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How to operate short-staffed without sacrificing patient experience or team morale

April 13, 2023
It feels like every practice is understaffed these days. This practice administrator has some helpful tips for holding things together during trying times.

Today, many dentists are experiencing team turnover and are actively seeking hygienists, assistants, and administrative professionals to fill permanent positions. An open seat in the office can mean your current team is operating in overdrive. The same can happen when a team member is out of the office due to illness, a family issue, or even a well-deserved vacation. Any of these situations can result in increased stress for the team. As a leader, you want to minimize stress. Here are a few ways to save time and ensure patient experience isn’t affected.

Focus energy on patient-facing tasks

Any task or activity that helps patients get the dental care they need and want and elevates patient experience should be the priority. Having great financial conversations, strong patient relationships, and delivering quality dentistry are the reasons our patients refer their friends and family. Conversely, many of the things that take the team’s time away from patients can be outsourced. For example, you could consider outsourcing insurance verification to a company who can look up your verifications and post insurance payments for treatment. Practice marketing and social media can also be outsourced.

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Then there’s technology. There are so many different technologies that can save your team—and patients—time. There are software programs like RevenueWell and SolutionReach that can do appointment confirmations, recall, and ongoing patient communications. You can have patients scan CareCredit’s custom link QR code with their smartphones to learn about financing options. They can also see if they prequalify for the CareCredit credit card with no impact to their credit score. This can help make treatment recommendations and financial conversation more efficient and effective. There’s also the option of integrating CareCredit into existing practice software. For example, when I use Eaglesoft, all I do is press the little CareCredit button. There’s nothing for the team to fill out; literally four or five clicks of a mouse, and the patient’s payment is processed.

Recognize and reward a job well done

One thing you should consider fitting into your busy schedule is appreciating and recognizing team members who are working hard for your patients and practice. A quick acknowledgement of a job well done privately or, better yet, in front of the team goes a long way toward boosting morale when the stress level is elevated.

What I like to do is play favorites. I have a list of a few of their favorite things I’ve noticed or heard them talking about – their favorite color, flower, animal, food, snack, music, or activity. Then I keep my eyes open and pick up these favorite things to use when I want to show appreciation for someone on the team. For example, if someone loves bunnies (and who doesn’t?), if I see a card with a bunny on the front, I grab it. Then, I’m ready to write a personal thank you that is thoughtful and appreciated. If someone on the team loves peanut butter cups (and again, who doesn’t??), I get them, store them, then use them as a small gesture of appreciation.

Finally, when the team is short-staffed, the leaders can powerfully impact team morale when they genuinely ask, “What can I do to support you today?” Then roll up their sleeves and jump in with the rest of the team to do what’s necessary to ensure patients are the priority.

Editor's note: CareCredit is a recent financial supporter of DentistryIQ.

This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit (collectively, "Synchrony"), makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accepts no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in the article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

About the Author

Jennifer Steadman, BSDH, RDH, MAADOM

Jennifer Steadman, BSDH, RDH, MAADOM, is the director of operations at New England Dental Partners. She specializes in business operations, team development, and communication. Her career has evolved from dental assisting to hygiene, practice manager, and now to her current role. In 2020 she was named AADOM’s Practice Administrator of the Year! Her goal is to empower dental professionals to home in on their strengths and become a positive light in the dental community. 

Updated July 16, 2021