The Trouble with “Titles”
When good help is hard to come by and you have what you consider to be a rising star on your staff, it’s understandable that you want to reward them in some way. Perhaps wage increases in your office have been curbed because of the economy, and you haven’t been able to provide as many of those special little perks that you once did to reward team members for excellent performance. Maybe a new title is the way to reward a good employee?
For “Dr. Peter,” awarding one of his staff standouts a new moniker seemed like such a good idea at the time. He had seen a fair amount of employee turnover in the past 18 months, which Dr. Peter attributed to several factors. One left for a better paying position, another wanted to spend more time with her children, a third just wasn’t a good fit for the practice. Dr. Peter heard Julie, the business employee, mention that she felt like she deserved more for all she did at the office.
Julie was a good employee. Dr. Peter saw her as a rising star. She was bright, energetic, and enthusiastic. She was good with the patients and the staff and the kind of employee the practice wanted to keep around. The problem - Dr. Peter didn’t think he could pay her much more. So he reasoned that a new title and new challenges would be the “opportunity” that would keep Julie from trotting out the door to the practice down the street.
When Dr. Peter brought Julie into his office to tell her that he would like to appoint her as office manager, she was thrilled that he felt she was up for the challenge. Julie’s primary responsibilities are scheduling and confirming appointments, greeting patients, making financial arrangements, etc. However, when she inquired as to how her duties might change, the good doctor didn’t have a good answer. He simply told her he’d like to see what she could do and they would go from there. When she asked if the new position meant an increase in her salary, Dr. Peter was non-committal. Julie was puzzled. What would be the point of being named office manager? Julie wondered silently.
Things went downhill from there. Dr. Peter assumed that because Julie was bright and confident, she could design her role as office manager. But with no direction from the doctor, she was making up her duties as she went along. Julie suggested that she be involved in staff evaluations, but Dr. Peter told her that would not be appropriate. She asked him if he would like her to provide assistance evaluating the financial reports, “No, I can handle that,” was his response. She suggested that the team work together to develop some scheduling objectives. Dr. Peter thought that might be a good idea, but continually put Julie off each time she brought the issue up.
Julie had a title of office manger, but not the responsibility or any decision-making authority. Julie eventually checked out emotionally from the position and then physically from the practice. It was a waste of potential talent that the doctor recognized, but he could not bring himself to relinquish control of certain areas or involve a “subordinate” in a “partnership” role. It’s a concept that some doctors find just entirely too threatening to pursue.
Every employee must have a job description that clearly defines the job, spells out specific skills needed for the position, and outlines precisely the duties and responsibilities. A job title is not a job description. That being said, I readily acknowledge that writing the job description for an office manager is no small challenge.
On the McKenzie Management website, you may have noticed that I have job descriptions for multiple positions in the practice, including scheduling coordinator, treatment coordinator, financial coordinator, patient coordinator, etc. But there isn’t one for an office manager. Why? Because, as Dr. Peter’s case illustrates, different doctors interpret this position quite differently. And many interpret the position incorrectly.
The majority of dental practice “office managers” answer phones, make appointments, do financial arrangements, etc. These are the responsibilities of a front office employee or a business coordinator. Certainly, an office manager will step in and perform these duties when necessary as well. But the role stretches well beyond these tasks.
Next week, what do real office managers do?
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What NOT to Say
As part of the consultant’s in-office evaluation, “eavesdropping” on the day-to-day activities of the business team is included – at no additional cost, may I add!
We try to blend in with the wallpaper and charts, and stay out of the way as much as possible in an attempt to allow them to do their jobs in their customary friendly manner. By lunchtime, the practice owner wanders up to the area that we are working in, asking “How are things going?” Listed below are a few of the statements that we hear, as well as a more user-friendly way of saying the same thing:
“If we have a cancellation, I will call you.”
“Please call us at 555-4567 if you need to cancel your appointment.”Instead: “We look forward to seeing you Monday at 9:00. See you then!”
Reason: Why do you want to encourage your patients to cancel, and even offer your phone number to do so?
“Let’s go ahead and make your 6-month appointment. You can always call and cancel if you can’t make it.”
Reason: Why do you want to “clog up” your appointment book with appointments that will not be kept, and at the same time, encourage your patients to cancel, as if it is okay to do so?
“Mrs. Jones, you are past due for your recall appointment. You wouldn’t want to schedule, would you?”
