Theres a chill in the air

April 1, 1999
Case Profile: There`s a chill in the air at this father/son general practice in New Hampshire, and it isn`t coming from the nearby Polar Caves! The cold front`s being caused by a revolving door.

Sally McKenzie, CMC

Case Profile: There`s a chill in the air at this father/son general practice in New Hampshire, and it isn`t coming from the nearby Polar Caves! The cold front`s being caused by a revolving door.

Symptoms: Three receptionists in 10 months ... all sent packing. Practice systems, from scheduling to collections, are showing signs of harsh decay. Treatment-plan tracking is a lost cause, altogether. This downward spiral means that annual revenues of $750,000 are in serious jeopardy. Dr. Senior, practicing for 35 years, is nearing retirement, but is being thwarted by the money crunch. Dr. Junior, practicing for 10 years, is taking home less every month. The hygienist and two dental assistants see what`s going on and fear for the long-term viability of the practice.

Observations: Despite the fact that the doctors are rugged, L.L. Bean look-alikes, they wimp out when it comes to hiring ... choosing carelessly time after time, and hoping for different results. Poor recruitment and interviewing skills are at fault, combined with no protocol for training, and topped off by a scant supply of established job expectations.

Discussion: Recruiting practices are a dead-giveaway that help is needed here sorely. Newspaper ads state, "Experienced dental personnel only." So far, so good! But when an applicant calls, she`s given an appointment for an interview and asked to bring her resume along. Putting the cart before the horse is no way to recruit, and an interview is no time to review a resume. Case in point: The last receptionist`s resume stated that she had worked for Dr. John Smith from 1997 to 1998. When questioned about this after being hired, she admitted to having only worked there from November 1997 to January 1998 ... a grand total of two months` dental experience! Even worse, she and other candidates were never tested for math, spelling, or English skills. References? Never checked!

If adequate training had been provided, any of them might have had a fighting chance. But training is a sore subject here, for a couple of reasons. The office-computer system is anything but user-friendly, and the only one who knows the first thing about it is the hygienist. Because the Illinois-based computer company has no trainers in New Hampshire, trainers would have to be flown in at the doctors` expense ... which the doctors never chose to do. When the hygienist had time between patients, she`d show the receptionist what to do. Too little, too late!

Sadly, these receptionists have been set up for failure by doctors who don`t know, themselves, what they expect from their office systems.

Treatment Plan: Before doing anything else, the doctors should take stock and determine their expectations with regard to everything from collections to scheduling. Next, applicants are to fax resumes to the practice, before any interviews are arranged. To make life easier, (and I`m not trying to sell anything here), I recommended that the doctors purchase my book, "How to Hire the Best Dental Employee." This book contains tests, as well as questions to ask for each specific job description. It illustrates how to review resumes effectively, including red flags to look for. Finally, a specific who-what-when-where-how plan must be established for training the new employee. Following training, employee competence must be tested with respect to satisfying job requirements.

Sally Says: As New Hampshire prides itself on picking winners at the starting gate of the primaries, you, too, can pick a winner by taking a really good look at the candidates before the vote.

Sally McKenzie is president of Dental Partners/McKenzie Management, a full-service, in-office, dental-management company. She can be reached at (800) 288-1877; e-mail [email protected]; or visit Sally`s Web site at