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In Conversation with Dr. Lars Heidenreich
Opening a New Dental Practice

Opening a New Dental Practice 

  • The challenges of opening a dental practice.

  • The importance of communication skills.

  • Picking up new skills and experiences.

  • Tips for dentists starting their own dental practices.

          

Dr. Lars Heidenreich

Owner of Dental Practice in Innsbruck

  • Studied Dentistry at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg

  • Served as a military dentist in the German Armed Forces from 2002 to 2012

  • Currently owns and runs a dental practice at Grabenweg 58, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.

  • Website: www.zahngesundheit-atrium.at

  • Phone: +43 512 319 800

Grabenweg 58, 6020 Innsbruck, Österreich

In Conversation with Dr. Lars Heidenreich

 
 

Opening a dental practice of your own is the most effective means of achieving complete independence. However, dentists are often dissuaded from opening their private practice because the journey seems complex and rife with challenges that go beyond their primary expertise. After all, running a successful dental practice doesn’t just involve an understanding of dentistry but also business-savvy, financial expertise, legal understanding, and team management skills.

Dr. Lars Heidenreich recently opened his private dental practice in Innsbruck, Austria, after two decades of experience as a dentist, including a lengthy commitment as a military dentist in the German Armed Forces. Our team at Zircon Medical recently hosted Dr. Heidenreich on our podcast series to discuss the trials and tribulations of opening a new dental practice.

Introducing Dr. Lars Heidenreich, the owner of a dental practice in Innsbruck

Dr. Lars Heidenreich is currently the owner of a dental practice in Innsbruck called Zahngesundheit Im Atrium (Dental Health in the Atrium), which was officially opened on the 11th of January, 2021.

Dr. Heidenreich opened his private practice after close to two decades as a dentist, having completed his dental studies at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg in 2002. After gaining his license to practice as a dentist, he served as a military dentist at various locations of the German Federal Armed Forces from 2002 to 2012, during which time he served on numerous humanitarian missions abroad.  

Dr. Heidenreich realized he wanted to be a dentist when he was drafted for military service in the Bundeswehr. After serving for approximately one year, he took a leave of absence to study dentistry before returning to service as a staff physician for the total length of his contract. After a total of 17 years with the Bundeswehr, Dr. Heidenreich specialized in oral surgery and joined a private practice in Innsbruck.

After a total of 20 years as a dentist, Dr. Heidenreich finally decided to set off on his own.

The challenges of opening a dental practice

When asked about the potential challenges and stresses of opening a new dental practice, Dr. Heidenreich said, “you have to constantly be at your guard.” Despite his natural inclination to plan and organize meticulously, which he attributes to his training as a dentist and his zodiac sign (Virgo), Dr. Heidenreich says every day brings potential new surprises, both big and small. Although the opening of his dental practice was delayed due to COVID-19, he doesn’t even think that’s been his biggest challenge.

One of his biggest surprises came shortly before Christmas when his youngest son pointed out that their dental practice’s floors looked different from the ones they’d picked out. Apparently, the flooring company had installed the wrong floors from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. This was a true catastrophe because the movers were due to arrive on Monday to install the entire practice, so they had less than a weekend to get the flooring done right. 

Dr. Heidenreich and his son immediately  raise hell with the flooring company and tried to keep to the original schedule. At this point, delaying the schedule was all but impossible, as all the other dominoes were already in place - the movers, electronics engineers, technicians and everyone else in close coordination. The company then solved the problem by itself with a new deadline over the weekend at no extra cost thanks to outstanding commitment, because it was also for them a highly unpleasant situation with such a tight time window. Dr. Heidenreich describes it as a "sporting challenge" which they mastered successfully because they absolutely wanted to open before Christmas.

However, Dr. Heidenreich says all those challenges are completely worthwhile when he sees that his long-standing patients truly appreciate the new setting. Now that they’re past the foundation stage, he can finally take the time to enjoy what they’ve built.

The importance of communication skills

According to Dr. Heidenreich, communication is one of the most important (and underrated) skills in dentistry. He believes communication isn’t usually given due importance in his profession, perhaps because it’s not a directly remunerative skill. In most cases, he finds a stunning lack of direct talk with patients. There’s value in learning about patients and going beyond superficial introductions — to truly take an interest in who they are what’s brought them to the dental clinic.

