By Michelle Kratt
A dental practice should have two main policies: one for employees and one for patients. Many offices do not have a written Employee Manual, never mind written policies for items that may occur on a regular or not-so-regular basis within the practice. So where do you start? I am not an expert on writing employee manuals, although I will recommend that when you write up an employee manual (and you should have one!) that an attorney review it prior to implementation within the office.
As far as polices for patients, don’t you wish you could have your patients sign a “Patient Handbook” and agree to follow your rules? Our lives would be so much easier.
Does this sound familiar? “I didn’t know I was supposed to pay today!” or “My previous dentist never cared if I was late for my appointment!” I am sure we all have heard these statements from patients hundreds of times. So how do you train your patients to follow the rules of the practice?
Patients are not mind-readers, so we need to educate them on what is expected of them. It should start in the Welcome Letter or Welcome Brochure, but don’t stop there. It helps to have signs posted on the wall near reception and checkout areas, but it has to go further than that. The training happens through the patient’s entire experience with you — including their visit to your Web site. Your main message to your patient should be that you are a participant, not just a provider of health.
It is imperative to obtain your patient’s signature on as many forms as you can. Consider that we live in a litigious society, so if you don’t have a patient’s signature on a consent form for extractions you may have a tough time in court. If you charge a patient for a broken appointment and your office policy does not cover this incident, you probably won’t be very successful if you send the patient to collections or small claims court. Now, signed forms don’t always save you from a trial, but it eliminates the “he said, she said” ... or “you didn’t say” element. Any documentation is better than no documentation.
You don’t need dozens of forms for patients to sign, but if you have a financial agreement form, you can usually add your broken-appointment policy. By letting the patient know up front that a deposit is required for all appointments longer than two hours or that the fees quoted are good for only 90 days, you can avoid confusion in this area. Remember, the most important element of a form is making sure that you have signatures: yours and the patient’s.
This does not just apply to the business team within your practice; hygienists and assistants should also help to make sure that patients are aware of the office policies. Education of the entire team and your patients will help your practice run much smoother. Fewer complications means more time to be productive and celebrate your success.
If you would like to see some sample policies, please e-mail [email protected].
With almost 20 years of dental experience, Michelle Kratt is currently working on dual fellowships with the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries and the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). She is also the president of NEDAT Study Club, a study club for dental administrative team members, and was recently recognized by AADOM for her efforts. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].
By Michelle Kratt