Note to office managers: Stop being in-house Siris


We live in a world of instant gratification, surrounded by digital technology that fuels this hunger for immediate knowledge. How many times have you been out with friends and someone asks a question that no one can answer handily?

We live in a world of instant gratification, surrounded by digital technology that fuels this hunger for immediate knowledge. How many times have you been out with friends and someone asks a question that no one can answer handily?

Gone are the days of having to look it up in a book, or actually having to go to the library to find the answer. Now, someone merely grabs their phone and asks, “Siri – who won the first Super Bowl?” Siri answers and everyone is instantly gratified with the knowledge and continues on with the discussion.

It’s an easy way to continue the flow of conversation because, prior to the answer, two or more people were not in agreement with the story progression.

Related link: Help your office manager succeed

Last week I was in a client’s office and was working with the office manager–let’s call her Becky–on creating some systems for more efficient accounts receivable (A/R) management. It seems that her numbers, though still within acceptable limits, are out of control for her (and our) standards.

As we began discussing her current method of operations, the hygienist interjected, asking, “Is it ok to do sealants on my patient?” Becky exited the screen we were viewing on the computer and accessed the insurance section to see what the “rules” were for sealants for this patient’s plan, and checked the patient’s account to see if the patient met the age limitations. She looked up and answered the hygienist.

We got back on track with our review of her processes. About that time, the assistant asked if the new patient could have an FMX, the aforementioned steps were repeated and Becky answered her assistant. The doctor interrupted our conversation with a question about whether Dr. Endodontist down the street was open on Mondays because the patient in his chair needed to go over there immediately.

Related link: Office manager role evolution

It was about this time that I realized that Becky didn’t have a problem with time management; she had a problem with an identity crisis. Her co-workers viewed her as a human Siri. My experience has shown that this happens in most offices–there is one person who is constantly called to do everything from fixing computers to answering questions that should be available to the team elsewhere.

We broke off our conversation about A/R, and moved to a conversation about how Becky can empower her co-workers with the tools they need to complete their tasks.

We started with questions about insurance–more times than not the inquiry is about what insurance allows, frequencies, and age or time limitations. How does Becky get these answers? Ideally, routine questions have been answered during the verification process and noted in the insurance section of the practice management software. We find that some answers are not always readily available and may require a phone call if not on the fax or website; however, that should be the exception for routine procedures.

Related link: Boost practice productivity

Becky can explain to her co-workers where to find the information. The key is consistency. If Becky tells the hygienists that sealant information is always in the same place and they often find it missing, they will stop going there and return to using Becky for their more accurate source of information. It’s a waste of their time and they don’t want to dig in the computer any more than is necessary. The same is true for all insurance information as it relates to time and age limitations, frequencies and standard clauses like missing tooth, replacement and number of quads that can be scaled in a day.

We are not trying to make the clinical team experts in insurance; they have their own jobs to do. We do, however, want to give them tools to complete their jobs without having to take time out time to speak with Becky about these limitations or frequencies. What happens if Becky is on the phone or speaking with a patient? The clinical team member is forced to wait until Becky is available to answer her question or worse, interrupts a treatment plan presentation and therefore upsets the flow of conversation and then possibly affects acceptance level.

Often, we find that questions asked should have been discussed in the morning huddle to alleviate these disruptions to everyone’s day. After all, the purpose of the huddle is to review the needs of today’s schedule/patients, not rehashing last weekend’s events or discussing the baby shower in two weeks. If you find that these are areas are not covered in your huddle, consider revamping your huddle agenda. (If you need an agenda, we have one to share:

Instant gratification is not bad. As humans, we prefer it and as Americans, we demand it. However, when it is at the cost of intruding on other people’s time management, consider your actions. If you are Becky–find ways to empower your team with the knowledge they need to complete their tasks and train them on ways that they can use these tools. Help them to understand that you are not Siri and before they come to you with questions, they should ask themselves, “Is this a true Becky question or am I being lazy and using her as Siri?”

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