Boosting Productivity in a Dental Office

Successful dental offices understand that productivity is key for consistent revenue and growth. As a dental practice owner or manager, it’s your job to maximize the impact of your team, tools, and workflow without compromising patient health and satisfaction.

But finding opportunities to boost productivity in a busy office is difficult, especially in such a complex industry. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “this is how things are done” and assume there’s no way to improve. But there are always ways to improve productivity in a dental office if you’re willing to think strategically about your business.

In this article, we’re going to address the most impactful ways you can boost your office’s productivity. Use this advice to tighten your day-to-day and get more value from your resources.

Everyone Gets an Appointment

According to a study by the Levin Group Data Center, more than 50% of dental offices simply ask patients when they want to come back. 20% don’t offer to make the next appointment unless there’s a specific treatment plan or the patient requests it.

This forces the patient to manage their care schedule. They know they should visit the dental office, but rescheduling is an easy task to put off. Suddenly it’s a year before the patient visits again. That creates lost revenue for you and more word (less productivity) for your team.

It’s important, therefore, to appoint every patient for their next visit before they leave your office. Many offices do this for the sake of production (regular appointments means more revenue, of course), but it’s also good for productivity. Each appointment made during the visit represents fewer phone calls made by the front desk staff.

When you encourage patients to make their next appointment, remind them of the benefits of regular visits (healthier teeth, problems caught early, etc.) and that their cleanings are covered by insurance anyway, so there’s no harm.

Streamline Patient Intake

Image: icethim / Flickr

Patient intake is one of the biggest bottlenecks in any dental practice. If patients are forced to fill out forms in the waiting room, the dental team has to wait until they’re finished before they can get to work. If you’re still using a clipboard and pen, the intake process takes even longer and someone on your staff has to input that into your electronic system.

Ideally, patients should complete their intake forms long before they get into the office. Deliver the form by email so no one has to fill out paperwork on appointment day. This tool should integrate – or be part of – your electronic recording management software so no one has to spend hours on data entry.

Part of intake should include insurance validation. This should happen at least a day before the patient’s appointment so you have time to contact the patient if there’s an issue. The last thing you want is an irate patient who made time for their appointment but can’t receive services.

Reduce Overtime

It may sound counter-intuitive, but working more hours rarely gets more work done. Your employees male of the overtime pay, but you probably aren’t getting much value out of that extra time. Asking employees to work overtime hours often has three painful effects:

  1. Employees begin to burn out from all the work, which erodes their overall effectiveness and productivity. It eventually gets so bad that they accomplish less in a 10-hour shift than they would in an eight-hour shift.
  2. Employees intentionally slow down during normal work hours to secure more overtime. This type of malicious behavior is hard to detect.

Instead of overworking your existing dental team, consider hiring more help. You could bring on part-time team members or hire temporary staff on an as-needed basis. A tool like Dental Career Connect helps you easily find qualified help without all the hassle of using temp agencies or Facebook groups.

Improve Office Communication

A productive dental office creates open lines of communication between the entire team. When everyone communicates effectively, no one makes decisions with bad information or has to wait around for anyone else.

Electronic records are a big help here. If you haven’t moved away from paper, now’s the time. Electronic records management allows multiple people to access files. Insurance can be processed, patient notes can be added, and x-rays can be reviewed at the same time.

For direct communications, implement an intercom system, text messaging system, or telephones. A few steps doesn’t seem like a big time waster, but they can add up over the year. Make sure these systems are HIPAA compliant before you install them.

Take Advantage of Automation

If you haven’t done so by now, it’s critical that you implement as much automation as you can into your practice. Why do the work yourself when software can do it for you?

Yes, automated tools will cost some money. But so does the time it costs people to perform the work manually. There’s no way to avoid some cost. In most cases, automated tools are cheaper to run than paying someone to do the same work.

  • Automation is less vulnerable to human error.
  • Your team gains more time to focus on tasks that require human decision-making.
  • There’s a smaller chance of misplacing or exposing patients’ medical information.

Automated Confirmation Process

Some practices lose as much as 10% of their annual production to no-shows and last-minute cancellations. You lose the revenue and the cost of your team to sit around and wait.

You can mitigate cancellations with a strong confirmation process. Instead of sending voicemails, use texting. People find it far less intrusive and easier to reply to. It may seem overkill, but don’t be afraid to send multiple text messages.

  • One right after they make the appointment.
  • Two weeks prior to the appointment.
  • Two days prior to the appointment (have them reply to confirm).
  • Two hours before the appointment.

Automated Billing

Paper billing methods are laborious and time intensive. Automated billing frees up man hours and gives you more access to insurance programs and payment options. In fact, many insurance companies are shifting away from processing paper claims in favor of electronic methods, which makes paper billing take even longer.

You can get access to funds faster by implementing an automated billing tool. Your team can also identify problems with claims and make adjustments right away instead of waiting to trade mail or emails with the insurer. It’s faster, lighter work that can reduce the need for several team members.

Don’t choose the first tool you see. Review their features and play around with some demos. Ask your insurance providers for their recommendations (they may prefer certain processes that will get you paid quicker).

Automated Scheduling

Scheduling your team doesn’t require a huge amount of time, but it’s another task that software can do just as well – or better – than a person. You simply set parameters for each person, like when they prefer to work, their maximum hours, who they should work with, etc. The software will combine your conditions into a schedule, but of course, you can make your own tweaks.

Train and Cross-Train Your Staff

Make sure they’re well-versed in all of your software tools, especially the tools that are part of your day-to-day operations. If you implement a new tool, bring everyone in for a focused workshop to give them hands-on experience.

Yes, this will cost a bit, but a few hours you spend training your team to use your tools will pay back in dividends of productivity. Remember, knowledge is cumulative. As employees become better with your tools, they start to find new ways to make their jobs easier and faster.

Furthermore, don’t be afraid to cross-train your staff. Just because your hygienist rarely sets appointments doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be able to. There may come a time where she has to pitch in at the front desk during a busy period. Your front desk team should be able to handle any patient-facing task (billing, scheduling, etc.) and your assistants should be capable of handling any back-office task.

Download our list of tools that will supercharge your day-to-day operations so you can spend more time helping patients and growing your practice.

Productivity: The Long Game

Improving productivity in your dental office isn’t a one-off task. It’s something you should address regularly, if not every day. For instance, you might pick one system or process each month for review to make sure your team is using it as efficiently as possible. Over time, you’ll create a well-oiled machine.