13 Ways to Increase Productivity in A Dental Office
by Tyson Downs
This post was originally published January 22, 2016, and updated July 27, 2018.
Note: While this blog post references dental offices, the strategies discussed will undoubtedly help all medical offices.
What can increase productivity in a dental office? How can you improve your dentist to patient experience?
Successful dental offices run on efficiency, enhanced workflow management, systems, and synchronized product integration.
A standard dental practice has two separate units that need to work together: operations and office management. When both are working well, a dental office should notice an increase in productivity. How do you increase productivity at your dental office?
Follow these easy steps to get your office functioning like a well-oiled machine…
Step 1: Enhance Telephone Interactions and Communication
The first interaction between a patient and the dental office is usually through the telephone. Because of this, it is necessary to train your staff to answer and communicate in a professional manner.
It is also important to train office staff to handle issues that may arise during this interaction. Office staff should be trained in basic sales principles to ensure they handle every customer interaction appropriately.
When it comes to ensuring that your staff has the proper telephone etiquette and understanding to convert a caller to a patient, training is necessary. Don’t skip this step because every call is a chance to gain a new patient.
Some staff members may be shy about trying to keep a caller on the phone or try to overcome objections, but with a little planning, your staff can become comfortable with reading a caller and understanding how to keep someone on the phone to book an appointment.
Overcoming objections can be uncomfortable for some people: we simply do not like to hear the word, “no.” But if the caller is inquiring about your services or treatments, it is likely they will require help sooner rather than later. If a caller is hesitant to book an appointment, your staff may offer them two different appointments and remind them that the office can try to accommodate their schedule.
It’s a good idea to train your staff to remind callers about the importance of oral hygiene. Staff can pass along messages such as, “it’s a good idea to book an appointment now because our calendar fills up fast.” If callers are concerned about payments, have quick-reference information for your staff to be able to recite the payment options to callers.
Better yet, invite the caller in for a consultation where payment options can be discussed, in addition to all the services that are provided.
Staff may be hesitate to insist on an appointment for a new caller, but remind your staff that encouraging bookings is best for the business.
In some cases, patients won’t call until there is a problem, which means that staff needs to be ready to book an appointment and encourage the caller to book the appointment. Asking about the problem is a good way to encourage callers to come into your office. Once they know someone is there to help, even if they are nervous, they are more likely to book the appointment.
To ensure follow up and follow through on such appointments, book them as close to the call date as possible, and be sure to have a staff member give a reminder call to the new patient.
There is always a chance that the patient might not show up for an appointment, especially if they weren’t sure they didn’t it in the first place, so make a point of following up with them via phone call and ask for confirmation of attendance.
Another tip to help convert your callers into long-term patients is to conduct follow-up phone calls after a procedure has been completed to “check in” on the patient. You don’t have to do this with every patient you have, but for a new patient it might make all the difference in their decision to return to your office in the future.
Again, knowing that your staff and dentists care about them as a patient is important to people - and it takes very little effort to call up a patient and have a one-minute conversation about how they are feeling following a procedure. Invite new patients to call anytime if they are having trouble and always invite them to book a 6 or 9-month check up following an initial appointment or consultation.
Step 2: Reduce the Time Patients Spend in the Waiting Room
When patients must spend a prolonged period of their precious time in your waiting room, this can have a negative impact on your practice. If patients are constantly checking their watches or fiddling with their smartphones, you may have a problem.
It’s a significant challenge for both dentists and assistants to overcome this issue but it is important to remember that efficiency can make or break your practice.
Train dental staff to be professional and knowledgeable at all times. Educate all dental assistants to make sure that they know how to properly handle the basic administrative functions within the office. These functions may include:
- Knowing the timeline for each dental procedure for scheduling purposes.
- Training staff to perform basic dental procedures such as dental impressions (depending on the laws in your state)
- Ensure that the hygienist is always available to make the patient’s oral assessment.
- Delegate and ensure that everyone clearly understands their roles within the practice.
- Manage supplies and equipment through automation
- Have a dental assistant assigned per chair in the office
In addition to managing the day-to-day office functions to keep the dental office running smoothly, staff should be trained to interact with waiting patients in a way that lets patients know they have not been forgotten.
