Thursday Troubleshooter: Dental front office staff snowed under and needs help digging out

This front office staff of a busy two-dentist practice has no time to breathe! What can they do to feel less overwhelmed and more in control of their duties?

Dec 7th, 2017
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Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with Team Troubleshooter, and the experts will examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to megk@pennwell.com.

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QUESTION: I work in a busy two-dentist practice. We at the front desk work five days a week. The office has three hygienists who work Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and four RDHs work on Tuesdays. We have four front office staff members. We each have a certain task we’re responsible for. We’re always behind because we see patient after patient and we’re given no room to breathe. How can we get our tasks done at the front line? We asked to use the conference room to work on administrative tasks, but the answer was no, yet this room isn't used for anything else. We at the front desk are very frustrated. Help!

ANSWER FROM LAURA HATCH, founder of Front Office Rocks:
It sounds like you have a very busy office, which is great! But I can see where it becomes hard for the front desk to get work done with all the patients that you’re checking in and out each hour. But I think that there are definitely some options that can help you. Here are my suggestions.

1) I’M NOT SURE WHY YOU CAN'T use the conference room. It sounds like there is a little bit of negative energy around that decision, so I would investigate why that is. I would discuss with your doctors the importance of needing some quiet and uninterrupted time to get things done, and find out what their concern is about using it. Maybe it’s something as small as the doctors don’t want it to look messy when patients walk by. So, you and the other front desk staff can just make sure to keep it neat and ready to move out of if it’s needed for a consult or meeting.

2) ON THE DAYS THAT YOU ONLY HAVE THREE hygienists working, and since there are four of you working the front desk, I suggest that for half a day you appoint someone who is "off" from checking patients in or out to handle overflow and organization. The other three can handle patients, and the “extra” person can focus on getting some of the front desk projects done. You can then rotate this between the four of you so you each have time to get work done.

3) WATCH FOR EFFECTIVE USE OF YOUR TIME. It seems that you do have enough staff at the front to be able to handle the workload, so make sure that you’re using your time effectively and there’s not a lot of downtime, talking, or doing other things. With a busy office like yours, you need to have everyone focused and working efficiently.

4) EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE CHECKING MANY patients in and out each day, there should be some time during appointments to get work done. I know it can get crazy at the beginning and end of each appointment, but when patients are in the chairs you can each knock out some of the things you have to get done.

5) LOOK INTO CROSS TRAINING CLINICAL STAFF so they can jump in and help. When the hygienists or assistants are without patients, you could train them to work on projects to help you all at the front desk dig out from under the load. Perhaps they could call overdue patients, call on insurances, and answer phones so you could make outgoing calls without interruption.

Again, the great news is that the office is busy. The next step is to go from "busy" to "productive." I hope that this helps. Good luck!

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Don't be shy! If YOU have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed, send it to megk@pennwell.com for the experts to answer. Remember, you'll be helping others who share the same issue. Responses will come from various dental consultants, as well as other experts in the areas of human resources, coding, front office management, and more. These folks will assist dental professionals with their various issues on DentistryIQ because they're very familiar with the tough challenges day-to-day practice can bring.

All inquiries will be answered anonymously each Thursday here on DIQ.


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