Doug Podoll, DDS, has been practicing orthodontics for the last fifteen years in America’s heartland. We interviewed him on vacation in Florida.
“I practice in West St. Paul, Minnesota and Amery, Wisconsin. West St. Paul is a suburb of St. Paul, so it is a town of about 25,000 people in a metropolitan area. Amery is very small, about 3,000 people. Currently I have two associates and about 15 staff between the two practices.
“I’ve been a Sterling client for about five years. Why did I search out Sterling? I wanted my practice to grow a bit, yes, but what I really wanted was to be in control of the practice rather than having the practice be in control of me. After doing the Sterling training and consulting program, I can say unequivocally that this is absolutely the case. I am in control of my practice, even when I am not there!
“I practiced for ten years before I became a Sterling client. During those ten years, I twice built up my practice to where I had a single associate, and then that seemed to be about all I could handle administratively. Now, after being a Sterling client for five years, I have two associates and my practice is over twice the size it was before I started with Sterling. I would have to say the difference is mostly due to being associated with them – I had reached my plateau twice before where I just couldn’t seem to handle any more than one associate, and then the practice would collapse. Twice I ended up splitting the practice, selling half to my associate at the time. While that wasn’t the end of the world, it also wasn’t what I wanted to accomplish, either. I wanted to accomplish putting together a group of three or four orthodontists who would have the freedom to take a lot of time off and still earn a really good living from the practice while retaining complete control of the practice myself. With the two associates I have now working stably in my practice, we have achieved this!
“My wife is the Executive Director of the practice, which is a little bit different than being Office Manager but encompasses those duties. She has also been trained at Sterling along with several other of my staff. This training and the stability it has given my staff have made a tremendous difference in the way the practice operates. The staff know what their duties are and they are much more capable of performing their duties with much less supervision and minimal stress on me.
“My practice has increased by 20-25% per year since I became a Sterling client. It has been surprisingly steady each year although this year we’re on track for an even bigger increase!
“Patient satisfaction and patient services (or ‘customer service’ would be the buzzword now) have also improved tremendously during our association with Sterling. We have a system to monitor our quality of service.
“The executives in my practice use statistics on a weekly basis to monitor what is going on in the areas for which they are responsible and then to predict what will happen in the immediate future in those areas. Monitoring our statistics closely like that allows us to isolate administrative areas that need improvement. Then we can target our efforts on those areas to very quickly remedy problems (or reinforce areas that are doing well). Once you improve those weak points, the business increases, patient satisfaction increases and everything just gets better!
“One of the things Sterling has really helped us with is selecting top-quality employees. Those benefits are obvious to any employer. That’s about 75% of any business; if you can locate, select and hire top-quality employees then you are well on your way to having a successful business. The testing available from Sterling, and the training that we’ve gotten through Sterling to help us evaluate prospects before we hire them have both been invaluable. With these tools we can evaluate prospective employees beforehand instead of finding out after the fact that they were not someone we wanted to hire.
“The Hubbard management technology which Sterling uses is a system that has been used for almost fifty years to manage an organization that is intended to help people. It has been very, very successful. Those same techniques apply very well to health care practices.
“In orthodontics right now, ‘practice management groups’ are being touted as the solution to a doctor’s problems. Sterling can accomplish for you, the individual practitioner, everything that these practice management groups ‘claim’ to accomplish – but you will maintain ownership and control of your practice! You don’t have to sell your practice or give up control of your practice to accomplish those things.
“The consulting that I’m getting on a regular basis from Sterling is absolutely excellent. You can’t really compare it to consulting from other companies because other companies just, in my way of putting it, use a kind of shotgun approach. They give you a lot of information, and some may hit the target. The consulting that you get from Sterling is like using a laser beam! They just sight in on what is needed and hit the target with pinpoint precision. You don’t waste effort and you don’t waste time. In consulting, wasted time translates into wasted fees.
“When I started with Sterling I was taking three weeks off a year. Within six months after starting Sterling I was taking thirteen weeks off a year, and I continued that for two years. Then I brought in an associate and I continued taking off thirteen weeks a year for two more years. Since I brought in another associate this year, I’ve been able to take fifteen weeks off so far. Once in a while I feel a little bit unneeded!
“I would highly recommend Sterling as a consulting company, and I’d highly recommend it as an alternative to anyone who is considering one of those orthodontic practice management services. Sterling operates on a fee-for-service basis. They don’t lock you into any kind of long-term contract, and they don’t ask for any ownership of the practice, which most, if not all, orthodontic practice management groups do. I’ve made back what I’ve spent on Sterling many times over and consider that it has been money very well spent. And my practice is still all mine!”