When I attended dental school, I learned a lot about producing dentistry, but absolutely nothing about running a dental practice. It becomes natural to do an exam, write a treatment plan, present it and provide care. But what about the front half of the office? What tasks do they undertake to keep the patients coming in and get treatment plans on the schedule?
Let’s stop and reflect on what the business team members undertake daily. When we talk about the business team, there are several models. There can be as few as one individual or as many as 3-5 employees overseeing what the clinical team refers to as the “front desk”. Let’s review some of their duties:
Start with the basics:
- Answering phones
- Maximizing the schedule, making use of a carefully curated quick-call list
- Greeting and checking in patients. This is a bigger deal than most people think and can be exhausting as you are continuously forming and maintaining trusting and long-lasting patient relationships.
- Checking patients out to include collecting payment, rescheduling any necessary appointments, and providing estimates for future planned treatment
- Tracking new patient referrals
- Ordering office supplies
- Confirming appointments and/or managing online reminder systems
- Cleaning up aging claims no later than 30 days after treatment
- Posting & processing EOBs and EFTs to include handling appeals and processing requests for additional information
- Verifying benefits, eligibility and history by phone and online
- Sending statements
- Coordinating specialist referrals
- Managing hygiene recall, a the bread and butter of the practice which can be very time-consuming, often falling to the bottom of the list
–recall cards: hopefully filled out by the patient while in the hygiene chair
–recall rejuvenation: to recoup those patients who have fallen through the cracks
- Working accounts receivable by phone to collect delinquent accounts, those balances that insurance didn’t cover
- Making financial arrangements, explaining options from various third-party vendors
- Paying the bills (accounts payable)
- Verifying, correcting and submitting timesheets
- Creating monthly reports for accountants and consultants
And in some offices, even:
- Submitting payroll taxes in a timely manner
- Filing quarterly taxes
- Managing social media or marketing efforts
- Coordinating facility and grounds maintenance
Does the clinical team know all these functions are buzzing up front? Likely not. It took me years to get a full understanding of the full scope of what the business team was doing up there. If I had not purchased an existing practice, it would have been a disaster. Hiring a competent business team without being fully aware of the challenges at the “front desk” just doesn’t happen.
How many people does it take to get all of this done on a timely basis? What’s most important? What can wait? How does one decide? Okay, now I have a headache! Actually, none of it should wait; even with a competent business team of 3-4 employees, all these tasks need to be attended to regularly according to their own ongoing schedule.
As a practice grows, so do the opportunities for improved profitability – or headaches. Maybe you are limited on space and don’t have anymore room to add another employee or two. You might prefer to reduce your payroll expenses and look for outside help. Now there’s an idea! Hand over some of the busy work so your business team can focus on the patients standing in front of them or the ones on the other end of your phone.
Whatever you do, the important thing is to be sure your Team has an excellent work/life ratio. Give them the opportunity to give your patients the very best experience they can. Make sure they aren’t pulled in so many directions that the stress begins to show. When it shows, patient experience declines. They’re your gatekeepers and every bit your right arm as your lead assistant. Many consultants I’ve spoken with readily agreed that the most difficult job in any dental office can be found just inside the front door of your dental practice.
“Keeping customers is about the experience, and the employees control the culture and temperature of the business. Never forget that.”
Dr. Deborah Marynak is the owner of DentalStaffing.org, a dentist with over 30 years experience, and is committed to helping Dental Professionals find the right fit for both employees and employers. She also works with Dental Offices to help them streamline their clinical systems and teach Dental Teams how to effectively document to avoid risk.