From the Office Manager's Desk: Tips for better dental practice guidelines

May 25, 2012
Jill Nesbitt

Issue 3

For a practice to run smoothly, we office managers need to know how our dentists feel about the following types of questions and we need to be clear on what the dentist’s guidelines are for the practice. So Doctor, what is your office policy for financial arrangements? When do you feel it’s appropriate to send an account to a collections agency? How do you want your emergency patients scheduled?

For a practice to run smoothly, we office managers need to know how our dentists feel about the following types of questions and we need to be clear on what the dentist’s guidelines are for the practice.

So Doctor, what is your office policy for financial arrangements? When do you feel it’s appropriate to send an account to a collections agency? How do you want your emergency patients scheduled?

Many dentists are just too busy to sit down and think through how they want these situations handled in their practice. They don’t write down their policy and they don’t review it with their team. Then they wonder why their practice seems to operate in chaos-mode. In my experience, most dental secretaries and office mangers want to please their dentist. They do their best to make these type of decisions based on their own personal ethics and judgment and hope they’re doing the right thing for the practice. They would prefer that the dentist set the guidelines instead.

Setting guidelines for your business staff is critical. Even when this has been done well, changes can occur and suddenly the train is off the rails. I have observed well-trained dental secretaries who have completely stopped following a very clear financial arrangements policy because a dentist “came across” as not wanting to place money as a priority over patients. The secretary felt that if the dentist didn’t want to limit patient care based on money, then there was no need to set up financial arrangements! This suggests that more than clear guidelines, dentists may also want to spot check to be sure the policies are being followed.

If you would like to find out if you’ve been clear in setting guidelines for your practice, sit down with your dental secretaries and ask a series of “What if . . .” questions. Ask what they would do if an emergency patient called 10 minutes before close? Ask what they would do if a pregnant woman needed an extraction but couldn’t afford the out of pocket cost? You may want to think through your answers first and then see if your staff answers the same way you do.

Finally, write down your guidelines. Taking the time to document your approach to patient care and finances ultimately saves you time when you hire new staff – they can read through your policies and follow them immediately. This ensures that your patients receive consistent care that matches your value system and it helps your office manager handle situations with confidence now that he or she knows you support him or her 100 percent.

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.