Is the "way we've always done it" really the right way?


A look at some of the common mistakes front offices make by creating too much work and not enough results.

I spend a lot of time in dental offices, observing the day-to-day systems they use. Frankly, I see a lot of systems, policies and office flows that make little sense. Here are several real-life examples that I have seen, and how you can avoid them:

Answering the phones with “Dr. Smith’s office, how may I direct your call?”

For most dental offices, the same front desk employee answering the phone is the one who is actually going to handle the caller’s request. Very rarely does the person answering the phone need to direct that call to anyone else, as we typically handle it right then and there for the patient. Why not answer the phone with something along the lines of this: “Dr. Smith’s office, how may I help you?” The patient will understand that you are going to be able to help them, not pass their call on to someone else. This is good customer service, and it makes more sense.

Related article: 3 ways to help make communication the priority in your dental practice

Making extra work by copying treatment plans into Excel

I have seen offices enter the entire treatment plan into Eaglesoft, only to copy all all of the treatment plans into an Excel spreadsheet so that you can present the treatment plan with payment options on a form that shows the out-of-pocket costs and the patient’s payment options. This is just an extra step that does not serve a real purpose. The software is designed to make our lives easier, so why not use the software for its intended purpose? Get that information into your system so you can get what you need to present to the patient, without the added task of entering it into Excel.

Using paper forms in binders instead of relying on the software

This is another example of offices making extra work for themselves because they are more comfortable with paper than software. I have seen staff fill out forms that outline the patient’s treatment plan-after entering into Dentrix-so that the paper can be filed into three-ring binders labeled either “Scheduled” or “Unscheduled” by the doctor and date the patient was seen.

Then, the paper has to be moved accordingly if the patient schedules the appointment or cancels after the initial appointment. The paper also has to be tracked down by the hygienist or dental assistant on the day of the next appointment to be reviewed in the huddle, even though the identical information already exists in the software system.

Related article: 3 ways to synchronize your systems and promote your practice

Why use two systems to track the same information? Rely on the software that has been implemented for that very purpose. Let the software do the work of making your office more efficient.

Up next: More common front office mistakes and how you can avoid them


Tracking information that never gets reviewed with the team

This is so common, but it makes absolutely no sense. Some offices track certain pieces of information by entering them onto a piece of paper (for example, the number of patients that scheduled their next appointment that day, number of referrals the team asked for that day, etc.) at the end of the day, and then filing that information away in another binder or book.

The truth is, that information is never reviewed by anyone! It doesn’t get shared with the team to discuss how well or poorly the numbers were in any given area. No one can make a plan to improve those numbers if they don’t see them. Someone is just filing it away every day and going home. What is the point of tracking information if it is never actually used to make improvements?

Watch: Top 5 things every dental practice should track

How to deal with worn-out procedures

I have personally observed each of these examples in dental offices. When I ask why they do what they do, I hear the same answer from every single employee, “Because that’s the way we have always done it.”  The employees have no idea why they are doing these extra tasks or answering the phones the way they do. They just keep on doing it that way because it’s how they were originally trained, and they never stop to think: Why do we do this? Is this necessary? Is there a more efficient way?

Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “Our office doesn’t do any of those things on your list.” That may be true, but are you doing other things that make no sense? Think about your daily duties and tasks. Have you ever asked yourself why we even do this when it just seems like extra work? There are probably things that you do in your office on a daily and weekly basis that made sense in the past but are no longer necessary. Yet you still do them because “that is the way we have always done it.”

I suggest you take a moment to review all the systems you have in place, and decide if they are necessary and producing the intended results-or any results. Analyze whether there may be a better or more efficient way. If there is a daily or weekly task that falls into a questionable category, discuss it. Ask these questions: "Why do we do this?" and "Are we getting the results we want from this?" If you or your coworkers answer with anything close to, “I don’t know, this is just the way we have always done it,” then try to find a better or more efficient way.

Read more: What happens when your practice runs on autopilot?

Many times things migrate into autopilot in an organization, and everyone just evolves into creatures of habit. But it does not have to stay that way. Change your perspective and look at the systems you use every day to help you recognize areas that need improvement, changes or a complete overhaul. Take the time to identify what might need to be updated, so it is no longer done just because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Figure out a way to make it not only more efficient, but more effective. The result will be a more productive office. Everyone will feel better about the fact that their daily job duties are necessary to effectively run the practice and serve patients, while no longer feeling as though any part of their job is just busy work.

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