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On Target: A DentalBlogs Exclusive Interview with Dr. Rhonda Savage of LLM&A Consulting

January 27th, 2009 · No Comments

llmbluelogo1Joining our panel of Great Minds for 2009 is Dr. Rhonda Savage, the new owner of Linda L. Miles & Associates, a respected and established consulting firm. Dr. Savage has a diverse history in dentistry, ranging from a Navy dental officer to being the first female president of the Washington Dental Association to running two successful private practices. Why is Dr. Savage a Great Mind? She says, “All practices should increase profits every year, even in the current recession.” And she can show you how to make it happen.

DB: What has your history been in dentistry?
I started working in the front office of a dental practice while in high school. Then, in 1976, I became a dental assistant and continued that for four years. I earned my DDS from University of Washington School of Dentistry in 1989. I was a Navy dentist during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. For 16 years, I owned a private general dentistry practice, but sold it in 2003 and opened new practice, which I ran for four years. Because I had used Linda Miles’ systems in my first solo practice, it took only took two or three months to boost production at the new practice to levels that rivaled the former one. I used Linda’s systems my entire time in dentistry. The staff training and management systems made me very successful very quickly.

DB: What did you do before consulting?
In 2007, I sold my private practice and went to work with Linda. A shoulder injury simply wouldn’t allow me to practice chairside any longer, but dentistry was my passion and livelihood. Having used Linda’s systems for so many years, I thought it natural to take over LLM&A when she was ready to sell. She still works with me, though. We make a great team.

DB: What made you decide to become a speaker?
I actually grew up as a very shy girl. Speaking in front of large groups didn’t come naturally for me. When I became the first female president of my local dental association, which had 400 members, I joined Toastmaster’s International. I highly recommend it! Learning how to effectively and confidently speak in front of groups led me to become the second female president of the Washington Dental Association. Because of the leadership skills I gained from holding these offices, as well as being in the Navy, speaking became a natural progression for me. I have since presented across the US and in Canada. I never would have imagined this career choice as a 17-year-old dental assistant!

DB: What made you decide to purchase LLM&A?
Disability insurance is very important, as is protecting your body as a dentist. I had three surgeries on my shoulder (rotator cuff problems) and was told that I could no longer practice. My family has a history of bad joints, which isn’t good for a dentist. I also had several falls when I jumped horses. All of these issues caused my problem. I had to get out of chairside dentistry.

DB: LLM&A was established and run by Linda Miles for three decades, and Linda is a former dental office administrator. Now you, a dentist, own the company. What do you bring to your clients that was not previously offered?
Linda has always been strong in leadership. My many years of leadership in different arenas bring LLM&A strong leadership, as well. My ability to connect with the doctors is a bit different than Linda’s because I can speak clinically and provide individual coaching for case acceptance, dealing with labs, communicating with specialists, comprehensive care, and interdisciplinary dentistry. I can tailor our practice management philosophy to all aspects of the dental practice. Our other consultants can also rely on me as a resource on topics such as treatment planning, working with staff from a dentist’s perspective, difficult patients, etc. I have a knack for this. Sometimes the root of a problem lies with the doctor. I can address this by having experience in the dentist’s role. I can address these issues effectively and respectfully. Our success at LLM&A is based on the concept that the dental team drives everything forward. Our role is team development and making the team part of the practice. We have doctors who are tired, frustrated, burned out, and I can re-motivate, re-energize, and refresh them with goal setting, mission statements, vision, etc.

DB: Dr. Savage, why would a dentist hire a consulting firm like LLM&A?
I hired LLM&A in 1992. The productive practice I purchased was chaotic without complete systems. The team worked hard, but I knew we could work smarter for better production and less stress. I brought Char Sweeney on in 1993, and she helped make our office a fine-tuned machine with systems. I also didn’t want to drive the staff crazy with too much change at one time. I needed my staff on board with my vision and what I wanted the practice to be. The LLM&A company had similar philosophical beliefs as I, so we got the staff on board effectively. As part of LLM&A, I now do this with startups or existing practices. Small groups, solo practitioners, large offices – we work with them all. We help facilitate change.

We oftentimes see issues with collections and accounts receivable. To help with this problem, we organize front-desk and recall procedures: how to handle follow up calls, past due insurance, division of duties….staff development with teamwork and communication. We create great team meetings that help everyone get on the same page. Everything runs more smoothly as a result. Every team and every doctor is different. Onsite consulting REALLY helps. We analyze a practice from top to bottom and then facilitate change over a year or longer. We find that even in recessions, the clients that follow our recommendations improve 20%, and then increase 10-15% more if they bring us back to fine tune the practice. Some dentists are uncomfortable with investment and change, but our clients generally recoup their investment in first two or three months. The doctors do not have to facilitate change alone!

A current client I’m working with was producing about $30-40K per month when LLM&A stepped in. After a month, he did $91K; the next month $118 K; and the next month $97K. Not all of our clients see this kind of dramatic growth, but some do. Our average is 20-30% growth in the first year. All practices should increase profits every year, even in the current recession. We may have to work harder to fill the schedule, improve diagnostic skills, and connect better with patients. Our systems help this happen. They also help create the time for it to happen.

