The Cost of Vacancy in Your Dental Practice

An understaffed dental office is an underperforming asset. That’s not our opinion, it’s what the numbers say. The cost of vacancy, or the cost of an unfilled position, can have a significant impact on your practice’s bottom line. A vacancy means more work for your current staff, adding to inefficiency and operational woes, cutting back hours, and in the most extreme case as a DSO, you may have to close an office! It can also result in lost revenue and can negatively impact patient satisfaction. Here, we will discuss the cost of vacancy at a dental practice and how you can mitigate its negative effects.

Lost Revenue

One of the most significant costs of a vacancy is lost revenue. When a position is open, two dynamics are at play: Loss of revenue associated with that specific position, whether a doctor or hygienist, and the workload shift to the remaining staff members which negatively impacts practice productivity. For example, in many areas of the United States, one dental hygienist can produce $35,000 per month, equating to a cost of vacancy of $420,000 per year. An open hygienist position is a tremendous financial drag on the practice, let alone on the practice’s operations and brand reputation for the reasons we discuss in this piece.

Increased Overtime Costs

When a position is vacant, the remaining staff members may need to work overtime to ensure that the practice continues to run smoothly. This can lead to increased labor costs for the practice as revenue declines, creating a negative financial imbalance. Additionally, overtime can lead to employees feeling overworked and may result in decreased job satisfaction, unintentional mistakes, or rework, which can also negatively affect patient satisfaction. 

Negative Impact on Patient Satisfaction

As we mentioned above, a vacancy within your practice team can have a negative impact on patient satisfaction. Patients may experience longer wait times, and they may not be able to schedule appointments as quickly as they would like. This can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with the practice. In addition, when staff members are overworked, they may not be able to provide the level of customer service that patients expect. Unfortunately, frustrated patients are louder online, which can lead to negative reviews and unnecessary tension.

Mitigating the Effects of a Vacancy

As a dental practice owner or manager, there are certain strategies and plans you can implement to mitigate the negative effects an employee vacancy can have on your practice. This starts with ensuring that all of your recruitment assets, including job descriptions, pre-qualification questions, interview panel, and compensation and benefits packages, reflect your dental practice’s brand image in a positive light. Your job descriptions and pre-qualifying questions should be clear and concise, so that potential candidates understand the expectations of the role and the qualifications required.

Cross-training your employees is yet another effective and impactful strategy. Cross-training employees in different areas of the practice can help ensure that essential tasks are covered in the absence of a specific employee. For example, cross-training dental assistants to perform front desk duties can help ensure that patients are still greeted and checked in in the event your receptionist is absent.

The cost of vacancy at a dental practice can have a significant impact on your bottom line. From lost revenue to increased overtime costs and decreased patient satisfaction, the effects, known and unknown, of an unfilled position can be far-reaching. By having strategies in place for recruiting and hiring new staff members, cross-training your current staff, and prioritizing staff retention, you can help mitigate the effects of a vacancy and ensure that your practice continues to thrive.

A final note, let’s not forget, filling a vacancy and keeping your team members are not synonymous. We’ll discuss that in another post!