Empowering your staff

May 1, 2001
Dental practices can be difficult to manage. Dentists are extremely busy, concentrating primarily on patient care. Most try to spend their day treating patients and developing relationships.

By Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

Dental practices can be difficult to manage. Dentists are extremely busy, concentrating primarily on patient care. Most try to spend their day treating patients and developing relationships. These two factors alone determine practice production and the number of referrals.

Based on this premise, what should the internal management structure and daily operations of a practice look like? How should they be established? What protocols and policies should be followed?

Good practice management utilizes the abilities of the dental team. Dentists make countless administrative decisions in addition to performing high-level procedures; the resulting fatigue can at times negatively affect production. Dentists want to have control over what happens in the practice; however, control can be established without their involvement during most of the day.

Our approach is to have the dental staff manage almost all of the day-to-day operations. If a practice has established documented business systems - as recommended earlier in this series - then this protocol already is firmly in place. Once the systems are established, the dentist can empower the team to handle most of the day-to-day operations. The doctor can then focus fully on dentistry, which should result in an almost immediate increase in production - and satisfaction.

The dental assistant is the key to directing the dentist on which patients should be seen and what procedures should be performed. The dentist should not have to think about whether or not he or she is behind, what room the next patient is in, whether the tray set-up is correct, or whether any emergencies have been put into the schedule.

A Levin Group consultant recently visited an office and found that every time a schedule change occurred, the front-desk coordinator raced back to tell the doctor. She would literally stick her head in the door of the treatment room and blurt out the change. She would then walk around the office for another two to three minutes, changing all of the day sheets hanging throughout the office, including the staff room and the doctor's private office. At the same time, patients were waiting to be checked in and checked out. Phones were ringing. This scenario is hardly uncommon.

Use the following examples to develop some protocols for your own practice:

  • Front-desk coordinators should make all scheduling decisions.
  • Schedule changes can be communicated to dental assistants electronically or at periodic intervals in an organized manner.
  • Once dental assistants are aware of scheduling changes, they can automatically handle the preparations.
  • Assistants should keep the dentists on schedule. Prompting the doctor about a "crown preparation in room three in 10 minutes" does not have to compromise the care of the current patient. There are many ways assistants can communicate with doctors, yet still provide outstanding customer service. This communication should also include break times, coffee times, etc.
  • Dentists should spend 98 percent of their time with patients and run on schedule. Rather than worrying about other aspects of management, dentists should focus fully on patient care.

Your staff should be trained, educated, and empowered to run the practice. This will help increase production, often by 15 to 25 percent. Establish clear policies for areas such as cancellations, no-shows, collections, and insurance.

Once the administrative and clinical staff learn to work together to keep the doctor as productive as possible, the practice will reach new heights. The doctor is the ultimate producer, but it is the team that must provide maximum support to achieve maximum production.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management for general dentists and specialists. Contact The Levin Group at (410) 654-1234.

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