Listening: A How-To Guide for Group Practice Administrators

Group dental practice coaching

Multiple Location Dental Group Practice Administrator Coaching

We’ve all heard it before, we are supposed to listen. We know we need to listen to our staff so we can understand their needs and concerns and then help solve the problems so we can accomplish our multiple-location dental group practice goals. But knowing and doing are very different. How do you really listen to your team?Listen

As a group practice administrator for 16 years, I had a lot of people I needed to manage, and therefore, listen to. My staff, the dentists, the specialists, their staff, the vendors and our patients. In an 18 operatory, multi-specialty dental group practice, this is a lot of listening! This is also a lot of action. Honestly, after a number of years, I learned just how much listening was necessary in each situation to understand the problem and then take action to solve it. Quickly.

Now that I am a consultant/trainer, I have had to again improve my listening skills. In the past, I had an organized dental staff training approach that worked like a charm and if a front desk team member struggled with a concept, I had exactly the training materials needed to help. As I work with staff in offices across the country, I realize that I can’t simply go ahead and set up how things will be handled because this office may be using an entirely different approach.

Listening to Dentrix Patient Status Questions

For example, one situation I run across often provides a great guide for how to listen. In Dentrix, you can set the status of a patient, choosing between patient, inactive and non-patient. Different practices have different approaches for when they use each status. Here are some examples:

  • When the new patient calls to schedule, do you set the status as patient? Or do you keep them at non-patient until they physically walk through the door?
  • When a patient moves away, do you set the status to inactive or non-patient? Who is responsible to make sure that gets changed?
  • What if your patient hasn’t come into your office in a couple years? Do you set their status to inactive or non-patient?


You may be wondering, who cares? Actually, these kind of decisions will completely affect the following:

  • How many new patients did you get last month?
  • How many active patients do you have in your practice?
  • How many patients left the practice last year?

As an administrator for my group, I knew exactly how each of these situations needed to be handled and I trained my team accordingly. However, for a team that doesn’t understand the ramifications of these settings, this discussion can seem obtuse and useless. It can feel like a dental consultant just coming in the door to tell them what to do without any real explanation.

For one group I worked with, I could tell by the tone of the front desk team conversation that they were completely annoyed at the discussion on patient status. And, because I had run a couple reports trying to identify their new patients, I knew they didn’t have a solid protocol in place. The challenge for me was to listen well enough to this team so I could understand their questions and then I could explain how these settings affected their new patient numbers.

As we talked through the options for when to set each patient status, I was able to explain how each of their options would impact their software. And in the end, I found myself simply educating them on each option so they could choose the way they felt would work best in their office. When I assumed the role of listening and explaining instead of telling, the demeanor in the room changed almost immediately. No longer defensive, the team was now asking thoughtful questions and finally made some decisions that met their needs. And, although their choices were different from what I would have originally recommended, they made sense to me and I felt they would work just fine.

How To Listen

So, how can you listen to your team? The first step is to realize that you cannot do their job. As the administrator for a large group or multi-location dental practice, you have your own work to take care of. You cannot step in and work at the front desk instead of one of your team members. When you realize that you cannot do their job, you also realize that you need them to both do the work and understand why it needs to be done. Taking this perspective that you are truly at arm’s length can help you to stop thinking about how you can explain the answer (again!) and actually listen to their questions or concerns.

The next step to listening is to consider why you want something done in a certain way. If you have managed your group as long as I did, you may have been doing something so long that you know you originally analyzed the options and made a good decision, but frankly, you’d have to think long and hard about why you’re doing it that way now. When you have to think afresh about why you’re handling this situation in this way, and you stop to consider the impact, you may realize that you are actually more flexible than you originally thought.

Listening to Patient Follow Up Concerns

Another example of how listening matters is when a team considers follow up systems for treatment. Once you learn your Dentrix dental software, you realize there is usually one best report to run in order to identify treatment that was diagnosed but not scheduled. If you want to make sure that no patients fall through the cracks, then you have to set up a system in your office for who will run this report, who will call these patients to try to schedule them and who will track the success of this effort.

Many front desk teams feel they are working just fine without this report and struggle to work this new task into their busy schedule. An administrator that tries to just “ram it down their throat” will find that this report just never reaches the top of the priority list and no matter what, the team never gets it done. This can be tough to take since you understand that filling the dentist schedule is the highest priority and this report is the best option to get that done. So, what can you do? Listen. Find a couple top level team members and just ask questions. What do you think the value of this report is? Why do you think the team can’t seem to get this done? Be ready to explain why this report matters and then be quiet while they work through their thoughts on adding this new task into their busy schedule.

Be ready to repeat this discussion as many times as necessary until your team successfully works this report every month. As I am working with different offices, each one will come to their own decision in their own time.  I see my job as not giving up on letting these offices know what methods are most successful, and following up regularly in different ways, maybe even with different team members to keep the discussion moving forward.

If you like these ideas & would like to set up a system for increasing case acceptance in your office:

System for Case Acceptance

Learning to listen is just one way to run a successful dental practice. If you’re interested in new ideas on running a dental practice, please subscribe to my weekly blog. One of the biggest challenges to managing a dental practice is managing dental insurance. With dental insurance handled, then dental marketing for new patients becomes a primary focus. In today’s day of online reviews, handling patient complaints well is essential. As your practice grows, hiring dental staff becomes more important. With 17+ years of dental practice management experience, I’m open to your questions to help you run a successful dental office.

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
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