Professional Courtesy: Suffering From Arithmophobia by Dr. Thomas Giacobbi

Dentaltown Magazine

by Thomas Giacobbi, DDS, FAGD, editorial director, Dentaltown magazine

Editor’s note: This column originally ran in November 2015. Dr. Giacobbi will be back next month with a brand new column.

Arithmophobia is a fear of numbers, and I’d be willing to bet that you or members of your team suffer from this condition. The fear I’m referencing has nothing to do with a filling on tooth #13, or periodontal pocket measurements; instead, it is a reference to the numbers related to the operation of your dental practice. And just like the fear that keeps people from coming to the dentist, giving in to arithmophobia and ignoring the numbers doesn’t make things better.

Confronting the fear
I learned from Dr. Howard Farran early in my career that transparency with numbers can help the operation of an organization because numbers give business managers a context for decision-making. Over the years I have shared many numbers with my team on a regular basis.

Every month at our team meeting, I share the following statistics from the previous month: average collections per day, number of new patients, number of inactivated patients, and a metric for cancellations/ no-shows. I think it is fairly obvious why each number is important, but I also decided it was time for a deeper dive at our team retreat.

As I prepared for this segment of the retreat, I performed a number of calculations that I thought the team would find significant. The first number was an overhead calculation. I ran a report of all my expenses in QuickBooks and divided by the number of hours we were open during that same period. This result was a dollar-per-hour figure representing the cost just to show up for work and turn on the lights. They were shocked. The next set of numbers was an effort to help see the relative contribution each department makes in the practice.

The first one was easy: hygiene. I took the production for each hygienist and divided by the number of hours he or she is on the clock to get a figure for production per hour. When I shared this number with the group, I told them the range and the average—I did not share a figure for each hygienist.

For the front office, I took the production of the entire office and divided it by the number of hours they worked. For the assistants, I took the doctor production and divided it by the number of hours worked. Let me be clear. I know that the numbers for front office and dental assistants are using some of the same production figures twice. The point is, these numbers represent a relative measure of how productive that part of the office was from one time period to the next.

How scared are you?
For each of the three groups I had calculations for three periods of six months each, representing the last 18 months. In some cases the trends were up, and in other cases, flat or down. This will be a terrific starting point as we move forward to see if our numbers are heading in the right direction. As I mentioned earlier, I provided each number as an aggregate so that nobody was singled out. Following the retreat, a couple of the hygienists asked to see their numbers.

While I purposely didn’t want to single anyone out in the group, I was happy to hear that they wanted to know how they were doing. The following week I brought in my nice little chart with the individual and group numbers. As you’d expect, they were all interested in their numbers, but the bottom two (of five hygienists) did not want to see the numbers for long. We had a conversation to reiterate the fact that numbers are only one measure of performance and not the only measure of success.

However, an introduction to some real numbers promises to be an eye-opener for everyone. I can be reached via email at or on Twitter @ddsTom.


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