Visualize a day at your dental practice where you finish on schedule with a sense of achievement, the knowledge that you’ve positively impacted the practice’s financial health, and the fulfillment of completing every task on your checklist. This can all be a reality when you optimize your systems and software.
I remember walking into a dental practice in Alaska and one of the first things I saw was color-coded Post-it Notes completely covering a cabinet door. When I asked what all those Post-it Notes were for, the lady at the front desk said, “Oh, those are all the patients who want to come in sooner. The blue ones are for the doctor and the pink ones are for the dental hygienist.” When I told her by the end of the day all those Post-it Notes would be gone, she looked at me like I had three heads.
Cost of Inefficiency
Your entire day revolves around the practice management
software (PMS), but you’re not using it! You have color-coded Post-it Notes all over your desk to remind you of patients to call, Excel spreadsheets to track your lab cases, and three-ring binders tracking your unscheduled patients. These inefficiencies are costing you time and money.
When we look at inefficiencies happening at your practice, three come to mind: redundancy, automation, and defining roles.
When you make notes in multiple places in your software, not only is it hard to find anything, it is also difficult to know which note is the most current. For example, whenever an office hires me to work with dental team members on optimizing their software and systems, I perform an online assessment so I can examine their data. I will see the health history documented in the daily clinical notes, then on a scanned paper form, and in a pop-up box just in case. The question is, “If the patient has a medical emergency, which place is accurate and up to date?”
Consistent documentation process. You will create more time in your day and reduce your stress levels if the team can agree on a consistent documentation process for clinical and nonclinical patient notes. My goal for dental practices is to get them off the back country roads and onto the expressway as quickly as possible.
Document nonclinical patient correspondence. Find a place in your PMS where your business team documents phone calls, text messages, and other correspondence regarding nonclinical topics. This way, you will see everyone’s notes.
One place for health histories. Decide as a clinical team where you are going to document the health history at each visit. This is different from the form patients might fill out. You should have an easily accessible area in your PMS for reviewing medical conditions, medications, and allergies.
Out-of-pocket expenses. Create one place where everyone on the team can see the patient’s out-of-pocket cost so any team member can collect money.
Make personal notes. Find a place (not in the clinical documentation) to write down personal things about the patient to use in relationship building and as conversation starters.
Automation Is Key
The lack of automation contributes to inefficiency. A study by the Lobbie Institute showed that 76% of patients surveyed would choose a practice with online forms over one that does not.1 Another survey found that more than 60% of patient appointments are made after business hours.2
If you want to create a more streamlined workflow for your team and better patient experience, you need to embrace automation and online tools. Paying attention to how these online tools integrate into your PMS is the important efficiency piece. You also need to ensure that your patient’s information from the online tool will sync into the patient data inside of your PMS.
When patients can effortlessly schedule appointments from the comfort of their own home and the appointments seamlessly integrate into your schedule, it’s a game-changer. When your patients are prompted to complete new patient forms or update their health history through a simple text message, it’s a time-saving advantage.
Define Your Role
The most important inefficiency that should be addressed is defining team member roles. If I ask you to define your primary role in the practice, you might answer “Well, I just do everything.” If you do “everything,” you really do nothing. You get to the end of the day feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything. I know, I have been there. The day gets away from you as you answer phone calls, check patients in and out, follow up on emails, and conquer other tasks.
As a business team member, a few core systems need to be worked on a daily and weekly basis. Depending on your primary role in the practice, you will have operational reports to help you keep the schedule full and collect money. These are the two most important systems in a dental practice.
Daily process. Recently, while I was sitting at the front desk with the treatment coordinator, a patient walked in with an explanation of benefits from his insurance company. He was questioning a root canal on tooth #31, which had never been done at this office but had been paid by his insurance company. We soon discovered that the dental hygienist had incorrectly posted the root canal to the patient chart and it was billed out to the insurance company and paid. This costly mistake could have been avoided if someone in the office was reviewing the accounting report every day.
Three components of your daily routine will be game-changers to your accounting and accounts receivable systems.
You must have a system in place to make sure all transactions have been posted correctly and your payments balance. In your PMS, you should have a daily report for balancing your day.
After you balance your day, I want you to send out all your insurance claims. If I worked in your office, the insurance claims would go out within 24 hours of the date of service.
Now it’s time to send out billing statements. I want you to think about the billing statement as a courtesy to the patient and all patients should receive one every 30 days, regardless of the status of their insurance claims.
Weekly routine. This is where you get into the operational side of the practice and the systems for following up with unscheduled patients and managing accounts receivable. This automation is combined with working on your reports. The operational reports in your PMS need attention on a weekly basis and, depending on your primary role in the practice, you will decide what reports from which you actively make contacts.
If you are the financial coordinator or the office manager, you are primarily responsible for making sure the insurance companies and patients are paying their past due balance. I say “past due” because anything over 30 days is past due. You have already lost about 15% of the value of that money if the patient’s account balance goes over 30 days past due and the value of the balance after 90 days has lost about 35%.
Your PMS should have an electronic tracking system for insurance claims, so you know right away if the claim needs attention. If a claim is more than 30 days past due, then you might need to manually check on the status.
The patient accounts receivable needs your attention with phone calls, text messages, emails, or letters to collect the money as quickly as possible. If your primary role is making sure the schedule is full, then your weekly routine will consist of reaching out to patients who are overdue for recare or who did not schedule recommended treatment. Different reports may be used for finding these patients and you will want to carve out time during the week to make contact.
A practice’s automated system does send out text messages or emails to overdue recare patients. However, if they are still overdue, then they are ignoring the messages and you will need to reach out directly.
It might seem daunting to find time to work on these weekly systems when the phone is ringing off the hook or your inbox is flooded with emails. I get it! My recommendation is for your business team to have its own morning huddle after the full office morning huddle. Look at the schedule and see when each team member can have some time to reach out to patients. This might be 30 to 45 minutes where the team can cover the phones for you. I guarantee if you have some captive time to work your patient lists a couple of times a week, you will feel more accomplished.
The path to a more efficient dental practice lies in optimizing your systems and software. Addressing issues of redundancy, embracing automation, and clearly defining team member roles can transform your practice’s productivity and overall patient experience. By implementing these changes, you can not only avoid’inefficiencies but also enhance the profitability and success of your dental practice. Don’t let the daily challenges overwhelm you; instead, take control and pave the way for a more satisfying and accomplished workday.
- Kinsman W. A survey of patient preferences for digital versus paper intake forms. Available at: lobbie.com/a-survey-of-patient-preferences-for-digital-versus-paper-intake-forms. Accessed November 6, 2023.
- Healthleaders. Assessing Online Scheduling as an Emerging Trend in Scheduling Physician Appointments. Available at: healthleadersmedia.com. Accessed November 6, 2023.
From Front Office Magazine. November/December 2023; 1(2):6-8