As a part of my interview series with prominent medical professionals about “How To Grow Your Private Practice” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Scott Froum.
Dr. Scott H. Froum is a Board certified periodontist who received his BA from Amherst College in Amherst, MA. He received his DDS from the State University of New York Stony Brookc School of Dental Medicine where he graduated with honors. He continued his dental training in the post-graduate periodontal department at the State University of New York Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine and received his periodontal certificate. He currently is a clinical associate professor at SUNY Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine in the Department of Periodontics. He is chief editor of the Perio-Implant Advisory. He has lectured on the national
and international level on implant therapy, bone and gum regeneration, and complications.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell our readers a bit about your ‘backstory”?
Sure. I graduated from Amherst College with a law degree thinking I was going to be the next Johnnie Cochran. I didn’t realize that my calling was in the healthcare industry. I spent the next three years doing benchtop cancer research, which I loved, but didn’t have the personal interaction I would have liked. I was about to apply to medical school when I was convinced by my principal investigator, the person in charge of my research, that dental school was the better choice for me. This was because more opportunity to be a fee for service provider and avoid mandates by insurance companies. I then applied to SUNY Stony Brook was accepted, and that’s how it started.
What made you want to start your own practice?
After graduating from my periodontal residency, I spent 5 years working in many different dental offices that practiced all types of dentistry. I worked seven days a week, sometimes in two different offices in the same day. I worked in fee for service offices as well as heavy insurance-based offices. I worked for general dentists as well as practices limited to periodontics. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, says that in order to become an expert in anything it takes around 10,000 hours of practice in that field. I spent well over 10,000 hours doing dentistry in other people’s offices figuring out what worked and what did not work. I started my own office in order to concentrate and emphasize the practices that I believed were successful to patient outcomes.
Managing being a provider and a business owner can often be exhausting. Can you elaborate on how you manage both roles?
If you ask any dentist, you will often hear that doing the actual dentistry is the fun part and everything else is exhausting. It’s like boating and golfing, rarely can you do both effectively by yourself. I think this is where your team can really help. By employing people who care about your business as much as you do, the dentist can concentrate on the technical performance part of dentistry while the rest of the team can focus on everything else. Shane Snow in the book Dream Teams talks about all the different characteristics of what constitutes a great team. In our office, we certainly have been able to create a team that has prioritized delivering the best customer service possible. When your team focuses on the service, you as the dentist can focus on the care.
As a business owner, how do you know when to stop working IN your business (maybe see a full patient load) and shift to working ON your business?
I don’t think working on your business and in your business are mutually exclusive. I do think that both can be done at the same time. For our office, we usually see a full patient load, and at the end of the day, our team members will spend a few minutes speaking about what worked well and what did not. As the practice owner, I will then go home and try to implement strategies to facilitate things that worked well. For example, we had a patient that suffered from chronic halitosis for most of his life. He asked our hygienist what to do about this bad breath problem and she told him to brush and floss just like every other office had in the past. She had no other answer for him since she was not specifically educated about that subject. He was obviously disappointed that our office was no different than every other dental office and thanked us for the advice. When the hygienist told me about this patient’s disappointment, I went ahead and researched all about the etiology and treatments of halitosis as well as having all the members of our office take courses on this type of treatment. Through education and hard work, we became a center of fresh breath over the course of a few months and since then we have helped hundreds of patients with their breath problem. This is a small example of how you can take things that happen while you are working in your business and translate that to working on your business. I think the minute you stop working on your business is the day you should retire.
From completing your degree to opening a clinic and becoming a business owner, the path was obviously full of many hurdles. How did you build up resilience to rebound from failures? Is there a specific hurdle that sticks out to you?
I think the best way to rebound from failure is to not consider failure the antithesis to success. John C. Maxwell in Failing Forward talks about how failing is an essential part of success and how an act of failure is only a failure if you do not learn from it. Like Thomas Edison, I don’t think I have failed in dentistry, but I have found 10,000 ways things have not worked. I truly believe that obstacles are just bumps in the road and only become stop signs if you allow them to become that. One of the biggest hurdles I encountered when trying to buy my practice was getting financing from a bank. Most of the banks I went to for my loan and even my accountant looked at the numbers of the practice I was buying and tried to persuade me not to engage. Against the judgement of many, I went with my instincts and took a chance on a practice in decline. With a great team behind me we were able to quadruple revenue within 4 years. As Elphaba, the witch in the musical Wicked says, “Don’t accept limits just because someone says they’re so!”
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Grow Your Private Practice” and why?
- A great book by Peter Drucker, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, asks the business owner to identify your primary and secondary customers. A primary customer is someone whose life is directly changed by your product or service. For our office, a practice limited to the specialty of Periodontics, our primary customers are people interested in improving their oral health and saving their teeth. Secondary customers are people you want to satisfy but are not the focus of your mission. For our office, these are people interested in cosmetic dentistry, we can help them achieve that goal, but our main focus is to take people from a state of oral disease to oral health. We specifically design our articles and social media campaigns around our primary customers.
- Surround yourself with a great team! I have already mentioned how important your support staff is to build your practice. I take great pride in reading reviews about our office that mention how great the front and back of the office operates. When people are complimenting your staff, you as the business owner are doing something right.
- Be accessible to your patients. One of the biggest comments we get is how everyone in the office is attentive to questions, even after hours. However you want to answer patient questions albeit phone, e-mail, social media, and/or smoke signals, make sure your responses are timely. Quick responses to reasonable patient inquiries in one of our biggest practice builders.
