If you ask a working dentist “How do you know if you have an exceptional dental assistant?” He or she will usually say, “That's easy, I work right next to her/him all day. I can measure her/his performance by the manner in which she/he assists me and if she/he is prepared for each procedure by having the instruments and materials I need without asking. I can see how she/he interacts with the patients and whether my instructions are followed or ignored. I can readily measure performance in the x-rays and photos that are taken or by the quality of the temporary crowns that are placed”.
If you ask a working dentist “How do you know if you have an exceptional front office employee?” There is usually a pause then, “I'm not sure, I don't know exactly what she/he does all day, as long as my schedule is full and there is enough to cover the bills and no one complains about her/him, then I assume the job is being done”.
Most dentists are fine clinicians but few are savvy businessmen or women. Since the average turnover in dental offices is about two years you may or may not find out if your front office person was fulfilling their job responsibilities until the next person you hire takes over their job duties. Then you may hear, “Dr. Smith, I want to do a good job but you need to know that it will take me awhile to clean up this high accounts receivable.” Or you may hear, “Dr. Smith, it looks like I am going to have to put in some overtime because there is $55,000 in unpaid insurance claims that are six months old”. There is this one too, “Dr. Smith, why are there so many write-offs and patient accounts sent to collections?”
You may have had enough to pay the bills but have you made enough to improve the practice with new technology or has the practice grown enough to take on an associate or even another hygienist? It is not enough to make ends meet, growth is inevitable in a healthy practice. Maybe you are growing but the profit does not match the growth. In this case, people are coming to you in droves but not paying for services when rendered or are dribbling in small payments inconsistently. There may be a huge backlog of unpaid insurance claims that have caused the accounts receivables to double or triple beyond their healthy state.
Patients don't complain if money is not collected at the desk or if they are allowed to “make payments” according to their liking. Patients don't complain if they can cancel and fail appointments without consequences for their actions. Patients don't complain if you accept what the insurance pays and they never see a statement for their share of costs. It's no wonder everyone liked your former front office person. Many a well-intentioned front office person has moved on because she/he is in over her/his head and doesn't want to admit that she/he needs help. As the Dentist/CEO of your business it is insanity not to know what your front office business manager is doing or not doing every day. As with your dental assistant you need to have performance measurements in place to monitor the state of the systems that run your practice. An exceptional front office employee has the business sense and skill to communicate the state of your practice to you on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
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