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Front Desk Staff: The Lifeline of a Dental Practice

From appointment setting to a warm in-office welcome, front desk staff has the opportunity to make a lasting impression (positive or negative) with patients before a patient even lands in the dentist chair. As the first and last interaction with patients, and a multitude of duties in between, those who manage the front desk and internal operations are the lifeline of a dental practice — the business simply wouldn’t be able to function without these necessary and important team members.

As we all know, front desk staff members have an abundance of daily tasks to manage and juggle beyond the patient-centered responsibilities, which are the top priority. With the influx and changing demands of the day-to-day workflow, the presence of thorough processes and knowledge sharing will heavily influence the success of a dental practice. Throughout my career, I’ve worked in many dental practices big and small, starting as a receptionist and working my way up to practice management. Understanding the dental practice industry from all angles has given me a unique perspective to implement a variety of change activities to improve efficiency, management, and workflow. No matter what the opportunity is for improvement, I’ve found it always links to front desk staff. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Below, I offer concrete strategies to avoid the top common mistakes often experienced by front office staff. Addressing these common pain points and implementing structured processes will have your dental practice operations running smoothly in no time.

Common Front Office Mistakes Experienced in a Dental Office & How To Avoid Them

  1. Dental practices often invest in business management software to help operations and workflow but bypass proper training. Without proper training, staff can create extra work for themselves, since the software process and usability can become a guessing game. Investing upfront in appropriate training will build confidence in your staff and ultimately create efficiencies and more time to focus on what matters most.
  2. Sometimes the front desk staff can have the perception that the dental practice has a very high cash flow. They may see that thousands of dollars are being collected and believe that the practice is healthy, but not understand how many thousands of dollars it takes to fully run the practice. This may cause a lack in sense of urgency in collecting insurance payments and misrepresent the practice’s actual bottom line. Establishing a strong collections process and continually reinforcing the importance and impact collections have on the business’s success will properly educate staff and help them understand how their roles contribute to the organization.
  3. Informing each patient of their estimated out-of-pocket (OOP) costs for procedures — ahead of the work — is fundamental for more satisfied patients and collected payments. This may be one of the most important tasks for the front desk staff. This process occurs in two steps: (1) verifying the insurance and documenting the insurance coverage before the appointment and diagnosis and (2) explaining the coverage and OOP costs after the diagnosis and before the treatment is performed. Patients don’t often fully understand the differences between their medical and dental plans, so clear and accurate information sharing is key for patients to make confident decisions.
  4. Lastly, I’ve seen that front desk staff can have a fear of talking about money and procedure costs with patients. If the treatment plan is extensive, difficult conversations may need to be had. But what’s important, is that each patient deserves a custom approach and transparent conversation so they can be empowered to make informed decision. Hiring employees who are confident communicators about money, finances, and payments will help build stronger, more transparent relationships with patients.

Establishing well thought-out processes and procedures for practice operations are foundational to creating happier patients, a more confident dentist, and a well-respected valued dental team. An additional successful approach that takes the billing and operations pressure off of the front desk staff and practice, is investing in a practice management consultant. Deep knowledge and expertise from an independent outside resource won’t impact daily operations and will allow the entire staff to focus on what matters most, delivering quality and compassionate care to patients.

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