Many people believe that working at the front desk of a dental office is a good way to get their foot in the door of the industry. The position teaches valuable skills that dental pros can use in many aspects of their careers. Dental hygienists who have worked at the front desk agree they would not otherwise have gotten hands-on training in insurance, verifying patient eligibility, and answering patient questions.
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The importance of soft skills for dental hygienists
Some of the most valuable things I learned while working at the front desk were the soft skills needed to be a great hygienist. Studies show that 46% of medical professionals fresh out of school lack the soft skills needed to succeed in the health-care profession.
Working with patients at the front desk can provide the experience necessary to succeed, including working the phones. Time on the phone can make you much more comfortable interacting with patients, and patient interaction is an integral part of any medical position. You could pick up these skills by helping at the front desk between patients if you have the time.
While many people experience anxiety when they visit the dentist's office—with approximately 36% of individuals suffering from anxiety and 12% having "extreme fear" of dental treatment,2—being able to easily interact with them and answer their questions can make them more comfortable.
Working at the front desk requires knowledge of insurance. Most patients aren't familiar with the structure of a dentist's office, so they may not realize that the dentist or hygienist aren't trained in billing. However, they interact with you and the dentist more than the front desk, so they may ask questions about front-of-house issues. Understanding the basic concepts of insurance, billing, and scheduling will allow you to answer these questions.
Navigating insurance can be one of the most challenging parts of the medical profession. Dental procedures that are not covered by insurance can be costly for patients, so it’s crucial that we understand how to help maximize patient coverage.
Patients with different insurance plans will be entitled to different levels and frequencies of treatment. Hygienists should be able to effectively communicate what the patient needs and what their insurance allows. We want to ensure our patients have good oral health without them spending money on more than they need.
You must understand coding to ensure that the treatment will be accepted by insurance. For example, insurance will not pay if D4355 is billed the same day as a comprehensive exam,3 and D4346 is not always covered and will likely trigger a deductible.4 You must inform the patient of this before treatment begins.
Another common reason for insurance denial is a lack of diagnostics or documentation. Keep good clinical notes, especially for cases of insurance denial. Detailed and accurate notes will allow the front desk to do their job and serve patients, whether it’s to establish a payment plan, work with insurance to have the claim reprocessed, or defend against accusations of malpractice if the patient argues they were not informed about their treatment.
A successful office is a collaboration between the people at the front of the house and the medical professionals in the back. Working at the front desk gave me great appreciation for what the front office staff does for those of us in the back. The more knowledgeable we can be about what they do, the easier it is for us to show grace and patience when we need answers.
- Dolecheck J, Griswold P. Realize the value of soft skills in healthcare. AAPC Knowledge Center. August 30, 2019. https://www.aapc.com/blog/48405-realize-the-value-of-soft-skills-in-healthcare/
- Beaton L, Freeman R, Humphris G. Why are people afraid of the dentist? Observations and explanations. Med Princ Prac. 2014;23(4):295-301. doi:10.1159/000357223
- Gloege D. What is CDT code D4355? Dental ClaimSupport. Accessed January 20, 2023. https://www.dentalclaimsupport.com/blog/d4355
4. Raymond-Allbritten J. D4346: Dental procedure codes: Colgate Professional. July 23, 2017. Accessed January 20, 2023. https://www.colgateprofessional.com/hygienist- resources/tools-resources/d4346-dental-procedure-code#