Running a dental practice ‘efficiently’ is not easy. Most of the time you may confuse a busy dental clinic for an efficient workflow however, the profitability figures may reveal otherwise. This is because having patients and work spread out all over the place does not necessarily mean they’re being catered too. Problems like long waiting time periods, lack of inventory and no-shows all can prove to be significant problems unless best practices and tools to improve productivity are considered.
Thus, below we have combined a few ideas to improve dental practice and increase your profitability significantly. These ideas deal with your customer service, employees, billing systems, inventory and much more!
Optimize telephone interactions
Most of the appointment scheduling or general queries about the clinic occur on the telephone. Thus, it is very important for the telephone staff to be well versed over the details of the dental practice, costs and unfilled schedule. The staff should have the appropriate telephone etiquette and skills to turn the callers into long-term patients. They should be trained to respond to objections. A friendly and professional conversation on the phone is the most important step as this is the first interaction between the patient and the dental practice and affects their impression towards it. Some of the few things the phone staff can incorporate into the system are:
- Conduct follow-up phone calls to the patient about how they are feeling once their treatment has been completed. Invite new patients to call anytime if they are having trouble and always invite them to book their next cleaning when they are in your office. This will leave a good impression especially for new patients as it’ll show that you remember them.
- Whenever a patient calls, have your staff look up the last time they were at your office. If it has been more than a few months, offer a new appointment. With potential patients, ask for the date of their last dental treatment and offer appointments accordingly.
- Confirm appointments 48 hours in advance.
- Schedule the next appointment before the patient leaves the dental clinic.
Minimize Patient Wait Times
Long waiting times can hurt your dental practice; hence, it is important to track your patient waiting time issue and minimize it. Interaction is the key; hence it is important for you to train your team members to communicate with the waiting patients effectively, in order to assure them that they haven’t been forgotten. One way to do this is by informing patients if there’s a delay or you’re running behind schedule and providing them with an approximate wait time. This can help manage their expectations and prevent frustration or anxiety while they wait.
In case of long waiting periods, it is better to be transparent about the remaining time than saying “just ten more minutes”. While the former method may seem to trigger the patient, however, it is usually less harmful for the practice because if told the right time, the patient can use it for doing something else productive than baseless waiting.
Another important thing to keep in mind is waiting follow-ups. If you’ve told a patient to wait for 15 mins but more time has elapsed, then another follow-up conversation is important to keep people informed and satisfied. The follow-up should happen as soon as you know that the wait will be longer than anticipated.
While the above tips were concerned with communication, there is another way that also helps immensely in satisfying waiting patients. This involves keeping patients moving. This could include moving in and out of waiting rooms to procedure rooms to waiting for x-rays in the x-ray area. This method of moving makes it look like you have reduced the wait times even if that might not be the case.
While the previous methods cater directly to waiting patients, there are also ways to improve your clinic’s efficiency and minimize wait times through these practices:
- Knowing approximate time for each dental procedure (This can help give more accurate waiting times and scheduling appointments)
- Assigning a dental assistant to each chair in the office
- Training your team to perform basic dental procedures such as dental impressions (depending on the laws in your state)
- Ensuring the availability of a hygienist to make oral assessments and minimize wait.
- Managing inventory through automation
Automate patient intake processes
If you’re still using a clipboard and a pen, then that’s the main cause of inefficiency in your dental practice. If the information is collected by hand, it means that someone else is spending time keying in the patient records.
It is better to take advantage of modern technology and invest in tablets for the reception area that allow patients to fill in their information on their own. Not only does this save time but also makes the data less prone to errors. Alternatively, you can have your patient data intake form available online and encourage patients to fill it out before they arrive, or even better you can put up a QR code of the form on the registration desk and ask patients to scan and fill it upon arriving. Using automated patient intake processes also decreases the likelihood of misplacing financial information.
Move Appointment Booking Online
With so much responsibility already in the hands of the administration office staff, it’s even more complex and time-consuming if they have to deal with the task of making and taking calls for appointment scheduling. Hence, it is preferred to utilize online platforms for such tasks where the patients can book, modify, and cancel appointments at any given time and the best part is that these platforms will maintain a database for all the appointments themselves without any input from the registration staff. This will not only save time but also lead to more efficient appointment scheduling.
Use Automation to Confirm Appointments and Avoid Cancellations
According to ADA, the one factor that affects the 100% capacity of dentists is appointment cancellations or no-shows. Productive dental practice tends to prioritize dealing with this effectively. While some cancellations are inevitable, the rest can be avoided if tackled properly. The aim should be to fill in any canceled appointments as quickly as possible.
To achieve this, send your patients several automated appointment reminders well in advance such as a week and then 48 hours before the appointment. That way, patients can inform you of schedule changes early enough for you to rebook. Since text messages have a 98% open rate, consider using a mass text messaging platform to schedule automated SMS reminders. If your clinic has no-show fees, then incorporate that into the message as well to encourage them to come up on time.
