I graduated from dental school in 1998. I was full of ideals and morals about how I was going to build up the best practice in dentistry. It was going to be full of incredible equipment, a spa like environment, 5-star service, with no insurance.
At some point along the way, I chanced upon something I really enjoyed doing: treating sleep apnea patients with oral appliances.
My practice wasn’t setup to allow me to spend much time doing that. So I left my (very successful) practice in the hands of my associate and started figuring out the world of sleep.
The good news is that I had found something that was a truly fulfilling use of my skills. The bad news was that I was about to embark on a journey I was not qualified to take.
And I paid the price. Over the next 3 and a half years, I lost every penny I had trying to figure out the sleep business. I actually declared bankruptcy. But I didn’t quit.
In fact, I figured out the puzzle. And in the rest of this short article I’m going to walk you through the process for making it in the sleep business. I’ll break it down into four steps.
STEP 1: Stop Thinking Like a Dentist
The first step in this process is to stop thinking like a dentist. Dental school taught us a lot about how to be a dentist. It taught us very little about how to succeed while being a dentist.
What dental school also taught us is that there are accepted ways of practicing dentistry. If you venture off the beaten path, not only are you programmed to feel weird and “out of your element,” but your colleagues will think the same thing and be sure to let you know.
You will never make it in the sleep business unless you “re-train” your mind and take off the blinders that keep you thinking the ONLY way to make it in dentistry is to spend a lot of time behind the chair or have associates who do that.
The fact is, there are far smarter and more direct routes to success as a dentist. But if your mind and your conditioning keep you from exploring them, you lose. Just look around at the current state of the industry for proof.
STEP 2: Look At What Most Dentists Are Doing and Do Something Else
The accepted way to “make it” in the sleep business is through referrals. Just get doctors referring sleep patients to you and you’ve got it made. This is a fairytale. This solution does NOT exist.
While I was struggling to figure out how to be successful in sleep, I tried a lot of things. But early on, I could never attract more than 2-4 patients a month. There’s no way to make it at that rate.
So I asked my top referrer: "Why aren’t you sending me more patients?" Her answer was blunt: "I don’t have enough patients myself. If I send you a patient for an oral appliance, I no longer have this patient under my care.”
Duh. This is obvious. And yet, countless dentists try to make this referral based system work. It doesn’t. It is a flawed model at a fundamental level.
STEP 3: You Succeed Not By Luck But By Design
If you want to succeed in the sleep business, and you’ve worked through the brainwashing that keep most dentists struggling, then you’ll finally get to doing the real work. And
the real work is finding the patients. Or better yet, creating a system that finds them.
Without an effective system to generate a steady stream of patients, this business doesn’t happen. That should come as no surprise.
Almost everybody who is currently teaching sleep has two things in common: they know a lot about sleep and almost nothing about getting you patients and even less about getting paid properly for doing the procedure.
In the interest of full disclosure, it took me years to figure this part out. And things got pretty dicey along the way. It’s actually the reason I ended up taking a detour through the “Land of Bankruptcy.” It was really a struggle for a while.
Once I figured out how to get the patients, then I had to figure out how the whole reimbursement process was going to work. It was like navigating through a dark forest with your eyes closed walking backwards. There were landmines everywhere. And only after spending countless hours on the phone with insurance companies and Medicare (as well as talking to every billing specialist I could find) did I find the best way to bill and get reimbursed really well.
Soon I had unlimited amounts of patients coming in every month and the insurance process had been all worked out before they even came to my office. Everything was great.
But that’s when I realized I was about to hop out of the frying pan RIGHT into the fire. And that brings me to the final step of this process:
STEP 4: Prepare Yourself For Blowback From the Herd and Then Succeed Anyway
You would think that your colleagues in dentistry would be genuinely happy to see you succeed. But when you do it in a way that goes counter to their brainwashing about what it means to be a dentist, you will find out the truth.
People like to see you succeed, provided you do it in a way they find acceptable. When you succeed in unconventional ways that others don’t really have the guts to pursue, it’s a different story.
Things were really quiet in my life until I made the decision to start teaching this. I was seeing way more patients in sleep than every sleep dentist I knew (and I knew a lot of them).I was also doing this completely under the radar.
I knew that once I started teaching, I was going to be in the public eye. I knew people were going to question me. I knew they would mock me and knew it would cause others in the sleep field to feel threatened.
It’s really just a natural human response to lash out when you feel threatened. The reason I’m telling you this is so you can prepare for it should you decide to explore the sleep business according to the way I do it.
This is a big reason you’ll find a long list of hate scattered throughout the internet about the work we do with dentists in the sleep business. At first, it bothered me. But then I decided that I could either spend time “defending” myself or I could spend time finding undiagnosed OSA patients, getting them tested and treated and teaching others to do the same.
I chose to focus on the patients and ignore the hate. And that’s what I’d recommend you do as well, should you ever encounter it.
The only way to win is not to play. So should you decide to follow in my footsteps in the sleep business, my recommendation is not to engage with those who will lash out at you. Simply keep your focus on treating patients and adding value to their lives.
Is the Sleep Business Right For You?
So we’ve come to the end where you get to make a decision about what’s next for you. Do you learn more about the sleep business and the systems I’ve created to help you become far more successful than most dentists even believe is possible? Or do you simply go back to your old life and practice the way it is now.
That’s not a question I can answer for you.
But not long ago, working with a team of experts, I started training a select group of dentists to begin the journey towards attracting 50 sleep patients PER MONTH. Some of them got off to a fast start. Others took a bit longer to get the hang of things.
If you’re curious about what that journey is like, feel free to visit the website below and request your complimentary copy of a report recently published by the International Academy of Sleep: How to Build a Practice You Can Sell For $3-$8 Million, Working Only 4 Hours a Day, 2 Days a Week. If you think that sounds like a crazy promise, that might be a clue you should take a look. Request your copy at www.buildapracticeyoucansell.com
Dr. Avi Weisfogel is the Director of International Academy of Sleep. You may contact him at 908-258-0341 or www.iaosleep.org.