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5.12.06 Issue #218

The High Price of Assumptions

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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We tend to assume many things. When we settle into our seat on the airplane, we assume that the pilot and crew are trained and prepared to transport us to our destination. And if we have to go through Chicago, we can assume there will probably be a delay. When we bring our car to the mechanic, we trust that they are prepared to repair the model we drive. When we order lunch from our favorite restaurant, we assume that the waiters are trained to fill the order correctly. We can usually make any number of safe assumptions.

Then there are those assumptions that aren’t so safe. Dentists often make assumptions about the people they work with day after day. Take Dr. Anthony’s office for example. It is clear that the doctors in this large practice have made numerous assumptions. First, they assume that the new girl at the collections desk will receive adequate training from the other staff members before she’s left alone to do the job. Wrong. Missy didn’t know what to do with the patient who had two different insurance plans. When no other staff members were around to help her sort through the matter, she became so flustered with the transaction, she forgot all about the co-pay and overcharged the patient $90. Oops.

The doctors also assume that the Insurance Coordinator is helpful when working with patients. Wrong again. Shannon immediately goes on the defensive at the mere hint that a mistake might have been made with a claim. And if she’s asked by a patient to do anything she considers to be beyond the scope of her specific duties, forget it. Then there’s the assumption that Darcy, the Scheduling Coordinator, is able to use the computer system to effectively schedule appointments. Wrong, once again. She spent an entire morning scheduling patients in the wrong year. Yes, those assumptions are costing this practice a lot – reputation, patients, and money.

Most of us have learned that valuable lesson about what happens when we ass-u-me. Yet, when it comes to staff training, many doctors assume they can skate by, investing as little time and money as possible. Unfortunately, the employee is then the “beneficiary” of as little information as possible. We find many doctors who rely on “layered education.” One layer of employees trains the next. Carol, who was trained by Betty, taught Darcy. Darcy trained Shannon. Carol was fired; Betty left, so Shannon tried to teach Joe and Jill. Joe passed on what he thought he knew to Missy. Somewhere in between all those layers of wrong or partially correct information, the employee might pick up a kernel or two of useful knowledge.

In other cases, it’s training by osmosis, and it starts off typically like this. “Ellen, you’ll be taking over the collections responsibilities. You know what that means, right? You’re responsible for making sure the patients pay. I’m sure you’ll do just great.” Once again, the doctor is making some very costly assumptions. Ellen, meanwhile, is making a few of her own. “No big deal. All I have to do is ask patients if they would like to be billed for today’s procedure.” Is it any wonder that the single, biggest contributor to practice inefficiency and mismanagement is a poorly trained team? Ironically, it is the dentist who suffers most, both financially and emotionally.

Just a few hours of professional training – rather than the “when time allows training” from busy fellow employees many practices rely on – would solve numerous system problems and failures. But doctors are often reluctant to make the investment they assume are attached to professional training programs. In reality, the return on investment to the practice is increased revenues, better patient retention and customer service. The marketplace today also provides multiple affordable training options for dental teams, including online training that can be done without ever leaving the office. 

Next week, avoid the costly assumptions, look to affordable training instead.

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McKenzie Management's Seminar Schedule
2006 Location Sponsor Information Topic Speaker
May 13 Providence, CT Connecticut State Dental 877-777-6151 Top Issues

Sally McKenzie

May 17-19 San Diego, CA Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry* 877-777-6151 Exhibit Only


June 8-9 Santa Barbara,CA The Art of Endodontics 800-528-1590 Max. Prod.

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Aug. 2-6 Denver, CO Academy of General Dentistry* 877-777-6151 TBA

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Aug 10-11 Santa Barbara, CA The Art of Endodontics 800-528-1590 Max. Prod.

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Sept. 15-17 San Francisco, CA California Dental Association* 877-777-6151 Exhibit Only


Sept 21-22 Santa Barbara, CA The Art of Endodontics 800-528-1590 Max. Prod.

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Sept. 29-30 Oviedo, Spain Clinica Sicilia 877-777-6151 Over/Top Issue

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Oct. 7-8 Krakow, Poland UNO Dental 877-777-6151 TBA

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Nov. 8 San Diego, CA San Diego Women's Dental 858-755-9990 Top Issues

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Nov. 17 Concord, NH New Hampshire Dental Society 312-440-2908 Breakdown

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Dec. 7-8 Santa Barbara,CA The Art of Endodontics 800-528-1590 Max. Prod.

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* McKenzie Management will be exhibiting at this location

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