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Labor shortage solutions: Learn from hospitals and restaurants

Jan. 20, 2022
When it comes to the staffing shortage in dentistry, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Learn from other industries that have found viable solutions.

Labor shortages are certainly not unique to the dental industry. However, providing top quality patient care without a full team presents unique challenges in health care. While navigating this tight labor market, we can learn from other industries that have developed solutions for remaining operational. Here are a few ways to keep your practice running efficiently and profitably with minimal staff.


Taking an innovative look at the work of nurses led one hospital system to implement command centers, allowing fewer nurses to monitor more patients via video rather than in person. Think creatively about your treatment workflows and where team members are most impactful in terms of patient care and practice profitability.

Uncovering the need for treatment is one critical responsibility of your team. Consider maximizing your team’s time by letting them focus on presenting the treatment need to the patient, and then letting a treatment expert close the case for you.

Aligner therapy and sleep medicine are two workflows with longer learning curves that might not be practical to manage completely in-house when you’re short-staffed. However, that doesn’t mean you have to put these treatments on hold. Certain services will virtually assist with qualification, testing, and diagnosing, all the way through to closing the case, before sending the patient back to you for treatment and follow up care.

In the case of sleep medicine, a third-party service can achieve up to 70% treatment acceptance1 without any time required by the staff or dentist. Optimize your workflows to ensure maximum case acceptance, without sacrificing revenue.

Outsourcing entire services can also free up team time—if you’re outsourcing the right services. For example, outsourcing insurance billing to an expert will not only relieve this significant burden but will also ensure that you get paid faster and for 100% of treatment you provide. You can expect to see collections go up by 3-4% while your team saves 40 hours every week.2

Another option for outsourcing is management of fee-for-service patients. Patients paying your full fees out of pocket are at high risk of attrition, but managing your own in-house discount plan to retain these patients can be complex depending on state regulations.

As an alternative, consider an outsourced membership plan that offers turnkey administration. There are semi-custom plans available that include marketing materials, value-add services, and payment processing, freeing up a considerable amount of time for your team.

Related reading:

For a productive, fulfilled staff, treat employees like customers

The staffing shortage and dentistry's recovery: What's next?


Restaurant operators have turned to automation to keep their workers focused on the business of making and delivering food. If you’ve made a restaurant reservation or ordered takeout recently, chances are you used software that didn’t require human interaction. Evaluate where your team spends time on routine tasks that could be managed by automated solutions. The two top areas for this are often supply purchasing and patient communication.

A procurement software can easily cut the time you spend on ordering in half. With only a brief set-up time to upload your purchase history and set purchasing parameters, not only will your team have more time for patients – your practice will also save money. The procurement software will instantly find the best price on every composite, cotton roll, and curing light, and you will still qualify for any discounted pricing you’ve already negotiated.

When it comes to patient communication, automated appointment reminders have become the standard over the last few years. Your patients can confirm their appointments with no work from your team needed, as long as you note each patient’s preferred communication method.

You can also use a system to monitor your recall schedule. When a patient is overdue for a visit, automatically send them an email or text message with a link to online scheduling. Since scheduling tools allow people to select a time that’s convenient for them, 64% of patients will book appointments online.3

Whether you’re focused on coping in the short term or adjusting your practice to attract and retain quality team members long term, there are Practice Solutions Organizations (PSO) that are here to help you during this time.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January 2022 print edition of Dental Economics.


  1. SleepArchitects SleepConnect. Accessed November 17, 2021. https://doctors.sleeparchitx.com/sleepconnect
  2. DentalClaimSupport.com. Accessed November 17, 2021. https://www.dentalclaimsupport.com/dental-billing
  3. Doctible. Accessed November 17, 2021. https://www.doctible.com/solutions/online-scheduling

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