What the heck is a virtual dental assistant, and does your office need one?

Having a virtual assistant may be the answer to saving time and expenses in your dental practice. Virtual assistants can perform many of the tasks that may be keeping the in-office staff from the best patient care possible.

Apr 20th, 2015
Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 04 Virtual Assistant 1

The dental industry is changing. Consolidations and acquisitions are leading to more group practices, corporate dentistry is on the rise, and PPOsare estimated to be 70% to 80% of all insurance plans. In addition, patients are now relying on their dental practice to understand their individual insurance plan and patient portion amounts. This leads to pressure on the dental practice to contact a patient’s insurance company before the patient even steps a foot through the door. These changes in the insurance landscape are creating more administrative paperwork with less reimbursement. This can take a toll on small dental practices.

Fortunately, technology is also changing. The Internet and cloud-based tools provide new solutions to make it easier for small dental practices to use outsourcing to run more efficiently and reduce the time consuming paperwork and phone time that insurance creates. Small dental practices, and small business owners across all industries, are learning how outsourcing can make a huge impact on their growth, productivity, and bottom line.

There are many advantages for dental practices to outsource different aspects of their business and administrative work, such as insurance management, marketing, and payroll. But there are still a lot of questions about hiring virtual team members. Here are the answers to some common questions.

What is a virtual assistant (VA)?
It is a virtual team member who completes tasks assigned by your in-office team. Virtual assistants work from home, use their own computer, and login to the dental office’s practice management software to complete projects.

What are the benefits of outsourcing to virtual assistant?
• You only pay for the hours needed
• There are no payroll taxes
• VAs receive no benefits, vacation, or holiday pay
• There is no need for additional computers and equipment
• No training is needed
• There are fewer staffing headaches
• VAs are not interrupted by patients or phone calls, which makes thema very efficient

How do I know if I need a virtual assistant?
If you have one or more of the following things occurring in your dental practice, it’s time to look at your staffing situation and evaluate the need for additional help, whether that’s hiring another team member or outsourcing to a virtual assistant.

• You have a growing list of insurance claims that are over 90-days-old
• You have a low treatment acceptance rate because patients don’t have the insurance benefit information to make an informed decision before they leave the practice
• You have unscheduled patients who are due for hygiene appointments and/or have outstanding treatment plans
• Your phone calls are not being answered in a timely manner
• You cannot afford to hire another part-time or full-time team member, yet tasks are not being completed on time

What types of services should be outsourced to a virtual assistant?
VAs are best suited for behind-the-scenes administrative work. Benefits and eligibility and following up on unpaid insurance claims are perfect examples of areas that can be seamlessly outsourced so that in-office team members can focus on assisting patients.

Most consultants will tell you that all patient contact should come from someone in the practice. These conversations are opportunities to strengthen the patient/practice relationship. While contacting patients may not be something that you want a VA to do, consider what other tasks can be delegated so that your team has the time to make important patient calls.

Is hiring a virtual assistant more cost effective than hiring another team member?
Outsourcing specific aspects of a business is usually more efficient than keeping it in-house, and it will save the business money. Practices often have more administrative tasks than their team can handle, but they do not have a consistent workload that will keep another team member busy each day. A VA can be much more cost efficient since the practice pays only for the hours needed with a virtual assistant.

In addition, virtual team members are more efficient due to being able to work without phone, patient, or other team member interruptions. When you outsource, you pay only for the actual time spent working, not down time, vacation, sick days, or holidays.

How am I charged for virtual assistant services?
Typically, you’re charged an hourly rate based on the number of hours purchased. A VA is considered an independent contractor, so there are no taxes to deal with, no vacation or sick pay, no training, and no personnel forms. VAs also use their own computer and phone so there is no additional equipment expense.

What is my commitment if I want to try using a virtual assistant?
All services work a little differently. Some require you to commit to a certain number of hours per week for a set period of time, while others allow you to purchase as many or as few hours as you need and you can use them at your convenience. Typically the more hours you purchase at a given time, the lower your hourly rate.

How much hands-on management does this require from me?
A big benefit of hiring a virtual assistant is that you hire a specialist with a specific area of expertise. This means there is very limited training and the VA can hit the ground running. When you outsource you significantly reduce the amount of time and stress you spend on human resource needs.

Using virtual assistants in dentistry allows the in-office team time to focus on patient care while other time consuming tasks are completed behind-the-scenes. Whether you want to delegate a majority of your front office administrative work, or just need to get caught up in an area, chances are you could increase practice profitability by outsourcing to a virtual assistant.

Jennifer Schultz, RDH, has spent over 20 years in dentistry working as a dental hygienist, software trainer, and consultant. Jennifer is the owner of Virtual Dental Office, which provides virtual assistance for insurance tasks so dental teams can focus on serving their patients. Follow her blog, or sign up to receive her blog via email at VirtualDentalOffice.net.

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