Office Manager Guide

A Dental Office Manager’s Guide for Supporting your Dentist through Tough Financial Times

By Jill Nesbitt

Are you concerned about your practice’s financial picture? Are you seeing the insurance H23 BB00934850 * $100 'star note'adjustments and the open time in the schedule and you know the signs are not good? Perhaps you have a nice, strong relationship with your dentist and he or she is sharing financial concerns with you as well?

If you see the stress your dentist is under from the business side of the practice then you may be looking for ideas to help. This report will help guide you through some specific steps you can take that will make a difference in your practice and give you ideas on how you can support your dentist. Have you heard the phrase: “What you get out of something is directly related to what you put into it.” This is true for many things, but especially true for dental practice management. This is a subject that you can grow deeper and deeper in your understanding depending upon how much time and interest you have. So, beyond helping your dentist, you can use your dental practice management skills to make a real change in how your practice finances turn out.

You may start down this path based on your desire to help your dentist and choose to continue learning about dental practice management because you see the financial impact you can have in the business of dentistry. Some dental office managers find that they enjoy organizing the tasks of the front desk and they have a real talent for management. There are many career development opportunities for dental office managers who develop their skills and achieve real results! Thanks to your efforts in learning about dental practice management, you may very well improve it’s financial strength, and then perhaps the dentist can afford to give raises, bonuses or even add additional benefits such as 401k or more paid time off. Your effort to learn dental practice management can really pay off!

So let’s get started. What can you do when you know the office has financial concerns but you’re not exactly sure how to solve them?  There are three steps to follow:

Start looking for specific problems inside your dental office

You may have heard the expression that it is important “To work on and not just in, your practice.” This means that your first step is to pick your head up from working on the day to day tasks and identify the problems you see. Use a blank notebook page and write down your observations. As you go through your day, notice each task that you’re handling and document any problems you see. For example, when you come in first thing in the morning, you probably take a look at your schedule for the day. Is it full? If you start out your day with open time for the dentist and hygienists, this is a problem. Write it down.

Continue walking through your day making notes as you go. Look at each interaction you have with patients and staff that does not flow smoothly – these are problems that can be documented (and solved). For this step of documentation, you don’t have to be right, you just have to start writing down what you think might be problems. You don’t have to show this notebook to anyone and there are no right or wrong answers, you are just starting to think about how your practice is working from your perspective.  Another example of a problem could be that your dentist runs a huddle and you are to bring the day sheet from yesterday to share the production and collection. Did you hit your goals? Maybe you don’t even have any production or collection goals? That’s definitely a problem.

You may have heard people say that if you want to lose weight, you should write down every single thing you eat. Following this same logic, when you write down the problems you observe in your practice, you start to identify areas where you can make change. If you look at problems with a “glass half full” attitude, then what you are creating is a list of opportunities for improvement! You know that before you can fix any problem, you have to know that it exists. You are helping your dentist by creating a first draft of items that you can work on that could improve the financial performance of the practice.

Look for help outside the dental practice

Once you finish your notes, now read through the observations you documented and get a sense of the topics. Perhaps you identified issues with filling the schedule, handling collections, dealing with an upset patient or figuring the correct insurance estimate.  The more clearly you can see each issue as part of a regular task that is done routinely (maybe every day, maybe every month) you can start to determine the type of help you need.

The next step is to do some research to find resources outside your office that could help you. If you’re reading this, you may already be searching online for dental practice management or dental consulting but you can also search for specific tasks such as collections systems or how to handle dental insurance. Flip to a new page in your notebook and start writing down the different resources you find. At this stage, the more, the merrier.

Since selecting a resource to help your practice improve its financial situation is a major decision, you will want to organize your notes to help you present your ideas to your dentist. To organize the different resources you find, you may want to create a table.

Here’s an example:

Consultant #1 Report #1
What do they offer?
What is the price?
What will you receive?

Now, look at your notebook page of the problems / opportunities for improvement and compare it to the list of resources you found. What do you think looks like a good fit? What questions do you have? You could talk with your dental supply representative to find out what resources he/she could provide for dental practice management support. If you have the opportunity to attend your state dental meeting and walk through the booths, maybe you could find some resources there? The more resources you can find, the more options you have that could be helpful.

Support your dentist to find a solution

The last step as you are starting to get a handle on your practices financial concerns is to be a resource for your dentist. You may already hear from your dentist how stressful it is to be responsible for running the practice. You recognize that the dentist’s financial performance affects his or her ability to pay the staff, cover the expenses and have a life outside the office. But what can you do to help?

Talk with your dentist privately and share your general thoughts and concerns for her/him. You may say to your dentist, “I’d like to talk with you about some ideas I have for the practice when you have time that just you and I could talk. I want to run my ideas by you alone first to see what you think.”

Then, when you meet together, you can start with something along the lines of “I can see the stress you are under and it seems to be due to the business side of the practice. I’d like to help you to improve the financial performance but I’m not exactly sure what to do. Would you like my help in getting some ideas together that might be useful?”

Now, if your dentist says, “No! I’m fine and I’ll take care of everything myself!” Then you have offered and given your dentist the opportunity for you to help.

On the other hand, she or he may appreciate your concern and be open to your help and share some of her or his own thoughts about the business side of the practice that the two of you could tackle together.

To wrap up this first meeting with your dentist, you may want to say, “Thanks for taking the time to talk about the business side of the practice. I’m going to start making some notes and gathering some ideas and maybe we can meet again next week to talk about what I come up with. How does that sound to you?” I don’t recommend trotting out your notes at this first meeting because you want to hear what your dentist is thinking first. You want to hear the direction and specific comments shared by your dentist and then you can take that into consideration as you look at your notes again.

It’s up to you

You can decide to seriously focus on developing your dental practice management skills. If you want to make a difference in your practice, you have the ability to learn what it takes to improve your practice finances. It will take time and it will take some investment. With good communication, perhaps your dentist will pay for you to learn the skills that will improve the results in your dental office. You can put together a plan for how you are going to learn what is necessary – and if your dentist will invest in your education, then you will provide the results.

Once you have made this decision, then it’s time to get to work! Follow the steps above to document the problems you see in the practice, look for resources that can help and then begin to meet with your dentist to open up this conversation. Once your dentist agrees to invest in a resource for you and the practice to improve, then you are on your way towards solving the challenge of improving your practice’s financial position!

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