If patients arrive and your office is running behind schedule, it is just good practice to inform patients that there will be a wait. Instruct staff to give an approximate wait time and then follow up with additional information as it becomes available.
For example, if a patient is told it will be a 15-minute wait, but the wait continues beyond those 15 minutes, another follow-up conversation is important to keeping people comfortable and informed.
While nobody likes to wait, at least knowing when the possibility of an appointment might arise will keep people in their seats. Provide additional information, including how much longer it may be before a patient can see the dentist.
There are other ways of making it look like you have reduced wait times in your office. These include keeping patients moving; when a patient arrives, invite them to wait in an exam room instead of the waiting room.
It’s not ideal, but if you have a waiting room full of patients, moving some of them out of the area will at least make it appear as if the line is moving. Another way to reduce the perceived wait time is to perform a procedure on one patient, and then visit another patient while the first patient relaxes and waits for x-rays or freezing to set.
If this is the state of your dental office all the time, it might be time to consider revamping your scheduling procedures, inviting another dental assistant to join the team, or bringing on a dental partner to expand the capacity to provide services. At the end of the day, if a patient can get an appointment, but needs to wait a long time to see you or your staff, they may find their way to another dental office. Show your patients the respect they deserve and commit to maintaining your timings according to your schedule.
Step 3: Streamline Patient Intake Procedures
If you’re still using a clipboard and a pen, chances are that you are not running your practice as efficiently as you could be. If the information is collected by hand, it means that someone else is spending time keying in the data.
Take advantage of modern technology and invest in tablets or laptop computers. By integrating systems, a patient’s personal data can be updated electronically and in real-time without the need for extra personnel.
In turn, this has the potential to reduce errors in patient data. Not only does using technology reduce errors, it also reduces the likelihood of misplacing or exposing information unknowingly.
Have you ever walked into a dental office and seen patient charts just sitting on a registration desk? In reality, you shouldn’t because patient information is to be protected at all times, but when patient charts are taking the form of just another pile of paper, it is easy to leave information visible to the general public.
While it might seem like a lot of work to transition your staff and records from paper to electronic copies, it is worth the effort in the long run. It is the kind of work that only needs to be done once.
Updates are generally easy to maintain and the data is secure. More and more people have a growing concern about their information being exposed or shared improperly so if you can offer your patients the peace of mind in knowing that your records are safe and secure, you can put them at ease that much faster.
This is especially important when it comes to finances. When collecting and storing credit card information, insurance information, and even cheques from patients, human error can result in many issues.
When using electronic databases, the likelihood of misplacing financial information goes way down. What’s more, offices like yours need to make the move into the 21st century and keep up with what the competition is doing. So if you are still using paper records, strongly consider upgrading to a software database system that is robust enough to manage all of your patients now and your growing patient list.
Step 4: Enhance Patient Perception of Hygiene
Hygiene means a lot more than simply being clean. You need to train staff to engage patients in conversations about proper hygiene practices.
If the staff answering the phone and interacting with patients are trained properly to reinforce the value of visits concerning hygiene, this has the potential to positively impact your practice's overall income
By encouraging bi-annual hygiene services, your practice will likely see an increase in the following:
- Adjunct re-care services
- Antibacterial therapy
A productive dental office will confirm appointment close to the date of a hygiene appointment (generally two days before) and will schedule the next appointment before the patient leaves the premises.
While patients often know that they should be visiting the dental office on a regular basis, appointments are easy to reschedule and put off. Before you know it, a week turns into a month and suddenly it’s been a year since a patient has come through your doors.
Training your staff on how to coach patients into booking appointments is important. Whenever a patient calls, have your staff look up the last time they were at your office. If it has been more than a few months, have your staff offer a new appointment. During that time, staff should be reminding patients of the importance of regular check ups. If it is a potential patient on the phone, have your staff ask for the date of their last appointment with another dentist.
Collecting information about what treatments were performed and when can be used as a trigger to promote appointments and check-up services. Reminding patients that regular cleanings and x-rays prevent tooth decay and long-term issues can help fill your calendar on a regular basis.
