Hands In

4 guidelines for writing effective standard operating procedures

July 9, 2019
Creating and following standard operating procedures is not as difficult as some dental teams believe. In fact, the creation of SOPs can be incorporated into the daily workflow.

We recently held a team meeting in a client’s office. Part of the meeting was about creating consistent standards in the office. The topic moved toward OSHA standards and the appropriate methods for flipping a room. It turned into a full-blown demonstration of how to sterilize a room and how to set it up for different procedures.

The conversation was eye-opening as I heard, “Oh, that’s how you do that,” or “Why do you wipe down in that area?” with the answer of, “Because Dr. Molar often grabs something there.”

I walked away thinking that I couldn’t have set up a better agenda than what had just occurred. This office staff attends OSHA training every year and they all know the regulations that are required in their office. However, customizing all of those regulations for their office to create consistency was a step that, until now, they had missed. 

As the team reviewed their methods for completing each step, they discussed and decided which way they would all do something in the future. Sometimes, all eyes turned toward the doctor for guidance, and a new decision was made. Notes were furiously taken so that at the end, several clinical protocols were created, written, and available in the event there was a question later. 

At Global Team Solutions, we constantly preach about the need to have written protocols, processes, standard operating procedures (SOPs)—whatever you want to call them. These are the steps by which everyone in the office completes tasks. It’s very important to know that everyone is doing things not only the right way but also the same way. As this meeting proved, just telling someone to wipe down a room isn’t enough. You want to give specific instruction, such as, “You need to be sure to wipe in this area because the doctor often grabs the light there,” or “This is where she sometimes grabs the tray to move it closer.” These written SOPs will be a huge benefit for new employees to learn how the office prefers things to be completed. 

Whenever I talk about written protocols, I see eyes immediately rolling, (although some people are polite enough to do it internally so I can’t see them). They meet the thought of working for hours on endless process lists with glazed eyes and heavy sighs. I have received a thank you once or twice for “forcing” an office to undertake this task. The most heartfelt gratitude was from an office that had undergone an audit from Aetna, who asked to see the office’s protocol book. 

This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out project that takes the team away from productive scheduling, effective collection systems, or excellent patient care. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is the time to put a microscope on how things are completed, meaning it can be done while it’s being done. Think about the example from the meeting—as people worked, they took notes, and voilà, a written protocol was completed. 

Writing out the protocols, processes, or SOPs can be done by keeping in mind these four important guidelines: 

1. Walk through the process as though you were doing it. It’s better if you write it out as you do it. This will help you remember every single step rather than going from memory.

2. As you are writing out a step, include all of the pertinent information without including the confidential information:  To verify insurance for MetLife patient > go to Metdental.com > fill in the user name and password > select the box for eligibility > put in the patient’s subscriber ID (often the person’s SSN).

3. It is natural to think that all team members will be in their positions for life. However, life changes and so do team members. It is for this reason that you will want to refer to the position, not the person. A proper handoff – The clinical team member will escort the patient to the check-out desk . . .

4. It is important to be specific with explanations of how, what, where, and who without going overboard. Less is more. Find that fine line of being specific without being too wordy. 

Written protocols only have value if they are kept relevant and up to date. This means that every time a system changes, so must your SOP book. It’s not a hard thing to do. It merely takes a concerted effort. In our fast-paced world, we often make changes without alerting the entire team about the change. By keeping your book updated, you will keep your team updated.

My example of the team meeting is the perfect way to build your protocol book—walk through everything, such as treatment planning, sterilization, following up on insurance claims, simply any and everything that the office does on a daily basis. If you find you need help with this very important project, let me know. I’d love to get you started. 

Denise Ciardello is a speaker, published author, and cofounder of Global Team Solutions, a practice management-consulting firm that brings clinical and administrative teams together through customized practice development and coaching. She is the president of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants (ADMC) and a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA). She is an expert in efficient business systems and helping practices improve marketing results, professional image, and their bottom line. Contact her at [email protected].