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An out-of-the-box solution to dental staffing issues

Jan. 26, 2023
Dr. Joshua Austin chats with Dr. Ashish Patel, who shares how remote workers have become a great asset for him in getting through the dental staffing shortage.

Dr. Ashish Patel has a thriving practice in Nashville, Tennessee. After the earlier part of the pandemic, his practice struggled with team turnover and workforce issues. Like many of us, he just could not find the right administrative personnel to keep his practice running. Instead of continuing to struggle, he decided to think outside the box and outside the walls of his office. Remote workers have become a great asset for him! Here’s his story.

Joshua Austin: Dr. Patel, please talk a little bit about the staffing issues you have had in your practice over the past couple of years.

Ashish Patel: One of the biggest issues I had was finding front team members to join my existing team. I had a revolving door, it seemed. I would find somebody, but a family member had COVID, or they got COVID. There would be multiple weeks without help. Then they would come back and quit.

The talent pool was lackluster, and demands for compensation seemed not financially feasible for any office. It was even harder due to a shortage of individuals who wanted to work, and everyone attempting to be an Instagram influencer or TikTok star.

JA: I think a lot of us can identify with the first part of that. COVID has been so disruptive for so many of us. I don’t think I had anyone quit to be a TikToker, though. I guess that is a Nashville thing!

AP: We were fortunate that my office actually grew tremendously during COVID with new transplants to my community from Illinois, California, and New York. Insurance verification was taking too much time for my existing team. I truly hated them being on the phone for 90% of the time with insurance companies. A lot of the insurance companies got even worse at answering calls, giving incomplete breakdowns online, and just flat-out giving wrong information.

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JA: That part is so maddening. We work twice as hard to take less money in network!

AP: I wanted to free up time for my employees to actually communicate with the patients in the office, and I was reaching a breaking point. Luckily, I saw somebody post about remote employees in Zimbabwe. Initially I was hesitant, but I was born in Zambia myself, and [people from] both Zimbabwe and Zambia speak English—what did I have to lose? They wouldn’t be talking directly to patients but insurance representatives. I felt, let’s try this for a few months, and I have spent money on worse things. I’m truly glad I found this company, and the employees who work there have thrived remotely.

JA: How has this worked logistically in your office? What did you have to get them to make this work?

AP: It’s better than expected. The company provides them with a computer and a printer if needed. A VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone is a necessity for us because the front desk can call them via an extension directly for a quick response. Our calls are recorded through Mango, so it’s helpful to have the ability to listen back if something was relayed wrong or to double-check insurance info. Sometimes the office staff will Zoom or send info via email; the chat feature helps also.

I think the most important thing is having dental software that is secure and on the cloud. The company I utilize goes through HIPAA compliance, and security is essential to protect patient data. We use Apple watches in our office, and I’ll sometimes walkie-talkie our remote employee.

People in the actual office will communicate with patients directly, but the remote employee will relay if somebody is missing info or paperwork needs to be updated via phone call. The remote employee will send them an email and text.

JA: Have you found any disadvantages yet?

AP: The biggest disadvantage was not having an actual in-person training and having to do a Zoom training. Luckily, our remote worker is easy to communicate with and technologically savvy. Their initial insurance knowledge was very limited, but we gave them a book with basic information on dental insurance.

Another issue has been if people are added to schedule in the last hour. It is sometimes hard to relay that message, so the remote worker has to double-check that to ensure verification is done.

JA: If a reader wanted to add a remote employee to their team, where should they start?

AP: They should look at dental outsourcing companies such as ZimWorX or Medusind. Better yet, ask in some dental Facebook groups. That is how I found the company I work with.