Improve interdepartmental communication
Improve the interaction between departments, for example, cross-training team members since it ensures that no single person is responsible for any part of the new system. If someone is not available or out of work, another team member will be able to step in. This can include providing basic MS office training to all of the staff. This helps ensure there’s a smoother workflow and increases productivity.
Utilize automated billing systems
If you’re still billing procedures on paper and verifying insurance plans on call, then you’re only doing more harm than good to your dental clinic by wasting unnecessary amounts of time. Consider outsourcing your dental billing to trusted dental billing companies that use automated software and are well versed with insurance companies and their benefits. If you think that outsourcing your dental billing procedures will cost you a lot then that’s a huge misconception. The time and effort it’ll save you weighs more than the cost. Moreover, it will lead to quicker payments, way less claim denials, more inflow of customers through their software referrals and more time to treat patients. This will dramatically improve your cash inflows and profitability.
Increasing productivity in a dental office is not only limited to the staff or services. It also concerns the layout of your clinic. You need to design your dental practice office in such a way that it resonates with how your team wishes to use it. We would advise consulting your staff to know how they wish to use the space effectively and what are the shortcomings. Moreover, using bright natural lighting in the waiting room is also one way to improve the outlook for your patients. Not only is it cost effective but also being able to see the outdoor space while waiting will help instill a calming effect in your patients.
Check Inventory Frequently
Keep a regular check on the inventory, such as weekly, to avoid a risk of a lack of supplies and order it timely in case of need. This will prevent an inability to provide treatment. It is better if you employ an automated inventory ordering system. This will ensure that you always have the sufficient amount of inventory available for use.
Pay Attention to Patient Complaints
While complaints from patients don’t feel encouraging, they’re necessary for every practitioner to run their business. You can highly improve productivity by listening to patient complaints and acting accordingly. Ask for feedback through follow-up calls and respond positively to the critique. Work on the areas highlighted and if possible give a further follow up to the patient that the changes have been made.
So far, we’ve discussed the strategies you can use for providing better customer services and saving time through automated processes. But it is also very crucial to take into consideration the morale of your own staff. Making sure that your employees are heard and satisfied can improve the productivity of your dental practice massively.
Here are some of the things you can do to improve the productivity of your employees and raise their morale:
Incorporate Digital Employee Scheduling Systems
Consider upgrading employee scheduling systems to an electronic system. This electronic calendar will allow you to make and track changes more effectively with everything in one place such as the allotted working hours, employee deductions, payroll, and taxes etc. Employees can use these systems with personalized login information to request time off, leave, vacation, sick time, and more. Moreover, you can use this same platform to conduct employee surveys and make changes to the system if necessary.
Increase Morale by Incorporating a Bonus System
Just like every other business practice, dental practice should also incorporate a bonus system for its employees. Whenever employees are given a say in their work, they tend to be more mindful of their responsibilities leading to more productivity, hitting targets and no/less sick days.
A common practice in many workplaces is to implement a bonus or reward scheme to give feedback and motivation to employees. The scheme could incentivize factors such as promptness, higher customer volumes, achievement of targets, or a record of no absences during a specified period. It’s important to seek input from your team when introducing any such system.
Utilize the Strength of a Daily Team Meeting
One key factor on how to make a dental office more efficient is symmetric communication. A morning daily team meeting before starting the office practices can help boost productivity. Spend around 20-30 minutes to discuss the day’s schedule, cancellations, new patients, plans for scheduling emergency treatments and a review of the next few days. Moreover, in this meeting you can identify the patients who might need specialized care or have unfinished treatments or bills. This serves as an ideal way to keep a check on the daily activities and set goals for the day.
Organize Team-Building Activities
If the chemistry between the employees is good then there’s less chance of miscommunication or complaints. Thus, team-building activities help ensure a more peaceful working environment and smoother work-flow. One such activity can be an exclusive holiday planned out for the employees which will help them build trust and understand each other more outside the office.
You may believe that compensating your employees for overtime work may help reduce their dissatisfaction and help the dental clinic get more work done and increase profits. While part of this may be true, one thing to remember is that more working time does not necessarily mean more productivity or profits.
If your office employees are regularly working overtime then they become vulnerable to ‘Employee Burnout’. There is a risk that they will become exhausted and frustrated with their jobs resulting in them making more mistakes than usual. Hence, it is imperative to reduce overtime and give your employees enough time to rest so they can work more efficiently.
These are just some of the ideas to improve dental practice productivity. However, there’s always room for more innovation and improvements. Conclusively, it is necessary for every dental practitioner to utilize these techniques and latest technology to improve productivity of their services.
For any more questions or queries regarding dental billing services or dental practice in general, feel free to contact us!