What Does the Office Manager Really Need to Know?
Once upon a time in a dental practice down the street, the title of office manager was bestowed upon one “lucky” employee. From that moment, the doctor was certain that all the managerial challenges facing the practice would be remedied, as now there was an “office manager” on the premises. As time went on, the practice continued to lose money and employee headaches and problems plagued the practice. “Why isn’t the office manager taking care of these problems?” wondered the doctor. Because the employee had zero training before s/he was anointed the title of office manager. It’s not a scenario limited to a grim practice fairy tale, it’s one we see in dental practices regularly.
Time and again dentists reason that somehow, someway, once the title of office manager is bestowed upon the “lucky” individual, s/he will figure out exactly how to address all of the managerial shortcomings facing the office. Rarely does it occur to the owner/dentist that s/he didn’t “figure out” dentistry without training and education, so perhaps it’s a tall order to expect that of their newly anointed manager. Nonetheless, the doctor simply “thinks” the employee can do it. Why? Because the individual has been a reliable, hardworking team member and has demonstrated initiative, perseverance, and, well, chutzpah. All of which are very good qualities, but none of which will prepare the person to be an effective office manager.
If your practice is to make the most of an “office manager,” this person will need a set of skills that goes beyond being a loyal employee and working well with staff and patients. S/he should be a natural leader or get education in leadership skills. The individual must be comfortable taking the reins on an issue and addressing it. Being a good problem solver by nature is essential because the office manager, not the doctor, should be the first point of contact for the patients and the staff when issues arise.
But that is just the beginning. A “true” office manager is responsible for overseeing practice overhead, and the most critical duty is effectively managing the office’s human resources. This person is in charge of recruitment, hiring and firing all employees, performance reviews, schedules, grievances, raises, salary reviews, employee policies, team meetings. S/he also must oversee and manage all of the business measurements and analyze fees as well as profit and loss reports - just to name a few.
The office manager will need a job description that is customized to best fit the needs of the practice. But most importantly, the designee should complete a professional office manager training program in which the individual learns the “business” of dentistry including each practice system as well as other management specialty areas. Below is a sampling of a few areas in which an effective office manager should be well trained:
Practice Numbers vs. Industry Standards
Systems Management: Watching the Numbers
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
The Comprehensive Hygiene Appointment
Wouldn’t it be great if everything we recommend to a patient could be done without hesitation, and money was never an issue? Unfortunately, that is not the way it always happens. As hygienists and doctors, we aren’t educated in college about dealing with insurance and working around patients who have the attitude that: “If the insurance doesn’t pay for it, I don’t want to have it done.”
There is no magic wand to make this issue go away. We do not want to treatment plan according to insurance, but we do want to maximize our patient’s insurance for them so they will be able to use the benefit their employer has chosen to provide them with. We have many tools in our bag of technology and knowledge that will help when it comes to educating our patients.
Knowing ways to maximize patient insurance is one way to keep patients happier. No one can know all the ins-and-outs of all the insurance plans that are out there. But the more the entire staff is educated about insurance, the better equipped they will be to educate patients about why insurance is not necessarily the “golden key” to providing optimal oral health.
There are many options for people to use these days - insurance is just one of them. Hopefully your office is offering CareCredit to help relieve some of the financial burden that patients may perceive regarding the cost of dental care. Many employers also offer Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) to their employees. You may be surprised at how many people have this option, but do not really understand how it is utilized. Don’t assume that your staff understands it either. FSA is a great way to help make implants more affordable to anybody - particularly if the patient is looking at having the surgical portion of the implant done at the end of the year, and then completing the restorative portion of the implant at the beginning of the next year.
One of the least costly procedures to both the office and the patient is full mouth probing, done out loud so the patient can both hear it and co-diagnose their need for periodontal treatment. Whether this is done utilizing another staff member or a voice-activated system is up to the doctor. However, actually doing a full mouth, six-point probing on patients is priceless when it comes to patient acceptance of periodontal disease.
Taking the time to educate the patient about probing, what the numbers indicate, and how to determine what the recommended treatment is also needs to be done. This is not a portion of the appointment that should be rushed. Time should be allowed for the patient to ask questions about what probing is, even if you have already explained it to them. Many times they do not truly listen until after the information has been collected. Once the patient has helped co-diagnose their periodontal disease they will be more concerned about what is going on. It is also recommended to allow enough time to explain what root planing is and why it is indicated in their particular case, whether you are recommending it to a patient of record for the first time or to a new patient.
Another great tool in our bag of tricks is the intraoral camera. Some of you may have one that for whatever reason is not being used, and you may want to consider moving the camera into the hygiene operatory to make it more accessible to the hygienist. If you have not bought an intraoral camera yet and are thinking about buying one specifically for the hygienist, it’s important to get one that is easy to use. Once you have narrowed your choices down to two or three cameras, you may want to allow the hygienist an opportunity to try the cameras and have some input to which one works best in their hands. Where the camera is actually kept in the office will make a difference in how often it is used. If the hygienist is expected to use the camera according to the protocol, then keep the camera in the hygienist room.
The hygienist will want to do a visual exam of the mouth with the intraoral camera. The pictures may be of any large fillings that are in the patient’s mouth, fillings that have dark suspicious areas around the margins, possible fracture lines, or even the amount of calculus that is present before the scaling has been done. This can be done on an existing patient, a new patient, or on patients who do not need x-rays. The intraoral camera will be used to get a closer look since x-rays will not be taken at the appointment.
It’s important to avoid overloading the hygiene appointment with too many procedures, as this can leave no time to provide a thorough prophylaxis or periodontal maintenance. Your practice will want to determine what protocol works best.These are only a few of the tools we utilize in dentistry to help provide a more comprehensive hygiene appointment. They are not expensive, and they are priceless when implemented.
Interested in improving your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us about our 1-Day Hygiene Training Program or call 877-777-6151
Take Your Team to the World Series
The two best teams in baseball are in the World Series – the Boston Red Sox of the American League and the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. They shared the best record in the regular season - 97 wins and 65 losses – to get to the Fall Classic. Here are some lessons that you can take from these winning teams to hit a home run in your practice.
Know Your Purpose
By defining the core elements of your practice in words, you align your staff. Employees gain clarity. This enables them to make accurate decisions because actions can be compared against the mission statement to assure they are furthering practice interests, or hindering them. Do employees know the purpose of your practice? Ask each one individually. If you have communicated your vision clearly, their answers should be very consistent. If not, schedule time for your team to write a mission statement collectively.
Pick the Best People
Be an Effective Communicator
Clarify Job Responsibilities
Just like a winning coach, let your employees know when they miss a ‘play’. Fairly and respectfully, identify the gaps between expected and actual performance. Involve them in finding solutions. Establish clear behavioral standards, goals and objectives. Help them to improve in areas that need attention. By teaching and training your employees, you enable them to align with your expectations. When each person understands and executes his/her role, it leads to a winning team.
Develop Team Synergy
In addition to staff meetings, schedule time for your team to be together outside the office. Conduct a team retreat that encompasses training with fun activities that unify employees. It will keep your team fresh and motivated to perform.
Be Determined and Tough-Minded
The Red Sox and Cardinals have always based their success on teamwork and chemistry, on a ‘whole-bigger-than-the-sum-of-the-parts’ principle. Both teams are constructed as teams should be - from complementary parts that together outperform. Even more striking (pun intended) is that they're not just playing for the money or the glory. They're playing for each other, for their fans and for their cities. What would you do to have a team like that?
Dr. Nancy Haller is available to coach you and your staff to higher levels of performance. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here
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