry’s transition to the “paperless office.” Replace potentially germ-laden paper forms, pens and clipboards with tools such as Lighthouse 360’s Patient FastTrack feature. It lets new patients fill out and sign digital registration forms quickly and easily right on their smartphones from home, their car or wherever they happen to be. Switching from paper records to digital versions whenever possible reduces paper and ink waste, saves employees time and improves the accuracy of your patient records.   

You can even use Lighthouse 360 to set up a Virtual Waiting Room with curbside check-in. Have patients wait in their cars until you’re ready for them; then use Lighthouse 360’s two-way texting feature to alert them. After treatments are over, the Online Bill Pay feature lets you text patients their bill, which they can pay conveniently on your website—no need to stand in the waiting room or touch a PIN pad.

3.     Streamline your schedule

Given the many COVID-19 preventive measure you must take to keep your practice safe, patient visits take longer these days. That’s why effective scheduling is critical. Study the average amount of time it takes you to perform certain procedures, including the time spent disinfecting treatment areas and changing PPE between patients. This will give you a benchmark to use for the average appointment length.

Automated appointment reminders and treatment plan reminders help to ensure patients arrive on time so you can maximize every minute. Lighthouse 360 simplifies the reminder process by sending automated reminders in a variety of formats—email, mail, text or phone.

You’ve probably seen no-shows and last-minute cancellations increase, thanks to patients’ crazy schedules during this trying time. Lighthouse 360’s Fill-in feature can help prevent empty chairs 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.

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.

In today’s competitive marketplace, maintaining a lean business is key to surviving and thriving. Going lean is a process of continual improvement, so keep making small changes, and watch them pay off big.



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