Conflict - Control this Workplace Reality Before It Controls You
It is said that only two things in life are certain - death and taxes. I would have to add one more to that list: conflict. Wherever there are at least two people, there is potential for conflict. However, if managed effectively, conflict can be harnessed to help a dental team address system shortfalls. It can help the team to successfully share ideas and give and take feedback constructively, and it can enable the team to identify strengths and weaknesses.
But it’s that “managed effectively” part that tends to trip teams up again and again. Too often the nasty “playground-type” behaviors take over and tense situations deteriorate into all-out battles.
Consider the situation of Danielle and Elaine. Elaine has been the office manager in Dr. Steve’s practice for five years. Elaine indicated that since the practice has grown significantly, the office may need to consider hiring some additional help for the business area down the road. Dr. Steve didn’t waste any time, and proceeded to offer the job to a friend’s daughter. Elaine had no input, and, frankly, she feels like Danielle was simply dumped on her. Dr. Steve thought it would be good for Danielle because he believes that Elaine would be a positive influence on her.
Elaine doesn’t care to be a “positive influence” on anyone. She has a job to do. She takes pride in her work. She is focused on accomplishing a specific set of goals and tasks each day, and now to be saddled with “do-little-or-nothing-Danielle” just because she suggested in passing that the office might soon consider additional help for the front is an insult to everything she’s done for the practice. Now she has someone working next to her every day that barely speaks, takes forever to take action, and has to have things explained to her multiple times. I suspect you can surmise that Elaine is less than thrilled with the new staffing arrangement.
Rest assured this is no day at the amusement park for Danielle either. She sees Elaine as being extremely critical of everything. If she doesn’t do things exactly the way Elaine wants them done, Danielle will hear about it. If Elaine would just leave her alone, let her figure out a few things on her own, she would be fine. If Elaine could stop constantly talking and directing and spelling out every single little detail, so that she could just work in peace, things would be much less stressful. When Danielle accepted the job offer, she thought she would be working much more closely with Dr. Steve, but instead she’s stuck with the evil Elaine. She has some good ideas about how they might do things a little differently, but she learned very quickly that Elaine is not at all interested in someone else’s idea of a better way.
The stress grows daily between Danielle and Elaine. A few months into the new staffing arrangement, patients are picking up on the tension between the two. The rolling eyes and the sighs of discontent are all too obvious. A few patients have mentioned it to Dr. Steve. He’s watched things deteriorate and is regretting his decision to bring on Danielle, but she is not a bad employee and is really trying. Dr. Steve cannot understand why Elaine and Danielle mix like oil and water.
Certainly, this situation has many factors, not the least of which is differing personalities otherwise referred to as temperament types. As Dr. Nancy Haller explains in detail in the McKenzie Management Educational DVD Team Bonding & Building, there are a multitude of different temperaments in every dental practice. It’s understanding them, specifically the strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles of each, that is critical to not just reining in conflict, but effectively using it to grow the practice.
The fact is that just because different people have different approaches to work does not mean one is right and the other is wrong. Rather, if you learn to appreciate the benefits of each other's styles, you can learn to work together more effectively.
As in the case with Elaine and Danielle, neither one understands the other, so they rush to judgment and assign negative labels to one another. In my book How Personality Types Affect Practice Success, dental teams can learn to effectively understand each other’s interpersonal styles, work habits, communication styles, and most importantly, begin to develop a process for managing conflict effectively in the practice.
Next week - how do you determine temperament type and put “personality conflicts” to work in your office?
Want more of me? Click here to visit my blog, The Lighter Side, for more Dental Practice Management info.
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Technology is a wonderful tool in the field of dentistry. I started working in a dental office so many years ago that the word “OSHA” didn’t exist! That was a long time ago. We managed to operate a very efficient and profitable practice without the assistance of computers, digital radiography and calculators - imagine now what it would be like without these everyday necessities!
As I visit offices around the country, I find it interesting that there are a few “old habits” that die hard, such as that old IBM Selectric typewriter that sits on the front desk behind the Schedule Coordinator. People actually still use typewriters? Apparently so - to type the patients’ names on the labels that are attached to a paper record. Come on now, that is why Brother invented the “handy-dandy” little label maker that is the size of a small book. The font is much larger and easier to read - a must for all of us “old” employees!
And pencils and pencil sharpeners - I can’t remember the last time I used a pencil unless it was to rub a piece of paper over the patient’s credit card to make an imprint. How about carbon paper? I would bet that many of you don’t even know what carbon paper was used for in the business area - no, we didn’t cut it into small pieces for articulating paper - but that is a good idea!