Dr. Heidenreich usually takes a complete hour with each of his patients’ consultations, and sometimes that doesn’t even cover the diagnosis. He believes in scratching past the surface to create a true connection with the patient, allowing them to make collaborative decisions about the treatment. Dr. Heidenreich often starts by asking his patients why they’ve visited his dental clinic and why they’ve chosen his clinic over others and proceeds accordingly.

During the conversation, Dr. Heidenreich also believes in delving into his patients’ anxieties, something that’s commonplace because they deal with pediatric and adolescent dentistry, surgery, etc. That often leads to interesting conversations, especially when patients reveal they’ve finally decided to proceed with the treatment after suffering from a particular problem for years. The conversation also touches on general anesthesia and nitrous oxide, which isn’t yet standardized in Austria.

Picking up new skills and experiences

When you’re self-employed, you have to focus on various business-related tasks that go beyond your key expertise as a dentist. When asked about picking up new skills and experiences, Dr. Heidenreich emphasized the importance of learning new skills, such as tax knowledge, understanding the legal and financial frameworks within which to operate, and staff management to run a successful clinic.

Dr. Heidenreich found staff management challenging because management practices in the civilian world are completely different from the military. However, he says he could build on his existing communication skills. He also emphasizes the need for a strong network and delegation since you can’t feasibly do everything on your own. Dr. Heidenreich says he’s been working 20 hours a day because he likes to have perfect control and order.

Although Dr. Heidenreich still struggles with delegation, he believes it comes gradually as your level of trust with the team increases. He’s particularly glad to be working with surgeons he’s known for several years because they can work efficiently and blindly without even exchanging words — they have an intrinsic understanding that makes internal workings smooth. As such, Dr. Heidenreich believes everyone starting a new practice must consider which of their colleagues or partners they have strong chemistry with.

Creating a strong network is a useful tip in general because you often need to refer patients to other specialists. For example, if a patient needs pediatric help, he must refer them to someone nearby specializing in pediatric traumatology. It’s important to develop a strong network of dentists who can inherently trust each other. As such, Dr. Heidenreich says he developed various skills while running a dental practice, and he continues to develop them even further.

Tips for dentists starting their own dental practices

  • Lay down a white sheet of paper and formulate your goals.

  • Update your goals time and time again while formulating your thoughts in concrete form.

  • Rely on your partner´s expertise.

  • Look for interns who can eventually become valuable colleagues. 

  • Seek out new colleagues at every point without fear of rejection.

When asked about his personal goals for the coming years, Dr. Heidenreich stated he wants more time for himself and his family. He wants to automate the functional tasks to have more time for creative thinking and to go into his dental practice every day with a smile.

You can find Dr. Heidenreich’s dental practice at Grabenweg 58, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria, or visit his dental clinic’s official website: www.zahngesundheit-atrium.at. You can also listen to him in our Zircon Medical podcast or continue reading for a detailed article on valuable tips for opening a dental practice. 

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8 Tips on Opening a New Dental Practice 

An independent article by the Zircon Medical Team

Starting a dental practice can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. Sure, the rewards are potentially brilliant — you get to live your life on your own terms and lead the practice in a direction you want. However, the challenges are just as great, whether they’re related to unforeseen events, time management, delegation problems, staff management, or more.

As Dr. Heidenreich pointed out, he had to initially spend 20 hours a day in his dental practice, and that’s a fairly common experience amongst those who start their own businesses — and dental practices are also businesses. While unforeseen situations can’t be avoided, it still helps to have a strong plan when starting a dental practice.

This article provides a few essential tips for those considering opening their own dental practices.

#1. Establish your budget and secure funding

It goes without saying — starting a new dental practice is a costly endeavor involving a massive capital investment. Most people don’t have the necessary capital to start a dental practice, so they must rely on external funding sources. Without making a clear budget plan, you may eventually drain your finances or start relying on credit cards with hefty interest rates.

Generally speaking, you should consider the following factors when looking for the right funding sources:

  • Overall loan term, such as 10, 15, or 20 years. Dentists generally prefer long-term loans with smaller monthly payments, giving them the flexibility to clear the loan as the business becomes profitable and successful.

