What Exactly Does Your Office Manager Do?
Congratulations! You did it. You named your new office manager. Now you can sit back, relax, and rest assured that all of those annoying, time consuming business duties will be taken care of. No more employee evaluations to worry about. Finally, you’ll have someone who can make sure office policies are upheld. Employee complaints distracting you - send them to the office manager. Disgruntled patients annoying you - let the office manager handle them. Budget worries stressing you - give them to the office manager. You can now do exactly what you want to do - the dentistry, and nothing but the dentistry.
Is it a dream come true or the start of another nightmare? That depends on how well you’ve prepared your newly anointed office manager for the responsibilities you expect her/him to assume. Too often “good” dental office employees that are proficient in answering phones, scheduling appointments, and developing financial arrangements are given the title of office manager but not the training. They are tossed into the position, congratulated on their promotion, and left to discover that performing the aforementioned duties well simply isn’t enough preparation for their new job of office manager. There’s a lot more to the position than many doctors realize. Read on.First, any individual deemed office manager must be a natural leader. If the employee is not comfortable taking the reins on an issue and addressing it, s/he will not be comfortable tackling the challenges of being manager. Moreover, this person should enjoy being a problem solver. After all, when it comes to dealing with issues and concerns with patients, it is the office manager who is to be the first point of contact, not the doctor.
That being said, you don’t want a dictator in the position either. This person needs to have a good balance between “thinking” and “feeling” in her/his temperament type. If the individual is high on the “thinking” scale, s/he may be very efficient and task oriented, but, without training, is likely to come across as demanding and inflexible. Similarly, without proper training, someone who is highly “feeling” in her/his temperament type will find it very difficult to hold staff accountable and maintain practice policies. The office manager also must be able to handle pressure. If this person becomes flustered and short-tempered easily, the stress of office manager duties may be too much for her/him.
Additionally, a designated office manager should be skilled in working with numbers. S/he must be able to access as well as understand practice reports, such as profit and loss statements, patient retention and attrition reports, overhead percentages and benchmarks. A well trained and fully functioning office manager is also prepared to manage the office’s human resources, which includes hiring, firing, performance and salary reviews, staff schedules, grievances, employee policies, and team meetings.
As you see, there is far more to the position than just answering phones, scheduling, and preparing financial arrangements. A fully functioning office manager is the COO (chief operating officer) of the business, whereas the dentist is the chief executive officer. It is a position that is unique to each dental practice. Certainly, the parameters that I outlined above are central to the position, but the job description should be customized to best fit the needs of the practice.
And before the individual job description is developed, it is critical that the designated office manager be trained to know and understand the “business” of dentistry including each practice system as well as other management specialty areas, including:
Only then are the doctor and the office manager prepared to build the job description from scratch to best serve the needs of the specific practice.
Certainly, some doctors are comfortable managing the practice as well as doing the dentistry. Understandably, many do not want to be burdened with the office management responsibilities. The key is to ensure that the individual designated as the office manager is prepared to fulfill the responsibilities of the position. Not every practice needs an office manager, but every office manager needs to be given the tools to succeed - specifically, professional training such as McKenzie Management’s Office Manager Training Course.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Value of Time
In this article, we are going to look at two different patients’ case scenarios and how they could be handled. These scenarios could be happening in your practice, although you may not be consciously aware of it. This awareness could make the difference between patients accepting and not accepting treatment and their long-term retention in the practice.Mr. Smith has come into the office to have his hygiene appointment, x-rays, and exam. The hygienist seated Mr. Smith on time and the doctor performed the periodic exam. Mr. Smith needs to return to the dental office because he has some broken teeth that need crowns. The hygienist enters the treatment plan and makes the financial coordinator aware of the treatment the patient will need. However, when the hygienist goes to communicate the patient’s needs to the financial coordinator, she is already busy with another patient. The financial coordinator informs the hygienist it will be a few minutes, as she is already busy with another patient. So, the hygienist asks the patient to have a seat in the reception area, and the financial coordinator will be with him soon.
This is fine, as long as the financial coordinator is able to “process” the patient in a reasonably short period of time. The length of time Mr. Smith has to wait to have a treatment plan reviewed is as important as how long the patient waits in the reception room for a scheduled appointment.
This scenario is where cross-training between staff members’ positions is important. Getting the patient in and out of the office in a timely manner is crucial to patient retention and acceptance of treatment. Even if the patient was seen and the hygiene or dentist appointment went well, the bottom line is if the patient has to wait longer than they feel is necessary, after the actual appointment, they are less likely to continue in your practice.Yes, the financial coordinator is ultimately responsible for the treatment plan. This is why she will perform crosschecks. This is also why it is equally as important for the front office staff to initial their work, notes, treatment plans, and appointments scheduled just like the doctor, hygienist, and assistants do. Accountability is important in everything we do as a team.
