Thursday Troubleshooter: I suspect my predecessor was embezzling. Do I approach my dentist?

How do I approach the dentist about my concerns?

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QUESTION: I have worked in dentistry for 15 years and recently accepted an office manager position in another office. I’ve been in this office several months now, and I’m concerned that the previous office manager in my new practice may have been embezzling from the practice. One thing after another is just not adding up. I’m not sure if I should bring it to the attention of the practice owner, and if I do, I’m not sure how to approach it. We have an excellent team, I love my new job, and the practice has improved in the short time I’ve been working here. Please help!

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ANSWER FROM DAVID HARRIS, CEO of Prosperident
Although I can see the appeal of letting sleeping dogs lie, I think the thing to do is express your concerns to the dentist.

There are several reasons for this:
1. If I were your dentist, I would want to know. Particularly if the embezzlement pattern involved billing insurance companies for more work than was done, my license and reputation could be jeopardized by your predecessor's actions, and that exposure is certainly something I would want to know about.
2. If this is embezzlement and it comes to light some other way, your dentist might start wondering why you didn't pick it up.
3. It may make your job more difficult to have to deal with past inconsistencies on an ongoing basis.

As far as how to approach it with the practice owner, I would present this in a slightly tentative manner: "I’m seeing some things that are consistent with embezzlement on the part of the former office manager. I hope that I’m wrong about this, but my concern is that I’m not wrong. I know that you would want me to bring my concerns forward." This soft approach doesn't force you to stake your credibility on whether or not the embezzlement was actually happening. I'd also have several of the inconsistencies you’ve found ready to show the dentist.

I should warn you that the dentist might, even if he or she decides that embezzlement has occurred, decide to do nothing about it. There are lots of reasons for this; for example, the former office manager may have information about your boss that could be harmful. However, I don't think that the possibility that the practice owner might not take action is a reason for you not to bring your concerns forward.

On the other hand, if your boss does share your concerns, experienced dental embezzlement investigators should be brought in to guide the process. This is not a do-it-yourself project.

ANSWER FROM ROBIN MORRISON, Dental Consultant Connection
I would certainly present the facts to the practice owner, without accusing the previous office manager of embezzlement. Unfortunately, many dentists do not pay close attention to the business details in their practice, and they place a great deal of trust in their team members. While it is important to trust their team, it is also critical that they keep a close eye on the finances and business side of their practice. They should be knowledgeable regarding practice and accounting software.

I see this as a great opportunity for you to familiarize your dentist with your software, systems, and established protocols. By going through this process together, you may discover additional inconsistencies together. If red flags remain, I strongly encourage you to seek a professional who specializes in dental embezzlement to counsel you and your dentist on the recommended steps.

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Past Thursday Troubleshooter Questions: Our boss makes us feel guilty for wanting to attend our children's functions


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