The Internets Impact on Dentistry

The biggest problems a dentist will encounter will involve team members, and the solutions will always involve better communication. This month, we`ll explore how the Internet can be used to improve communication and build a better practice by keeping top-notch employees. I will also outline solutions to protect your practice from legal problems concerning personnel.

Part XII:

Online dental personnel management

Bill Kimball, DDS

The biggest problems a dentist will encounter will involve team members, and the solutions will always involve better communication. This month, we`ll explore how the Internet can be used to improve communication and build a better practice by keeping top-notch employees. I will also outline solutions to protect your practice from legal problems concerning personnel.

The Internet allows us to communicate in ways we could not even imagine 10 years ago. I recently equipped my cell phone with Web browsing access for a whopping six bucks a month, and I`ve been able to receive e-mails to my pager for years. The value of the Internet continues to grow at breakneck speeds. Ford Motor Company recently announced that all vehicles produced after 2004 will have built-in Internet access. Don`t worry - the technology will be hands-free.

Imagine the following scenario: You`re driving to your office in the morning, wondering if Barbara is going to be late for the morning meeting ... again. You might be wondering - as you drive - what remedy your employee manual recommends. Imagine asking your car to look up the section in your office manual about your state`s regulations. Imagine your car`s Internet speaking to you as you drive and reciting the information you requested. Such a scenario may seem far-fetched now, but Web access to your cell phone seemed far-fetched just a few years ago.

You might have to wait until 2004 to talk to your car, but today it is possible to store your employee manual online and keep up-to-date with all of the important regulatory changes. If you`re not sure what I mean about regulatory changes, let me refresh your memory:

- Do your employees keep daily written records of hours worked, such as time cards or electronic records?

- Do you know the types of information (documents) that legally must be included in each employee`s personnel file(s)?

- Do you know the process to follow to avoid costly legal problems when an employee (or former employee, or his or her attorney) asks to review a personnel file?

- Do you know why an "at will" employment policy will keep you out of court?

- Do you know the rules for paying staff when they attend seminars, travel to workshops, or meetings?

- Do you know the precautions to take during the hiring process to prevent possible charges of discrimination from applicants you did not hire?

- Can you be sued for "negligent hiring" if you did not check references before hiring a new staff member?

- Can you face legal problems if you refuse to say anything, negative or positive, about a staff member who has performed poorly?

- Do you know how you can give or receive truthful information about a job applicant without fear of legal ramifications?

- Do you know the specific rules that apply to the various types of leaves of absence, such as a Pregnancy Leave of Absence?

- Do you know why properly written job descriptions help keep you out of court?

- Do your written job descriptions comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations?

- Do you have a labor attorney or employment specialist review all terminations before they become final?

These questions are a sampling of the online Employment/Labor Law Compliance Questionnaire at www.echeck-up.com. Take the free test and receive instant feedback, including a corrected test. This Web site is a business and human resources site designed for the dental profession, and includes a complete personnel manual, forms, and articles on current employment issues.

I recently interviewed Bent Ericksen, a national authority on healthcare personnel management since 1979, about his impressive new Internet Personnel Manager System. I`ve known Bent for years (we both belong to the Academy of Dental Management Consultants) and rely on his wise counsel for tricky employee issues and clarification of state legal regulations. His Personnel Manager System is now part of echeck-up.com.

The staff policy manual is an important part of your written systems. I`m a big believer in written systems for any successful dental practice. When policies are defined in writing, they are much easier to understand. We no longer have to make a decision on the spur of the moment, or try to remember what decision was made the last time regarding the same issue. When team members have a question, they can look up the answer in the manual. Everyone gets the same answer, which assures fair and consistent decisions on the same subject. According to Bent, a good policy manual must be comprehensive, andshould address most personnel situations that could arise over time. Policies within a good personnel manual must comply with current employment law.

When was the last time you updated your employee manual? A personnel manual is only good if it`s current. State and federal employment laws and regulations are ever-changing. Policies must be kept up-to-date. A customized employee manual can cost up to $3,000. Bent offers a CD-ROM that includes an employee manual and an incredible amount of useful management and legal information, for about half as much.

The real value, however, comes by using the Internet - the same package is only $379 plus $20 per month for all the updates, articles, and customized advice. (Call Bent at (916) 933-5117 for more information about his "Human Resources Internet Program.")

Once again, the Web offers us a number of superior products and current information for significantly less money. The Internet makes dynamic information available to dentists in a cost effective way. Bent started this manual 18 years ago and adds to it monthly. Bent and June Ericksen have listened to hundreds of staff members through the years; their input has helped ensure that these policies are relevant and workable. Many staff members have told Bent that having written policies is the best thing that ever happened to their office.

With the advances in Internet technology, having an up-to-date, complete personnel program just became as simple as checking your favorite stocks online. This will improve communication in the office, which in turn can improve your golf game by helping you sleep better at night.

Isn`t life grand! As Zig Ziggler so aptly stated, "If you do the things you ought to do, when you ought to do them, you`ll get to the point where you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them."

It`s been a pleasure writing the smileworks.com column this year. The Internet is a fascinating, ever-changing place! Thank you for all the positive e-mails and calls. God bless your holidays and have a prosperous New Year! I look forward to hearing from you in 2001! Call or e-mail me anytime!

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

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