Helpers - Practice Necessity or Luxury?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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It’s the end of yet another long and stressful day. Madison had to take the afternoon off unexpectedly because her son developed a fever. Last week, Sarah’s car broke down on the freeway and she was three hours late getting in. Recently, Joe’s basement flooded and he had to take two days off to deal with the mess. Yes, life is riddled with unexpected situations that can leave you stressed out and struggling for some way to prepare your practice for the impact of everyday life and work. Having someone who could just step in and take over in a pinch would help tremendously, you reason.
After all, even when the office is fully staffed and things are running smoothly, it seems it’s still a struggle to try to get everything done. Collections are dropping because there isn’t time to follow up with patients. Appointment confirmation calls are always an afterthought. Instruments aren’t ready when you need them. You are starting to think seriously about bringing on just one more person—a floater or helper, if you will. This person would be cross-trained, ready and waiting to manage those unexpected situations as well as help ensure that day-to-day tasks stay on track. Gosh, that sounds good! It’s a simple answer; you just need a little more help. Sure, it will require a bit of an investment, but it can’t be that much.
STOP. Before you take this dreamland fantasy one single step further, splash some cold water on your face, run a few numbers and take a look at a few benchmarks. Don’t make a major decision, such as hiring more staff, based on a gnawing gut feeling. It’s not a reliable indicator. Read on.
First, check out your check in. It takes approximately 10 minutes to check in and check out each patient. There are 480 minutes in an 8-hour workday. If your practice is seeing 15–22 patients per day, which would total 150–220 minutes of patient contact, one person should be able to handle front desk duties.
If the doctor has 14 or more scheduled patients a day, not including hygiene exams, he/she needs a second assistant. However, if procedures are streamlined, one assistant can efficiently maintain two treatment rooms for a general dentist who uses two operatories and sees 13 or fewer patients a day.
Patient dismissal should take two minutes, while the disinfection of treatment rooms and cleaning/sterilization of instruments should take less than five minutes. Moreover, if your state allows for expanded functions for assistants, start maximizing those resources.
Next, assess the attitudes. Does your team include a “not-my-jobber” or two who are inflexible, refuse to step up to the plate, yet constantly make demands? You know the type; they wouldn’t answer the phone if it were the White House calling and the President had a dental emergency. Scrub instruments? You must be kidding! Their favorite phrases are, “I don’t have time to do her job,” and “The doctor doesn’t pay me to do that,” or, “That’s not my job.”
Could your existing team actually handle current demands as well as the unexpected situations that are bound to occur if you addressed the “not-my-jobbers” who are pulling your productivity down?
If you still contend that another warm body is the answer to all that ails your practice, make sure you know exactly what the financial impact is going to be or I guarantee you’ll be trading in the occasionally stressful day for many a sleepless night as you lie awake wondering how you’re going to pay for it all.
Let’s say your current monthly collections are $42,325 per month and your existing salaries are $9,353; you are already at 22%. The benchmark is 20%, not including taxes/benefits, which is typically another 3–5%. A $12 per hour helper working 30 hours per week will increase salaries to $10,793. That will put you at 25.5% of collections and well above the standard.
Obviously a new helper is a potentially major expenditure that requires careful and deliberate consideration. Before you spend more money, make sure you have clearly defined job descriptions and goals for everyone on staff. And, most important, develop a plan to bring in more revenues by shoring up recall, making sure patients follow through with diagnosed treatment, improving treatment presentations, enhancing new patient communication skills, etc.
Otherwise, you’ll likely find that a little helper is a luxury your practice simply cannot afford.
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