Dental Staffing

High Five To The Team At The Front: The Gatekeepers

We talk about the Clinical Team all the time, and I think it’s time to give some applause to the Team at the front. These are the first and last members of the Team the patients see, and I’ve heard it’s the most difficult job in the Dental Office. We’ve often referred to them as “the Front Desk” but really, they are the Gatekeepers.

They are the hard-working men and women that hear all the stories about why someone is going to be late or why they’re cancelling or why they failed their last appointment. They’re really the front line; they take all the phone calls, the good ones and the bad. I’m certain they could write a book about the conversations they’ve had with patients.

The Team at the front remembers a patient’s name and family members. They remember personal stories they’ve heard from patients; they have an uncanny ability at keeping these relationships as if patients are simply their friends. Personally, I believe this is a professional skill not possessed by just anyone. Remember, they are the first and last members of the Team the patients see, and their attitude is critical to the success of the Practice.

We decided to do something nice for the Gatekeepers here in Southern Oregon and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it. We’ve visited over one hundred Dental Offices and delivered a gift to thank them for a job well done. And with one exception, we were consistently greeted with warm and welcoming smiles. And that one exception, we had her laughing by the time we left. It’s a skill to be able to greet people every day who’d undoubtedly rather be somewhere else.

So, you’re going to be late? Wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to be able to say “ok, but we’re not going to be able to do our best work because we can’t be late for the patient who’s scheduled after you”. What I do enjoy is the Office Manager’s decision to dismiss the patient who chronically fails appointments or cancels at the last minute. Make no mistake, these patients affect everything, including raises and bonuses.

Then there’s the complaints about the treatment their insurance didn’t cover. I’m a strong believer that patients should understand their own benefits. The Gatekeepers do an excellent job estimating what the insurance companies will or will not cover; that doesn’t mean there won’t be procedures that the patient needs that are denied. You can’t simply skip a necessary procedure because it’s not covered by your Dental insurance.

How about the ‘emergencies’ who can’t come in immediately. Guess what: then it’s not an emergency! Or the patients who leave their children unattended expecting the Gatekeepers to babysit while they’re getting treatment. There are few offices today that do any inhouse financing. On those rare occasions when this is granted and the patient reneges, the Gatekeepers have the unpleasant job of collecting the past due account.

I always wince when I visit an office that doesn’t have an Office Manager. The primary function of the Office Manager is to allow the Dentist to focus on Dentistry. Although they regularly meet with the owner Dentist, they handle all the issues that would otherwise distract the Dentist from turning the handpiece. They handle accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, screening interviewees, reviews, discipline, dismissals, inter-office conflict and some issues I’m certain I’ve forgotten.

The Gatekeepers are handling so much more than the Clinical Team is even aware of. So, do me a favor, the next time you walk into work, give them a high five and a big Thank You. The Gatekeepers are just as responsible for the success of the practice as the Clinical Team and the skill of the Doctor.

“You only have one chance to make a GREAT first impression; Thankfully it’s in the hands of our Gatekeepers”

- Deborah L. Marynak, DDS - modified from author unknown