by Tija Hunter, EFDA
From front office to the back, every team member plays an important role in your practice. The people in your office can make or break you. Patients have been known to leave practices simply because of one team member. Likewise, they've been known to stick around because they love the people in your office. Make sure you choose your team wisely!
The people sitting in your front office are the most important part of the team. They are the first contact your patients have with your office. The attitude and professionalism of the front office will set the tone for your patients’ relationships with your practice. Organization and attention to detail are key in this area. Front-office personnel need to understand how you like procedures to be scheduled and how to keep that schedule full. They need to be able to tackle insurance issues head-on and stay on top of collections. Not keeping up in any of these areas can be a disaster for a practice. If you're producing but not collecting, you’ll go broke fast. And if you're not producing, there isn't anything to collect. Your front office must be the cream of the crop if you want a smooth-running ship.
The hygienists are the lifeblood of the practice. Having great hygienists will make your life a piece of cake and your practice a lot of money! They singlehandedly build a phenomenal relationship with your patients. Hygienists educate patients on the problems they might be experiencing, explaining the whys and hows. A good hygienist will have a patient ready to start treatment before the dentist even comes in the room. When the doctor comes in and reinforces what the hygienist just explained to the patient, the patient sees consistency, which transfers into trust. When the hygienist and doctor are in sync, it's a great combination.
Now, my personal favorite — the dental assistant, the most versatile team member you have. Assistants create a special relationship with patients, one of trust and understanding. They need to be educated, professional, compassionate, and organized. They need to understand one of the most important aspects of being an assistant ... to know their limitations. They spend more time with patients than the dentist does. Patients will tell assistants things they won't even mention to the doctor!
For example, Mr. Henry will complain to the assistant about his tooth on the lower left that the doctor filled last time, how he still can't chew on that side or drink anything cold. But let the doctor walk in the room and ask Mr. Henry how he's doing, and he’ll reply, "Just fine!" Good dental assistants must be friendly, outgoing, fun, and enthusiastic. I can teach anyone to be an assistant, but what I can't teach is attitude. Give me an assistant with little experience but a great attitude, and I will take her any day over an experienced one with no ambition and a mediocre disposition.
You didn't think I would leave the doctor out of all this, did you? Doctors are the backbone of the team, or they should be! Does your team have the tools necessary to be productive every single day? Try asking your staff what you can get for them that will make their days run smoother. You’ll be amazed at how your front office reacts to such simple things as a new calculator, stapler, or scissors. Buy them a new shredder and you just earned the title Boss of the Year! Have you ever seen a hygienist’s face when you hand her a brand new pack of scalers? Stand back and watch the team as they open an “edible arrangement” you gave them as a thank you for a special job well done! It truly doesn't take much to make your staff happy, and a happy staff is a productive one.
Do you have a bonus system in place? Understandably you pay your staff a good wage, but little incentives go a long way in creating a place they want to come for work. Make continuing-education classes mandatory. Look over courses with each team member so they attend the ones that best suit them. Even if they don't need the CE credits, they need the education necessary to help them and your practice grow.
The entire team needs to work together. One or two people in the group not doing their fair share is one of the biggest ways to destroy a good work environment. Tackle a situation like this head on, or have your office manager do it. Let them know this behavior isn't acceptable on any level and cannot be tolerated. The rest of the team will get the message loud and clear and not only appreciate that you handled it, but it will demonstrate your boundaries. Let team members know what is expected of them, and always follow through when your standards are not met. Patients love to see the same people working in your practice year after year. If they see new faces every time they come in, they may think something is wrong. Keeping good staff is important for a continued trust with your patients. Expect the best from them, pay good wages, provide an environment that is fun and productive, and they will flourish before your eyes, and so will your practice!
It helps to follow a few important rules ... and I believe these are key. Do not allow any drama in the office. Do not allow team members to come in with personal problems that bring the staff down. When animosity is created within the team, it causes friction and the air gets so heavy you can cut it with a knife. Don't keep team members who have a negative attitude. They will chase patients and good team members away so fast you can see them run out the door! When you and your team are all on the same page, the atmosphere is one of harmony. If there is any discord for any reason in the office, patients will sense the tension. The dental office can be a stressful place, so keep the air light and fun. Your patients will enjoy coming to see you, and they will send family and friends to you as well.
There is a doctor on every corner these days. They all have the same equipment, and they all do the same procedures. The one component that is different in every office is customer service. Start with a winning team! Make your patients fall in love with your team, give them outstanding service, make them feel at home, and you will stand out above the rest. Investing in your team, getting them educated, and giving them the proper tools to do their jobs the best they can is a great investment in your practice.
Tija Hunter, EFDA, is an expanded functions dental assistant/office manager in O'Fallon, Mo., and an independant dental consultant specializing in team building, assistant training, and office organization. She can be reached at (618) 917-1012 or [email protected].