Collecting information about what treatments were performed and when can be used as a trigger to promote appointments and check-up services. Reminding patients that regular cleanings and x-rays prevent tooth decay and long-term issues can help fill your calendar on a regular basis.
Another good practice to adopt is to review your patient database on a regular basis and see which patients have not returned in a while. Have your staff phone those patients and offer to schedule an appointment.
Step 5: Improve Communication Between Front Desk and Back Office Staff
An efficient dental office requires clear and uninterrupted communication between staff members. Use modern technology, such as customer service management software programs, to quickly communicate information.
This will save time and allow more time with patients. Using a system that can be accessed from anywhere in the office also ensures that correct and accurate information is available to all staff members who need it. This prevents running back and forth and using multiple systems to gather important patient information.
As previously stated, if you are using a paper records system, you may want to strongly consider upgrading to an electronic system. If the dentist is reviewing files, front office staff can’t process claims because they files are being used.
When an electronic system is in place, insurance can be processed, x-rays can be reviewed, and patient notes can be added to files all at the same time.
With increased security and accessibility in your dental office, you’ll find more time in the day to actually see patients and you won’t be wasting the time of your staff while they wait for files to be returned for processing.
For direct communications within an office, consider an intercom system, instant messaging through practice management software or telephones. The more you take advantage of technology, the more you’ll be able to run your dental office efficiently.
Get everyone involved in adopting the new technologies and ensure that staff are cross trained on various aspects of the software and technology that you choose. This ensures that no single person is responsible for any part of the new system and that means that even if someone is absent from work the system doesn’t go underutilized.
Step 6: Take Advantage of Automated Billing
If you haven’t done so by now, it is important to begin using automated billing as traditional methods of billing are time intensive and vulnerable to human error. Not only does automated billing provide you with more time in the run of a day, it also provides dental offices with more access to insurance programs and payment options.
With paper billing systems, it can take several days or even weeks to receive payments. Because paper billing systems are being phased out of many insurance companies, the processing of claims can take significantly longer than their electronic counterparts. Upgrading to an electronic automated billing system means your office gets access to funds faster, easier, and in a secure way.
It is important to invest in highly-rated billing software to get the job done right the first time. Take time to review your options and ask for demos from the software companies if they are available. You’ll want to discuss the best options with insurance providers as well - some insurance providers prefer certain processes when collecting claims and paying patient claims.
Automation makes life easier and should be taken advantage of when practice resources allow for it. Keep in mind that you probably have enough staff to look after automation processes because they are already spending time preparing paper claims. You waste money on postage, envelopes, and time waiting for your payments to arrive.
If there is a problem with the claim, you need to wait for the problem to be recounted to you via mail or email. When you use an automated billing system, your staff will be able to see right away if there is a problem with the claim and adjustments can be made on the spot to ensure payment is receiving.
Typically, automation can reduce the need for several staff members to be responsible for billing because the workload gets cut in half. Cross training your staff on automated billing ensures good cash flow regardless of who is in the office on any given day.
- Analyze Excel and PDFs spreadsheets to analyze codes and extract information from PDF files to Excel and vice versa.
- Web scraping, also known as web harvesting, is a method of extracting a huge amount of data from websites to save to a database or spreadsheet)
- Automate simple tasks with Python programs
- Automate text pattern recognition, also known as data mining, allow the extraction of important information like names and phone numbers
- Develop programs that send out emails and notifications such as appointment reminders, welcome messages and thank you notes.
- Control the keyboard and mouse to automatically create shortcuts and buttons
With knowledge of Python programming, your practice can easily automate common administrative tasks and save a significant amount of time. What’s more, staff will feel confident in their use of new technology and will appreciate that you invested in their ongoing professional development, skills and education.
Just think about how much time you could save by web scraping. Instead of manually searching for information on the web and keying it into a spreadsheet (which can take hours or days), Python will help you perform this task within minutes. Courses are readily available - even online - and basic tasks can be learned in a very short period of time. It’s worth making the investment in your business to train a staff member or two, especially if you are already considering upgrading to an electronic system.