Let’s take the same scenario, except this time Mr. Smith has a BIG treatment plan. When the hygienist goes to inform the financial coordinator, she has already left for lunch. Now, there is nobody else who has been given the authorization to discuss treatment plans and make financial arrangements. As a result, the hygienist has to inform the patient he needs to come back to have the financials gone over, or that the financial coordinator will call and go over the treatment with him.
In the meantime, Mr. Smith was excited to get the treatment done and look into what financial arrangements may be made. The hygienist had already mentioned to Mr. Smith that he may want to look at using Care Credit, as they have many different payment plans available, and the financial coordinator would be the best one to go over that information with him. Now he has been let down, as he is leaving the office without all of his answers and without a follow-up appointment to actually start treatment. Depending on how it goes, he may even have to give up more of his time to return to the practice in order to get the information he was expecting today.
There are a couple of things that could have made this go better. Again, make sure there is a staff member cross-trained who can fill in when the financial coordinator is not available. The other option is to have the financial coordinator take a later lunch than the rest of the staff so the patients are able to be processed.
In dentistry, we are very conscious of getting the patient seated on time, but many times do not pay attention to what happens with the patient once they are handed off to the treatment coordinator, scheduling coordinator, or financial coordinator. This is equally important when it comes to patient retention and treatment acceptance. When you value your patients’ time, they may value your time.
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Break Down Silo Behavior in Your Practice
I grew up in rural Connecticut where dairy farming was prevalent and barns were plentiful. The barns had silos - tall cylindrical structures used to store and protect corn and grain from the weather elements. As an organizational psychologist, I work with companies and different silos. Silos are teams of people who are split into divisions or departments, such as sales, technology, and finance. Companies within companies, so to speak. Subgroups of people within the organization that have their own specific function. Silos occur naturally because of the way organizations are structured. Each subgroup has responsibility for that part of the company. This structure is necessary to get the work done because it allows expertise in different areas.
In the business world today, silo behavior refers to a host of dysfunctional behaviors. Subgroups see themselves isolated in their own function or specialty area. In turn they tend to support and promote their own silo’s goals, with just a nod to the larger organizational goals. Cooperation, communication, and collaboration are ineffective and insufficient. The silos battle with each other. They lose focus of the overall goal of the organization because allegiances are to the subgroup, not to the company. Although you may not lead a multi-national global corporation, silo’ed behavior is rampant in dentistry:
These are the traditional and common dental practice silos. In actuality, none of these three subgroups are truly independent. Each relies on others to perform its function, and the practice performs well only when each of these ‘parts’ or ‘units’ work closely together.
Dental silos are natural and this structure is not the problem. The problem comes from the behaviors that can occur as a result of the silo-structure. Conflict abounds. Lost productivity. Stifled creativity. Employee dissatisfaction. Patient complaints. Turnover, toname just a few. People prefer to work - and patients to be treated - in an environment where there is a shared sense of purpose, where they are able to balance their personal needs with the needs of others. Here are some basics if you need to topple silo-ed behavior in your practice.
1. Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Nothing fuels turf wars more than an uncertain and disorderly workplace. Job descriptions and behavioral policies about respect are essential to create a healthy, unified environment.
2. Confidence is contagious, and people build on it when they see it and trust it. Project confidence. Be empathetic and genuine. If you become a strong leader, you will see others model your behavior.
3. Be appropriately vulnerable. Authenticity can feel risky in a work setting, but it does wonders to build trust. Take off the mask more. You’ll like the results.
4. Make room for individual and group success. It’s fine to focus on production numbers but remember that seemingly small contributions make up a compelling whole. Recognize people for their individual achievements. In turn they are more likely to work for the practice’s goals.
5. Find the humor in everyday events. Laughter is the quickest way to form connections with other people. When we laugh, we reveal an important part of our humanity, and we break down barriers.
6. Conduct a staff workshop using a personality test that shows how each person is ‘wired’. This teaches employees how they can best work together based on personal preferences. A team retreat is a great way to accomplish this.Silos are natural in dental practices and they can be highly effective. It’s also perfectly fine to allow competition between subgroups…as long as it stays friendly. Let there be a spirit of play. But from a practice point of view, the silos absolutely need to work together. Everyone shares the same priorities and these are aligned with your practice mission and vision.
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
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