The changing role of the dental office manager

September 14, 2013
Jill Nesbitt
Issue 10

“So, what do you do?”

“So, what do you do?”

How many times have you met a new person and answered this question? Most likely, you just tell him or her you’re an office manager and the conversation moves along.

But when is the last time you stopped to think about what you really do? And what’s more, have you thought about how rapidly your job is changing right now?

Some of the responsibilities of a dental office manager never seem to change. There will forever be appointments to schedule, patients to call, prescriptions to call in and insurance to submit. We all have learned one form or another of dental practice management software and how to juggle phones, patients and staff when they demand our attention simultaneously.

Well known in our practices for being the one with ‘extra time’ since we don’t see patients, we are often responsible for keeping track of the cleaning company and the landscaping maintenance while also changing out the computer monitor that just died in the treatment room.

While some things never change, other things move so fast it’s hard to keep up. You probably dropped your yellow pages advertising within the last few years and started working with an online confirmation company.

The patient financing options and case acceptance methods you’re using today probably include many more choices than even one year ago. Are you staying updated through webinars and responsible for maintaining regular posts on the practice Facebook page? When did these tasks sneak into our job description?

Before we talk about the future of the dental office manager, let’s consider a few of the latest trends in dental practices today.

    •    Dental insurance is growing - Just five years ago, many dental practices could say they were 100% fee for service, accepting only out-of-network dental plans. Now, most practices are closer to 30% - 50% PPO plan patients.

This is a drastic change in a very short period of time. This increase in members-only dental plans has not only reduced fees, but increased office manager time in managing each plan properly.

    •    Technology is changing – Even though only 1% of dentists nationwide are chartless, we know the ADA has set a goal of 2014 for us to have electronic health records in dentistry.

You may have an iPad or kiosk in your lobby, you definitely have digital X-rays in your operatories and everyone is expected to be computer literate. As the cost of computers continues to drop, it’s easy to replace a slow PC and add new printers, label makers, scanners, etc. – practices need someone on staff who can manage this constant change of new technology.

    •    Marketing – Again, only five years ago, marketing a dental practice was relatively easy. Run your ad in the yellow pages, send a direct mail postcard to new movers and watch the new patients roll in.

Today, keep updating your website (heard of the Google Panda update?), post weekly on your Facebook page, work the booth in your local town festival and start thinking about how to join the mobile marketing revolution. The sheer time involved with interacting with patients through social media is a drastic change in our work schedules that we never had to plan for.

Beyond taking responsibility for dental insurance, technology and marketing, the dental office manager of the future needs the ability to manage the practice. Imagine that you confidently and correctly handle the variety of business decisions that occur throughout your practice – from handling upset patients to making financial arrangements, to running the practice’s marketing budget and even helping negotiate new technology purchases?

On top of saving the dentist time so he or she can be focusing on clinical care (and production), what if you, as the organized, well-trained, office manager, could implement the dentist’s ideas and help accomplish goals while your dentist appreciates and supports you?

You can become the business professional your dental practice needs. Most office managers feel that they want to do their very best for their dentist. They see the many demands on the dentist and appreciate their job – but they don’t know what to do.

They don’t know how to get the training they need so they can be a real asset to their dentist and the entire practice. As the field of dentistry changes, just look again at the 3 trends we reviewed, now is the time for dental office managers to step up and get the training that will take them to the next level.

There are a variety of ways for a dental office manager to gain the necessary training. From the AADOM annual conference to online forums to DANB courses, an office manager can take her career into her own hands by signing up for the classes she needs. There are also several online training courses available by simply searching ‘dental office manager training’.

Often there are groups you can join through your dental practice management software – look for local users groups to join. Simple networking through Linked In or by chatting up your dental supply representative to find other office managers who might like to meet for lunch can be a great way to get started. Finally, there are community colleges and online classes for specific business administration degrees.

As the dental office manager takes responsibility for her career development, she can invite the dentist to invest his time to help her develop these skills. Ask your dentist to meet with you to find out what skills he would like to see you add and how you will improve the practice. Your dentist will appreciate your initiative and most likely will encourage you by including you in his new ideas and plans for the practice.

As the office manager and dentist continue to work together – the office manager is transforming into a real business manager. She eventually will bring ideas and programs to the meetings that the dentist never considered. She will begin to read dental journals and participate in online forums and learn about dentistry outside the walls of the practice.

That will lead to even more new ideas and opportunities - and if the dentist likes the new idea the office manager presents, he already has the person in place to implement! This also takes the stress off the dentist as he or she feels they have another intelligent, caring person to bounce ideas off of and together they can start to become partners that share the burden of running the practice.

As dentistry changes, we need business professionals in practices that can successfully manage the office. These office managers play a major role in reducing overhead, evaluating dental insurance plans and managing the fast-changing world of marketing.

The office manager position becomes full of variety and challenge – and makes a difference in the lives of not just the dentist and staff, but also the patients and the community. A successful dental practice serves a vital role in the community – and the well-trained dental office manager is at the heart of this practice.

Jill Nesbitt is a dental consultant and practicing office manager for a multi-specialty private dental group. Nesbitt has managed the practice for 14 years, has state-level quality training, and  coaches dental teams to improve the business-side of their practices.