This article originally appeared in Dental Office Manager Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental office manager here.
I recently received a call from a doctor who was in a panic. His office manager, who had been with him for 18 years, had put in her notice. She gave him two weeks, however, it was during the holidays and the office was to be closed for one of those two weeks. The office had eight employees—one doctor, two hygienists, two assistants, one sterile tech, one admin, and Betty, the office manager. Betty was everything to this office.
Our consulting team jumped into action to help this dental practice and we quickly found out just how much of everything Betty was to this office. When someone called about recall, Betty created the report. When someone had a treatment plan, it was written on the tray cover, brought to the front, and Betty entered it in the computer to present to the patient. She was the only one who knew how to put in a new patient, prepare anything insurance-related, and receive payments … so yes, Betty was everything to this office.
We learned that the office mentality was that Betty found it easier to do it herself than to train anyone else. She never took a vacation, even when the office was closed. The doctor proudly told me that Betty had not taken a sick day in 18 years. When we asked about written processes, the team agreed that there was no need to learn since Betty knew how to do everything.
This brings me to standard operating procedures (SOPs), protocols, processes—whatever you want to call this, it’s the way that you do business. We call it the GTS Playbook. This tells employees exactly how you expect things to be done, every single time. This may seem like a difficult thing to do, however, this is the best way to ensure consistency and accuracy. Most successful businesses have thorough written processes.
What all should be included in these protocols? Everything that is to be done every single time. Consistency is the name of the game. If it’s important, it needs to be included in the protocols.
A new patient protocol might answer the following questions
• When a new patient calls, how should the phone be answered?
• What questions should be asked and answered for clarification of the status of an appointment?
• How much time is scheduled, and with whom?
A treatment plan protocol might ask ...
• How is the treatment put into the computer, by whom, and when?
• Is treatment reviewed with patients by the doctor, the assistant, or the treatment coordinator?
• Is the treatment plan prioritized by visits, in order of importance, or in phases?
• Who discusses finances with patients?
It may seem daunting to cover every protocol thoroughly, so we recommend that you think of this as a project—something that will take a bit of time to complete yet will be so worth it.
Here are four things to remember as you start, or for some, revise your manual
1. Walk through the process as though you were teaching it to someone for the first time. Write down every step along the way. Once you have completed the process, review it step-by-step to see if it makes sense to you. Finally, give it to someone who does not do this task on a regular basis and see if the person can follow the steps.
2. As you list the steps, be sure to keep all confidential information out of the process. This manual should be available for anyone to review, so it would not be good to have account numbers, passwords, or PIN numbers listed.
3. As you are listing the steps of the task, refer to the position of the person completing the task, not the person’s name. For example, “The assistant will escort the patient to the treatment coordinator’s desk,” and not “Becky will escort the patient to Mary’s desk.”
4. You want to be specific with the details, yet also concise. This means less is more. It is necessary to list each step without listing the why for each step.
Allow me to answer some questions you may have
• What protocols are the most important to write out? Only the ones that you feel are the heartbeat of your practice. We have a list of the major ones. Send us an email for a copy of the list.
• Who should write out the protocols? We recommend that everyone take responsibility for the tasks they perform on a daily basis and write out the protocol for each one. This should not be something that interferes with daily operations of the office.
• Is all of this really necessary? Absolutely not. However, be sure to keep the GTS contact information handy for when your Betty leaves.
Always remember that there should never be a single point of failure in your business. Everyone should have access to all the protocols, processes, SOPs … whatever you chose to call them. Cross-training in good and written protocols are even better. If you find that you need help getting started, give me a call.