- Public relationship skills are essential. In this world of instant gratification, perception is reality. I would recommend Carolyn Barth’s Online Course: The “Go To” Dentist. This course teaches the business owner how to promote a starting or established practice in a competitive city. She has one for Doctors, too. Learn more: https://digitalcontentstrategy.com
- Join an organization with peers that have similar interests. In the dental world, many of us practice in a vacuum. Dental organizations can provide a collegiate environment where ideas can be created and cultivated. One organization that I am very proud to be a part of is the Association of Innovative Dentistry. This group is a multidisciplinary group that incorporates all facets of dentistry and is dedicated to brainstorming about the next big things in our field. You can find out more information about this organization at https://www.innovativedentistry.org
Many healthcare providers struggle with the idea of “monetization”. How did you overcome that mental block?
If you believe in the care you deliver and the service you provide, there is no reason you should not get compensated for it. In “Real Artists Don’t Starve,” Jeff Goins states that the notion of having to give product or services away just because you are starting out is a myth. If you are delivering quality care that is service oriented and patient focused, money should not be an obstacle. Too often the problem with dentistry is that the dentist views the service they provide as a commodity that can be compared with other offices. If you are selling a commodity, it is hard to explain to a patient why you are charging more than another office. If you are providing a dental service on the other hand, not found in other offices, price will not be the limiting factor.
What do you do when you feel unfocused or overwhelmed?
Becoming unfocused and feeling overwhelmed can be a daily occurrence, especially in a busy medical/dental practice. I take a page out of the book by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s “The Power of Full Engagement.” There are four types of energy that keep us focused: physical energy, mental energy, spiritual energy, and emotional energy. Too often we concentrate on physical energy which then allows other energies to become depleted. This results in the feeling of being overwhelmed. For me, physical energy replenishment usually comes in the form of going to the gym and staying active. When my mental energy is low, I usually take a break and allow my thoughts to be blank for a good 15 minutes. This is a terrific tool to help you refocus. My spiritual energy is usually refueled when I meditate. Meditation is one of the best ways to stay in the game even when chaos surrounds you. Finally, my emotional energy is usually kept full by looking at pictures of my family in my office. If necessary, a quick call to your kids or wife just to tell them you love them and hear their voices can keep your heart sustained.
I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career — None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?
When I first entered dental school, I realized that dentistry wasn’t just a science but an art form as well. The science part I could do, in art, on the other hand, I was a complete mess. I was able to contact a local lab, Marotta Dental Labs, and ask them if I could come in and observe them mold and shape teeth. For the next few weeks I shadowed a 325-pound muscle bound lab tech with hands bigger than a gorilla. I watched him wax up small miniature teeth. I thought to myself: if this guy, who looks like he can bench press a car, can carve tiny tooth anatomy, then so can I! It was during these shadowing events that I met one of the owners of the lab, Steve Pigliacelli. Steve has been in the dental industry for over 35 years and he is a wealth of knowledge in just about every dental subject. Over the next couple of years, I would go to this lab whenever I had questions about dentistry and bounce ideas off Steve. Steve has always been a wonderful resource for inspiration and creativity. To this day, Steve and I are involved in many projects, lectures, and dental endeavors. The most valuable lesson I have learned from Steve is never be influenced by what others think of you. In the end, the only one judging you is yourself.
What resources did you use (Blogs, webinars, conferences, coaching, etc.) that helped jumpstart you in the beginning of your business?
I was fortunate enough early in my career to become involved with a great continuing education provider, PennWell Publications. I began to write many articles and print pieces for them and with their help, the distribution was enormous. I also started to lecture at conferences and give webinars for different organizations. Over time, the culmination of all the information I have been able to disseminate over the internet and social media has helped our office become one of the more respected practices in the area. Teaching at Stony Brook Dental School has also enabled me to stay current with all of the new advances in my field. By staying active in continuing education, patients will find you when they go to the internet for clinical questions.
What’s the worst piece of advice or recommendation you’ve ever received? Can you share a story about that?
The worst piece of advice I have ever received was from someone who told me that patient’s online reviews do not matter. We were an office that never cared about or was interested in harvesting reviews from patients. Patients even asked us if we would like for them to write us reviews and we would tell them we rather them not. Big mistake! We have learned that many consumers will use reviews as the primary motivating factor for calling an office or moving on to the next name. There are many services out there that offices can use to gather legitimate patient reviews. In my opinion, the return on investment is well worth it.
Please recommend one book that’s made the biggest impact on you?
I have mentioned many books and how they have influenced me in this interview already. I do think a must read however is a book by Liz Wiseman called Multipliers. The book speaks of leaders as either multipliers or diminishers. This is a great read for any business owner on how to be a multiplier or a leader who brings out the best in people. Too often leaders control by fear and punishment. Here is an example of a diminisher or someone who will not inspire greatness in others. In my opinion, a leader is someone who, as a close Endodontist friend of mine says, “lifts others as they climb.”
Where can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram handle- @activeperio
Facebook profile- Scott H. Froum, DDS, PC
LinkedIn- Scott Froum
Twitter- Dr. Scott Froum
For other incredible interviews, please check out our podcast: Healthcare Heroes.
A special thanks to Dr. Froum again! The purpose of this interview series is to highlight the entrepreneurs, innovators, advocates, and providers inside Healthcare. Our hope is to inspire future healthcare providers on the incredible careers that are possible!
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