Assessing Your Restart Staffing Needs

By Sally McKenzie, CEO

You’ve got a lot on your mind as you restart your practice. There are new policies and procedures to follow to keep team members and patients safe, as well as new efforts to get patients back in the chair to ramp up production. There’s a lot to think about, and that includes staffing.

Keep in mind you may not be picking up where you left off when you return to the office. Patients may be hesitant to schedule at first, whether they have financial concerns or are worried about the possibility of exposing themselves to coronavirus. It will likely take time to get production numbers back to where they were before COVID-19 forced your office to close, and that may impact your staffing needs.

As you restart your practice, it’s important to think about new roles your team members may have. That means assessing the size and duties of your team and making improvements to increase productivity where you can.

The assessment
Payroll (not including employer paid payroll taxes and benefits) should be 20 to 22 percent of revenues. That’s the industry standard, but probably isn’t where you are after not seeing patients for a few months. Payroll will likely be above that benchmark until the practice gets some short-term history on whether production/revenues will rebound to where they were before. In the meantime, it’s important to assess where you are now and to identify areas that can be improved.

Here are a few questions I suggest you ask yourself:

-Do I need the same number of employees as I did before the coronavirus pandemic?

-Have roles shifted and if so, how?

-Could their job descriptions be more defined?

-Should new responsibilities/duties be added to their job descriptions?

-Are there tasks that can be automated and taken off any job descriptions?

-How can job descriptions be altered to include more ‘producing-tasks’ to elevate production/revenues and/or reduce overhead?

-How can I put performance measurements in place to give me a better handle on how team members are performing?

Asking these questions will help tell you where your team members are today. Now, let’s take a look at areas where your staffing needs might improve, starting with your business employees.

Strengthening the front office
Business employee tasks are divided into two areas: patient tasks and non-patient tasks. Non-patient tasks include duties like answering the phone (the most time consuming), processing insurance, filling openings in the schedule, billing, contacting past due patients, confirming appointments and overseeing the patient communication system. Basically, anything that doesn’t require a face-to-face discussion with a patient. Patient tasks include checking patients in and out for treatment, scheduling appointments before patients leave the office, quoting a fee for services rendered and collecting payment after an appointment.

Let’s say your practice works an 8-hour day, or 480 minutes. Your business employee should spend 240 of those minutes on non-patient tasks and 240 minutes on patient tasks. If you allow for 10 minutes per patient for check in and check out tasks, one dental business employee should be able to process 24 patients in an eight-hour day. So, if you are treating 18 patients a day and have two business employees, for example, your payroll overhead expenses are likely more than the industry standard of 20 to 22% of revenue.

Here’s where many dentists get into trouble. Business employees typically start to feel more frazzled when the practice gets to 22 patients in an eight-hour day. The employee begins to struggle to complete tasks, so dentists decide it’s time to hire another employee to help. The problem? This new employee doesn’t have a defined job description that’s focused on producing. So, while production/revenue doesn’t go up, your payroll expenses do.

The solution? As the patient count per day increases in a practice, section out the business employee’s existing job description and give correlating tasks and systems to the second business employee. For example, anything associated with money such as insurance, billing, delinquent account calls, financial arrangements, and collecting money for services rendered should be moved to a Financial Coordinator position.

Bottom line: Allowing two or more employees to take on the same duties, such as scheduling appointments, leads to weaknesses and inefficiencies in your practice. If two people are responsible for the same tasks, there is no accountability. Nobody takes ownership. So, as the practice’s daily patient count increases, job descriptions should continue to be sectioned out (without overlapping duties). It’s also important to include goals and measurable objectives in each business employee job description. And don’t let employees pick and choose what they want to do. Make their responsibilities and your expectations clear in the job description.

Another tip? Offer proper training so your team members have the confidence and skills they need to perform their jobs effectively and efficiently. This is key to building the strong team you’ll need as you navigate through this new normal.

Get off to a great start
Assessing staffing needs is critical as you get back to the office. Next week, we’ll cover the clinical team.
If you need more guidance as you restart your office, feel free to contact me. I can set you up with your personal coach through my Virtual Dental Programs.

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