Step 8: Conduct Workshops to Make Administrative Staff MS Office Experts
While many people have basic Microsoft Office skills, they may lack knowledge about shortcuts and other ways to improve productivity. As part of your commitment to your staff, it’s important to provide ongoing training and workshops to improve and focus their skills. Doing so ensures that they have access to the latest information and concepts. This can help them interact with patients in a more robust and efficient way.
Providing training on MS Office will help employees at your practice learn about ways they can increase productivity and use applications to their full potential. There’s no telling what opportunities are lost because staff is undertrained. Ensuring that your staff has the latest information related to the software packages that are used in your office is vital to productivity and profit. Training allows opportunities to identify where time and money is being lost.
However, a workshop alone isn’t enough. Ensure that the newly found knowledge is put into practice right away. Ongoing training is important to the success of any office. Don’t make the mistake of scheduling just one workshop and then think the job is done.
For many people, additional training and support may be required to ensure the concepts are grasped and applied properly over time. What’s more, you’ll want to conduct follow-up a few months after each new training activity to find out if it was worth the time, investment and effort, and if you have seen a good return on your investment.
If you find that the type of training you are providing is not sufficient, you may want to consult with an office systems expert to find ways to streamline your processes and improve learning throughout the organization.
Step 9: Ensure that the Office is Designed for Enhanced Efficiency
The layout of a dental office needs to be more than just aesthetically pleasing. All operations within the office need to be arranged in a manner that is closely related to the delivery system. It can take time to understand the best layout for your dental office, especially if you are opening a new practice. However, time spent thinking about function and form is never time wasted when it comes to investing in your dental office.
Ensuring that you have an open and welcoming registration area will ensure that patients will approach your registration desk with confidence and know they are in the right place. You’ll want to ensure that you have ample waiting room space, but if you find that your waiting room is always filling up, it might be more than a space issue - you might need to consider that your calendar is over scheduled.
When planning your office space, ensure that you have space for dentists to work and review patient files in privacy. Your backend staff and support staff will need space to work, but the space should be available and accessible to other staff members easily. Creating the perfect dental office might mean that you need to move walls or perform renovations. While it might mean some upfront costs, in the long run, investing in your space is worth the effort. If you speak to a designer or architect about your space, you might find that it is not suitable for what you want to achieve or for the size of your practice. If you consider moving your practice, there’s lots to think about so give yourself lots of time to make that decision.
If the dental office is designed to encourage productivity, you can save time and this will have a positive impact on the overall practice. Consult with your staff and assistants to find out how they use the space. When space is custom designed for the workers that use it, it is more likely to be efficient and productive. While all dental offices might appear the same on the outside, inside they are well-oiled machines that require the right space and layout to promote productivity. And each dentist will have their own version of what they want their space to look like.
Step 10: Invest in Effective Lights
When considering the layout and function of your dental office, don’t forget to consider the importance of lighting. It is important for dentists to work in an environment free of shadows in order to perform delicate dental procedures. Many different types of lighting are incorporated into modern dental offices these days, so take your time to consider your options before investing in lighting. Investing in coaxial-mounted LED lights will eliminate the need to reposition the light to avoid shadows, thus making each procedure more efficient. When you have to take time to move lights it is time consuming and cumbersome. It is also distracting for patients who might be anxiously awaiting a procedure in the dental chair. Paying attention to lighting will positively impact patient care as there will be less room for error.
It’s also a good idea to incorporate curing lights like Ivoclar Vivadent’s Bluephase. This efficient light probe is proven to increase access to the toughest and darkest areas of the mouth. It’s not just about lighting in the room or office that is important - how you light the patient’s mouth is important too.
Don’t forget about task lighting and lighting for your front and back office space. Use bright, natural lighting in your waiting room and registration area and don’t forget about window access and space. Using natural light is cost effective and adds a welcoming glow to any room. Plus, it’s nice to be able to see the outdoors while sitting in a waiting room. It can help relax patients and make them feel calm.