  • Loan pre-payment options, i.e., how soon you can clear off your loan entirely. Most loans can be pre-paid after 3 to 5 years without penalties, but it varies for each funding source.

  • Interest rates of the loans.

  • Internal services to make incremental payments for various processes, such as building contractor payments, equipment payments, etc. This allows you to make disbursements as and when necessary without any complications.

#2. Find the right location for your dental clinic

Location is crucial for your dental practice. While everyone needs a dentist, demographic differences can influence the kind of services you offer. It’s important to research the local area, understand the demography and potential patients’ dental habits and spending capacity, and determine if your chosen dental clinic is an accessible location with high foot traffic. 

One of our podcast guests, Dr. Gonçalo Shearman, recently discussed how dentists in Switzerland focus more on general dentistry because patients maintain optimal oral health (so there’s little need for oral surgeons), whereas dentists in Portugal are far more skilled at full-mouth reconstructions because their patients don’t go for regular dental checkups.

This highlights the need to ensure the patients in your chosen location need or want the services you offer. You may also want to avoid areas already saturated with well-known and established dentists in the same specialty field as yours. All of these factors must be considered when choosing a location for your dental clinic, especially since you can’t easily change your location down the line.

#3. Network with trusted dental-specific advisors and industry experts

When you start to establish a dental practice, you’ll probably meet lots of people from different fields. You’ll receive lots of advice — solicited and unsolicited. And you’ll have to carefully decide whose advice you want to consider. It’s important to surround yourself with industry-specific experts to ensure you’re always following sound advice regarding the different aspects of your budding business.

It’s crucial to find advisors and service providers specializing in the dental industry. For example, instead of finding a general contractor, it’s better to find a dental-specific building contractor — this will help you avoid considerable frustrations and problems down the line. You should also find dental equipment specialists who can supply your practice with the latest technologies and equipment, dental-specific funding sources, and more. 

#4. Develop a watertight business plan for your dental practice before starting out

One of the most common rookie mistakes people make when starting a new business is to neglect to make a business plan. As Dr. Heidenreich pointed out in his podcast, he ran into various unforeseen circumstances even though he plans and organizes meticulously. Without a watertight business plan, you’re likely to be flooded with problems and unforeseen situations that drain your time, finances, and other resources.

#5. Secure licensing and handle the legal aspects of running a dental practice

You should handle all the legal aspects of running a dental practice the moment you start the process. That’s because it can often take months to earn the necessary credentials and licensing for your practice. You may also need to meet the local regulations pertaining to your clinic’s state or country. Furthermore, you’ll need to establish a legal framework for your state and local taxes. If you’re overwhelmed with these technical concerns, you can enlist the help of a certified public accountant specializing in dental practices. 

#6. Expand gradually, stay without your budget, and don’t overextend yourself

While establishing your dental practice, you’ll likely be tempted with various potential opportunities to increase your eventual revenue. When you attend dental trade shows or talk to colleagues, you’ll hear lots of buzz about new dental technologies and equipment. It can be tempting to acquire all the latest technologies immediately, but it’s better to expand your services and equipment over time. If not, you may fall into a spiral of overextending yourself, which can lead to a high overage that causes problems with the lenders.

#7. Invest in a comprehensive marketing plan to draw patients

Dentists often consider marketing a superfluous expense that doesn’t deserve a place in their primary budget. Some consider pushing it off until they have a regular cash flow. However, your practice can’t succeed or develop a cash flow without patients. As such, a comprehensive marketing plan should be an integrated part of your budget, and it’s worth consulting a marketing agency specializing in dental practices at the very start.

#8. Maintain your associations and affiliations with other practices

It can be tempting to abandon all affiliations when you start a new dental practice. However, most businesses take months or years to develop a regular roster of patients and a predictable cash flow. Unless your income is guaranteed, it’s better to maintain your affiliations with other dental practices and hospitals for 2 to 3 days per week. The regular income will help you stay afloat and make your payments for student loans, car loans, mortgages, etc. As your business grows, you can gradually spend more time at your dental clinic.



In Conversation with Dr. Gonçalo Shearman
Exploring Your Options: The Different Styles of Dentistry

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