DB: In your months as owner, what trends have you noticed as a result of the economic downturn that (they say) began in December 2007?
Over the last several years, we’ve seen problems with broken appointments, last minute cancellations, and filling the schedule. Patients are more cautious with discretionary dollars these days – even those who aren’t affected job wise. Some areas in the US are hit much more, like in the Midwest. The areas that depend on boat and RV sales, the tire industry, and the travel industry are more depressed. Dental practices also sometimes create broken appointments by our own actions. If we move appointments and keep patients waiting, they will think that’s okay, and they’ll do the same. Patients only respect the appointment as much as we do! Linda says, “People count the faults of those who keep them waiting.” That’s true. It’s really important that we need keep patients on time. We must also always inform them of fees and not do work without informing them. It can cause embarrassment, which leads to anger, and we lose patients that way. Our goal is to attract new patients and retain the ones you have.

DB: Tell us about your seminars…
We have two, two-day seminars. One is Practice Administrators’ Workshop. It’s unique in that it’s a training program for an office manager, but it also focuses on the owner-doctor and spouse who may be in charge of the business side of practice. We focus on the skills that a manager needs to manage people. Most office managers are former dental assistants who also did scheduling and insurance, and then graduated to office manager. Managing people is a different skill set. There’s just not enough training on practice management out there and very little on leadership skills.

At LLM&A, we focus on practice management from a numbers standpoint and key in on leadership skills to effectively manage people. The program is two full days, very intense, and undeniably fun! We always hear attendees say, “It’s the BEST course we’ve ever taken!” I also want to say that humor is important. It makes the work environment a better place to be! Work can be draining at times. A good sense of humor tends to make things better.

Our second is the Dental Team Conference for doctors and staff. Sometimes dentists send their staff, but for best results, it’s important for the dentist to experience the program with the team. If the staff is excited, but the dentist isn’t, the program’s not as effective as it could be – and vice versa. We focus on the need for effective, productive team meetings. Fun is also priority! Many docs avoid team meetings because they can be a gripe session or non -productive. The theme of this workshop is communication from front to back, back to front – doctor to patients to staff, etc. This is the foundation for success. We also address numbers in regards to where the practice needs to be; things to say and not to say; how to have good verbal skills and speak for the doctor. A heavy focus is placed on insurance and scheduling at the front desk. We focus on reasons for broken appointments and cancellations. Marketing, keeping pts happy, and attracting new patients are also topics of concern. We discuss how to deal with difficult people. We focus in on the office policy manual. What does the front desk do when a patient arrives late? How do we deal with the patient who doesn’t bring money to the appointment? What if a patient will only do procedures that insurance covers? It’s important to work out an office policy on how to deal with these issues… It’s all about COMMUNICATION! Policies are communication. Team meetings are communication. Marketing is communication.

DB: What does LLM&A have in store for 2009?
I would like to expand into other healthcare industries in time – vet, chiropractic, ophthalmic. All of these fields have accounts receivable, procedure, team, and communication issues. That’s a long-term goal. We plan to expand nationally and internationally first with dentistry. Our goal has always been to focus on quality service to our clients. This is and will remain our highest priority.

We have many speaking engagements across the nation and four major meetings, as well as many smaller meetings. We’re all over the US! I have two new DVDs this month on teamwork and communication – the joys and challenges of clinical assisting, both in business and at the chair. We’re excited about our new DentalBlogs column, Two Sides of the Management Coin, in which Linda tells about the team’s view and I touch on the doctor’s view of an issue. We have a number of articles being published this year, and I am working on a book, as is Linda. We just built a new office in Gig Harbor, WA, which is in the Seattle area. There we will host workshops; the one in April is our Practice Success Series on Teamwork and Communication. Then we’re off to the ADA meeting in October 2009 to present Two Sides of the Marketing Coin in person.

DB: Since you’re a Great Mind that dentists and dental professionals respect, give us an inside peek at your nightstand… What books are you reading?
I have a list of books I’m constantly working on, and articles. I do a lot of research. I am affiliate faculty member of Washington School of Dentistry, as well. I read leadership and communication books. A powerful tool I’ve found features the five of best authors in leadership and communication whose books are summarized at Lessons for Leadership by The Business Source (includes John Maxwell). You get five DVDs and a transcript, plus Internet access, and for $400, and you can share it with four people. It’s really the meat and potatoes of communication and leadership. Best I’ve ever read! You can check it out online at

In Isn’t It Wonderful When Patients Say Yes by Paul Homily, I like much of what he says about case presentation. How much is it going to cost is the emotional side of our patient’s concerns. Is it going to hurt is the other important point. As dentists, we usually talk clinical and overlook these questions. One of the greatest success factors we see is being warm and connecting with patients or surrounding yourself with staff members who accomplish this.

I See Your Name Everywhere is all about marketing. I read a lot about marketing for successful dental practices. This book talks about the power of press. As a volunteer Zoo dentist, I worked on polar bears, monkeys, walrus, lemurs, and even a snow leopard. Because I volunteered, it was a great human interest, and I got publicity for it in the newspaper and on TV. One paper featured a full-page picture of me cleaning monkey’s teeth with the caption “Someone hasn’t been flossing!” I got calls from this. One new female patient said, “If she can work on monkeys she can work on my husband!”

Everything we do in the community brings in patients. I focus on marketing for my clients, as well. ~

Review Dr. Rhonda Savage’s biography on our About Us page, and stay tuned to DentalBlogs for her monthly column, “Two Sides of the Management Coin” with Linda Miles. Together, Dr. Savage and Linda will address big issues in dentistry from both the doctor’s and team’s perspective.

Tags: Administrative · Two Sides of the Management Coin by Linda Miles and Dr. Rhonda Savage

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