Step 11: Incorporate Digital Employee Scheduling Systems
When it comes to running a successful dental practice, it is important to ensure that staff schedules are created and managed in an efficient way. If you still use a paper calendar for scheduling employees, you might want to consider upgrading to an electronic scheduling system. This ensures that you can track changes, and allows multiple employees to see space and opportunities for work throughout the entire organization. Many of these systems not only allow you to schedule employees into alloted working hours, but you can pay them and track their employee deductions, payroll, and taxes in the same systems.
Employees can also use these systems with personalized login information to request time off, leave, vacation, sick time, and more. This means that everyone’s information is in the same place and you will be able to see the staffing situation of your office at a glance.
Keep your staff happy by incorporating digital staff management tools to schedule shifts. This method not only saves time for the person in charge of scheduling, but it provides some autonomy to your staff, which they will appreciate. When people feel they are in charge of their time, they are often more productive.
You should also consider the impact of increasing employee moral and overall happiness by implementing the following:
- Conduct employee satisfaction surveys
- Solve problems immediately within the office
- Make changes when necessary
- Bring in a consultant
- Always remember that happy employees build a great dental practice.
As you can see, employee scheduling software can do more than just ensure your working hours are covered by employees. Take your time to consider the right employee scheduling software for you. Many of these programs allow you to test drive them before you buy and you can also request a demo from a scheduling software company to ensure you understand the full scope of the product you are buying.
Step 12: Improve your Practice by Paying Attention to Patient Complaints
Every now and then, you will have to deal with complaints from patients regarding your staff or practice. It’s just part of the deal when you run a business. Get ahead of the game by having a system in place for dealing with patient complaints. You may want to assign this task to a staff member for them to own and update as needed.
It is a good idea to develop forms on your website or through an email link to get all the information you can from the patient. Once you have collected information from patients, it is important to conduct follow up on the negative comments. Don’t just collect the information and ignore it.
There is a lot of value in exploring what is not only going right in your office, but what is going wrong, as well. Be sure to conduct interviews with staff members related to the incident. If you have human resources personnel, they may be in charge of conducting interviews. Some dentists prefer to keep their finger on the pulse of what is going on in their practice, so it is not uncommon to review the files and discuss the situation with staff on a regular basis.
Remember that all feedback gives your practice the opportunity to improve. Be open to receiving critique and complaint from patients and don’t make the mistake of ignoring whatever comes across your desk.
By addressing issues and missed opportunities, you can deter the same situation from occurring again. It also provides your patients with a great deal of trust in you. When you can demonstrate that you care about providing a good service, they will return again and again.
Problems may not be resolved overnight, but you can keep working on it until you achieve your goal. Be sure to keep the patient apprised of any developments that have risen as a result of their complaint. Many people never find out what happened as a result of their critique. If you have time, send a note or make a phone call and inform the patient about the changes that have resulted from the incident.
Step 13: Increase Morale by Incorporating a Bonus System
Many offices use a bonus or reward system to provide feedback and encouragement to their staff. It can be a system that rewards punctuality, increased patient numbers, hitting targets, sharing information, or no sick days in a given period of time - whatever it is that you decide to introduce, be sure to get feedback from the staff about their thoughts.
Studies have shown that when employees have a say in what they do at work, especially related to bonus structures, they are more likely to participate and can become more productive as a result. Don’t leave your productivity and morale up to change. Get your staff involved! Plus, you are already busy enough. Your staff can handle putting together a bonus system that they can own and moderate on your behalf. Again, giving them the power over their work improves productivity.
After adding a bonus system to your office, be sure to share the results with the entire team on a regular basis. If the practice is doing well and employees are reaching their targets, provide a bonus incentive - again, let your staff have a say in what the bonus might be!
Staff achievements can also be promoted within the practice, on the website, and on social media. This is great content for social media and shows that your office is improving productivity, efficiency, and growing over time.
What steps has your dental office taken to improve productivity? Is your practice finding success with one or more of these methods? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments section below.
About the Author
Tyson Downs, the owner of Titan Web Agency, has years of experience working with small businesses and helping them meet their revenue goals. Prior to starting Titan Web Agency, he freelanced in SEO and Web Design while working in the corporate world. Tyson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, the father of 5, and enjoys spending time with his family. Particularly on the baseball field.