My point is this: with all this technology at our fingertips, why do we still insist on sending statements, insurance claims, recall reminders and other correspondence through the mail? Could it be that in many cases you have never thought about whether there are more efficient ways of communicating with insurance companies and your patients? Let’s look at a few of the more common uses of technology to be used in your business area. Please note that I am not promoting any particular company, but only the general concept of these tools.
Electronic Insurance Claims
Now, it is simply a matter of a keystroke that creates the claim and another keystroke submits it directly to a clearinghouse that will either print the claim or continue to electronically process the claim to the insurance carriers for you. A digital copy is stored on your office computer in case it needs to be re-filed.
The advantages to you:
Text Messages and E-mails
Mary, your Schedule Coordinator, has an opening at 3:00 this afternoon with your hygienist. She needs to fill it as quickly as possible. She generates a list of 45 potential patients from her recall list and she instructs the software to send the following email to these patients:
“This is Mary at Dr. Smith’s dental office. We noticed that I failed to make your appointment for your professional cleaning and exam that was due last month. I am happy to report that I have an opening available this afternoon at 3:00. Please contact me ASAP to accept this invitation.”
Within 5 minutes, Mary received 7 responses. The first response was awarded the appointment and the others were scheduled on other days. Is that efficiency, or what?
In order to make this happen, it is important that you poll your patients to determine how they prefer to be contacted regarding appointments in your office: text message, email, phone or mail. I would put money on it that 75% or more will elect text message or email.
“In order to better serve you, our readers, how may we contact you?” Remember - it is all about customer service.
Closing the Gap in Collections
Do you suffer heart palpitations when it comes to collecting for dental services? Do you think your fees are too high or that dentistry is expensive? If you are a dentist and answered yes to either of these questions, then stay away from the business area of the practice when the subject of payment comes up.
It is important to separate professional services from financial operations. That doesn’t mean that you don’t understand the process of collecting or that you don’t know how much you charge. It means that you have a standard protocol response that says “Betty is my business coordinator and I leave the discussion of financial arrangements to her. She is very knowledgeable about dental insurance and the payment options we can offer.”
The dentist can easily be drawn into giving discounts to patients if feeling pressured, especially if the dentist is a “feeling type” in temperament. To ensure smooth and profitable collections, getting your agreement in writing is imperative. Have a clear and written financial policy that can be explained on one page. Specifics should be clear, such as when is payment expected (before or after treatment) and that co-pays are collected at the time of service. Are reductions in fees offered, such as fees over $1000 paid with check or cash at the time of service get a 5% reduction in fee?
Defining who is responsible for payment before services are rendered prevents misunderstandings. For instance, some young adults may think that the parents are still covering them, only to find out it is not true and they do not have the means to pay for their treatment. The same goes for some elderly patients who may have a trust that a family member or executor has control over and requires approval prior to treatment.
It is a red flag if a patient does not ask you what the treatment is going to cost and makes an appointment. There is an assumption present that this patient will pay regardless of the cost, but that is not the case. This patient will set the terms of how and when s/he will pay. Often the scenario goes like this: “I will give you $100 today and will pay you $50 in a month.” If treatment is complete, it is very difficult to have any leverage in this arrangement.
Insurance estimating can be a gamble, especially if the patient wants an exact amount of reimbursement. Out of network providers have a more difficult time giving an estimate. In-network providers are given a PPO Provider Fee Schedule to estimate from, and do not charge more that the allowable fees. It is important to include a disclaimer on your financial option sheet that states: “This estimate is based upon the information provided to our office by you and by your insurance plan. Limitations and exclusions may exist that have not been disclosed by your benefits administrator. If for any reason your plan does not pay for any services, you are responsible for payment in full.”
In a perfect world, presenting treatment and discussing financial options in private without interruptions of other patients, phone calls and staff is the ideal. Financial matters are very personal, so being discreet is the professional and courteous thing to do. The person who presents financial options and asks for payment should be polite but firm in his/her approach. Being able to connect with the patient and to build rapport is part of this process. This person should not be afraid to ask for money and also understand the value of quality dental care and the long term health value.
For patients who want monthly payments, CareCredit is the answer. Having the applications and rate charts in arms reach is a great way to increase treatment acceptance and get paid in full when treatment starts. The patient is then responsible to pay monthly payments to the bank, and you have been paid. It is a winning situation for all concerned.
Want to learn how to establish financial options and payment plans for your patients? Call McKenzie Management today to sign up for business training.
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