Reason: The first approach is accusatory and causes the patient to be defensive. When implying that it was your error, the patient will not start making excuses as to why they haven’t called. Also, when indicating that the doctor is concerned, it places more merit on the call.
Reason: When asking “would you like to make an appointment?” you are asking a “yes or no” question. It makes it too easy for the patient to say “no.” In addition, indicating that their name is on a list is impersonal.
“I will be happy to put you on my cancellation list.”
Reason: A “cancellation list” indicates that you have a lot of patients that cancel. So many that you have a list of them. Must be okay to cancel! Also, when you do have a change in your schedule and you call Mrs. Jones, you can say, “Mrs. Jones, you asked that I call if we have a change in our schedule. We will be happy to see you this afternoon at 3:00.”
Keep in mind, also, that the easiest way to fill a last-minute opening other than moving up an existing appointment for the day is to call the patients on your “priority list.” If you are scheduling a patient more than a week in advance, ask if they would like to be on your priority list.
“Your co-pay for today is $79.32.”
Reason: “Co-pay” indicates the amount you pay when you visit your physician and it is all that you pay, as your insurance pays the remainder. “Portion” or “investment” is more user-friendly and by rounding the amount, it appears that you don’t really know exactly what the insurance is going to pay, as this is an “estimated” amount. It is also important to reiterate to the patient what they are paying for in terms that they understand.
“Mrs. Jones, your appointment was at 10:00. Where are you?”
This is also the same statement that you would use when the patient comes flying in the front door, pours over the front counter and expresses to you how many red lights they had to stop for! Avoid saying “Its okay.” Since it’s not, simply say, “We were worried about you. We are glad to see that you are okay.”
It is hard to break long-term habits regarding how to respond to situations. Step outside your comfort zone, change your dialogue and be more “patient-friendly.”
Can You Recommend Your Dental Practice to a Relative, Friend or Stranger?
I work in a dental practice as a dental manager and part of my job is to present and recommend treatment to patients and get them financing. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t feel comfortable recommending treatment in our office. Our reception room is outdated and the walls need painting. The treatment rooms are cluttered and the chairs have tape over tears in them. We don’t have internet, email or digital... Patients have to wait an average of twenty minutes to half an hour to be seated. Dr. doesn’t think it makes any difference to the patient as long as they get good care and friendly staff, but I say it does. Who wins this one?
I would say that you win this one. Office design for attractiveness and for efficiency are two different things, but both are important to meet the expectations of today’s consumer. Studies show that patients want “clean” in any healthcare facility and they want a dental office that doesn’t smell like a dental office. Old fears can surface when a patient smells the mixture of burnt tooth and strong medicaments. The sound of the dental drill in the reception room can cause the blood pressure to rise and the patient to become very anxious when having to wait for longer than ten minutes to be seated.
You have touched on several issues that can and do affect the success of a dental practice. I am assuming that you don’t have a website either, since you mentioned that you don’t have internet or email. A patient’s perception that the doctor is “up to date” is evidenced in the reception room all the way to the treatment rooms and back. A shabby reception room and dental chairs with tape on them can mean the dental care is also unsatisfactory, and that perhaps the materials are also outdated or poor quality.
Patients want a choice to be able to reach you via email, text or phone. Many people no longer have a “home” or landline phone, but almost everyone has a cell phone and the internet. Today, without a website you are saying I don’t know how, or don’t care to offer, this important service to my patients. You are becoming obsolete without the technology that is used daily for communication. Studies show that potential patients look at your website to find information about the dentist, the location of the practice and the services you offer. They also want to know about insurance and financing. Often patients read the online reviews posted about your practice prior to picking up the phone or emailing you for an appointment. If the reviews aren’t good, you could lose the opportunity for a new patient more often than you realize.
If the dental equipment is outdated or continually fails while patients are having treatment, this is noticeable to the patient who may have to be in the dental chair longer than anticipated. Competent treatment is central to the dental experience, so the dentist and team need to be up to date and well organized. Patients want what they want and often don’t vocalize their needs. It is easier to go somewhere else where they feel understood and appreciated.
If the dentist and the team make an effort to connect with the patients and foster open communication so that the patient can comfortably express their concerns and issues, it will build a stronger bond of trust. An unrushed, relaxed, but well managed dental practice is what many patients are looking for along with the updated technology that supports excellent customer service and great dental care.
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