Your Winning Practice Playbook: Part 7 – Playing Defense

If you watch many sports, I’m sure you’ve heard this repeated a hundred times, but that’s because it’s true… DEFENSE Wins Games!

If you can master these strategies, that is exactly what you are going to do too: win.

You might be surprised to hear that most teams actually play defense the majority of the time, but they are doing it in all the wrong ways.

They are playing reactive defense.  They, and perhaps you, are always playing catch up, falling behind, making up for mistakes, and triaging problems instead of focusing on scoring points by being resourceful, taking initiative, and looking for ways to win with your patients.

The scoreboard in your practice can’t be measured with “patient visits” or with “reviews.”  It has to be tallied up with real actual dollars because the dollars represent the treatment that you do and the health benefit you provided to your patients.

Those dollars, based on your daily or monthly goal, determine if you won or lost.  There is no grey area – WINNING is black and white.  My grandpa use to always say, “Close counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.”  And that’s not what we are playing here.

In most practices, this comes about as being defensive about why things didn’t go your way or why we are behind on our numbers or why something didn’t get done or justifying a mistake by using patients as the excuse.

This kicks off our next topic: the right kind of defense.  The defense that WINS games.  The defense that actually keeps the offense on the field… which is the entire objective of defense, to get the ball back to the offense.  

In your game, the only real opponent you have is yourself and what you are willing to accept compared to your potential. 

For you, everything is about helping your patients.  You are on the same team and anything that hinders you from doing what is best for them is in their way of victory – that’s what you are playing defense against. 

This week, we are going to start with 3 BIG overarching defensive strategies.  They are the opposite of waiting for things to go wrong to do something about it.  Defense is the best offense when it helps keep you from losing momentum, losing points, and losing scoring opportunities.

The first part of your practice defense playbook is…


How do you score points on offense?  When you have the ball.  Which means, when on defense, you are looking for opportunities to recover the ball and transition to offense..

That starts by answering every phone call so you can capture every opportunity that exists.  Let nothing get past you, no one slips through the cracks of your defense.  Each represents a chance to score points by helping more patients.

The same goes for protecting appointments by staying ahead of your confirmations to ensure patients show up and on time.  Think of each reminder as picking up a fumble, recovering the appointment before it becomes a missed opportunity.  If a patient no-shows for an appointment, it’s too late, there is now a void in the schedule where a patient could have been getting closer to optimal health.

Recovering the ball is making sure you are doing everything possible to help your patients become better patients. From phone to front door, from the first visit to subsequent visits, throughout their pathway to health; at each phase each team member can do their part to help the next team member in line through education, encouragement, and relationship building.  If everyone does their part, there will never be a misstep where the ball touches ground.  See it, recover it, and protect it.

Think through how you and your team are doing a great job with protecting the Ball in your practice and where there might be a few sloppy, careless handling of the ball (i.e. relationships, treatment, collections).


This concept has to do with the most important aspects of patient engagement.

Remain present and in the moment when you are with patients.  Your mind can’t be somewhere else.  You are assigned to that patient for that time frame, you can’t let them remain “open” and unattended.  In a state of ideal, never leave a Patient alone.  In order to build trust and have a dialogue, you have to be there.

Make sure there are no broken links in the chain of the patient experience and that’s where the triangles of trust come in and connecting all the stages of the patient experience together.

Of course, you cover your man/woman by being complete and comprehensive with your experience every single time and never letting yourself lose the game by losing sight of what is most important, your patients.

Finally, this also has everything to do with making sure every patient is accounted for and if you want to be real serious about it, every dollar of treatment is accounted for.  I call this “no patient left behind” and again it’s defense that leads to offense.

Where in your practice do you lose sight of your patients?  Where is the patient left behind?  Are tentative appointments confirmed?  Unscheduled treatment has appropriate follow-up?  All insurance claims handled in advance so there are no issues?

Now, the third Defensive Strategy has to do with one thing that ultimately determines whether we won or lost: the clock.

If time was endless then you could hypothetically win “someday,” at least eventually.  Instead, you have to win within a finite amount of time and that requires your ability to…


In sports, coaches call time outs on defense when the game is slipping away, when momentum is turning, and the opponent is taking advantage of mistakes.  This is how your practice can ensure you are maximizing the minutes, by better guarding against wasted or low productive time. 
Think about this example: value-based scheduling with anchor appointments are critical to achieving your daily goals.  That means, in order to include somethings, you have to keep some things out (i.e. defense).  You are protecting the value of the minutes to better manage the clock to score more points.

In dentistry, everything with your time is either defense or offense.  The only way to make the majority of your time offense it requires you to be extra strict with how you organize, manage, and control the amount of time it takes to do anything.

If you find yourself having a rough day, don’t hesitate to call your own time out.  Take a few minutes to gather the team, give the pep talk, and course correct for the remainder of clock.  It’s never over until it’s over, so give it all you’ve got.

Remember this, with every minute saved from being reactive or from being wasteful, it’s a minute you gain back to be on offense, engage with your patients, and having the ability to score points.  All you have got is time and the value of what you create out of it is going to be a direct result of your ability to manage it.

There are additional defensive strategies related to managing the clock; such as scheduling enough time to get the most important things done but not scheduling too much so minutes are wasted.  Or making sure your patients are going through treatment plans on your terms and not theirs – you set the flow of what happens in your practice.

That brings us to the next principle of Championship Teams, which is playing your own game.  We are headed there next week. 

Just remember, every one of these is the balance between staying on offense while playing defense to ensure no opportunities get past you, no patient is left behind, and no time is wasted.  The more you practice these three defensive strategies the more you are able to be Future Focused, Creation Minded, Aware of Opportunity, and take Proactive Action.

Regardless of the side of the ball you are playing, the objective is always the same… score points by helping more patients get healthy.