20 Effective Ways to Increase Productivity in a Dental Office
by Tyson Downs
*This post was originally published January 22, 2016, and updated February 22, 2021.
Note: While this blog post references dental offices, the strategies discussed will undoubtedly help all medical offices.
Successful dental offices run on efficiency, enhanced workflow management, systems, and synchronized product integration.
The standard practice has two separate units that need to work together: clinical and office management. When both are working well, a dental office should notice an increase in productivity. But what is the best way to improve your team's productivity? In this post, we’ll explain what can increase productivity in a dental office.
Telltale Signs That Your Dental Practice is Busy, Not Productive
It's a common misconception that a busy person is a productive person. When you walk into an office and see people bustling around, you might assume those people are productive. But if your employees are frantically working all day and you're still running behind on key tasks and goals, they're probably just busy and not productive.
Here are some key differences between busy people and productive people:
- Busy people work hard and productive people work smart
- Busy people are task-oriented while productive people are goal-oriented
- Busy people are inefficient while productive people are efficient
- Busy people appear frantic while productive people are focused
If it seems like your team members are running around all day and not ever catching up, it's a good sign that they are busy instead of productive. The good news is, there are things you can do starting now to change that.
What Can Increase Productivity in Dental Practices?
Making the shift from busy-ness to productivity requires care and attention. We've come up with 20 things you can do to increase office productivity in your dental practice.
1. Enhance Telephone Interactions and Communication
The first interaction between a patient and your office is most commonly the telephone. Because of this, it is necessary to train your staff to answer and communicate professionally.
It is also important to train team members to handle issues that may arise during a telephone interaction. Office staff should be trained in basic sales principles to ensure they handle every patient interaction appropriately.
Training is a must when it comes to ensuring that your employees have the proper telephone etiquette and understanding of how to convert a caller to a patient. Each call is an opportunity to grow your practice.
Some employees may be shy about keeping a caller on the phone or trying to overcome objections, but with a little planning, the people who work for you can learn how to engage a caller and 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 dental help sooner rather than later. If a caller is hesitant to book an appointment, one tactic is to offer them two different appointments and remind them that the office can accommodate their schedule.
You can also train your team to remind callers about the importance of oral hygiene. Also, they 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, team members should have payment options available to discuss. Another option is to invite the caller to visit your office for a consultation where you can share information about services and payment options.
Team members who answer the phones may be hesitant to encourage callers to book appointments, but providing them with simple scripts can help them get over their reluctance.
In some cases, patients won’t call until there is a problem, which means your team needs to be ready to encourage the caller to book the appointment. Asking about the problem is a good way to demonstrate interest and compassion, which are both great ways to get callers to come into your office. Once they know someone is there to help, they are more likely to book the appointment.
To ensure follow-through on such appointments, book them as close to the call date as possible. Also, be sure to send an appointment reminder to the new patient.
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 you and your team care about them as a patient is vital to people. It takes minimal effort to call 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 their next cleaning when they are in your office.
2. Reduce the Time Patients Spend in the Waiting Room
When patients spend a prolonged time waiting to see a dentist, it can hurt your practice. You should be tracking patient wait times to see if long wait times are an issue in your practice.
For both dentists and assistants, it’s a significant challenge to overcome this issue, but it is important to remember that efficiency can make or break your practice.
Your team members should be trained to interact with the waiting patients in a way that lets them know they have not been forgotten. For example, if you're running behind schedule, your team should inform patients that there will be a wait. They should also include an approximate wait time.
Communication is essential. For example, if a patient is told it will be a 15-minute wait but the wait extends beyond those 15 minutes, another follow-up conversation is important to keep people comfortable and informed. The follow-up should happen as soon as you know that the wait will be longer than anticipated.
While nobody likes to wait, at least knowing when they will see the dentist 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. Moving people out of the waiting area makes it clear that the line is moving. You may also be able to perform a procedure on one patient and then begin treating another while the first waits for x-rays.
Wait times can also be reduced if your team works efficiently. That means
- Knowing the timeline for each dental procedure for scheduling purposes.
- Training your team to perform basic dental procedures such as dental impressions (depending on the laws in your state)
- Ensuring that the hygienist is always available to make the patient’s oral assessment.
- Delegating responsibilities appropriately
- Managing supplies and equipment through automation
- Assigning a dental assistant to each chair in the office
If you often run behind, 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 your capacity to provide services. At the end of the day, if a patient can get an appointment, but has to wait a long time to see you, they may find their way to another dental office.
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 data can be updated electronically and in real-time without the need for extra personnel.
In turn, this has the potential to reduce patient data errors. Not only does using technology reduce errors, but it also reduces the likelihood of misplacing or exposing information unknowingly. Electronic records are secure and reduce the likelihood that someone unauthorized will see a patient's chart.
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. Dentists are healthcare providers and bound by HIPAA regulations. Transitioning to electronic records, which are included with most dental office management software, can help you improve your efficiency and protect your patients' confidentiality.
Confidentiality is also important when it comes to finances. When collecting and storing credit card information, insurance information, and even checks from patients, human error can result in security breaches that can erode your patients' trust in you.
When using electronic databases, the likelihood of misplacing financial information virtually disappears. What’s more, offices like yours need to make the move into the 21st century and keep up with what the competition is doing. If you are still using paper records, you should strongly consider upgrading to a robust office management system.
4. Enhance Patient Perception of Hygiene
Hygiene means a lot more than simply being clean. You need to train your team members to engage patients in conversations about proper hygiene practices.
If the employees answering the phone and interacting with patients are trained properly to reinforce the value of regular dental hygiene visits, it can both improve your efficiency and increase your profits.
- By encouraging bi-annual hygiene services, your practice will likely see an increase in the following:
- Adjunct re-care services
- Antibacterial therapy
Productive practices confirm appointments 48 hours in advance and schedule the next appointment before the patient leaves the premises.
While patients often know that they should be visiting the dentist regularly, they may still put off appointments. Since delays lead to longer appointment times, it makes sense to encourage regular appointments.
Training your team 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, offer a new appointment. With potential patients, ask for the date of their last dental treatment and offer appointments accordingly.
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 will ensure your calendar is always full.
Another good practice to adopt is to review your patient database regularly and see which patients have not returned in a while. Have your team phone those patients and offer to schedule an appointment.
5. Improve Communication Between Front Desk and Back Office Staff
Clear and uninterrupted communication systems among team members are a key component of productivity. Use modern technology, such as dental practice management software, to share essential information. Doing so saves time and allows you to focus on your patients.
Using a system that can be accessed from anywhere in the office ensures that correct and accurate information is available to everyone who needs it and eliminates unnecessary delays.
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, the front office team can’t process claims because the 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 see patients and you won’t be wasting your team's time while they wait for files to be returned for processing.
For direct communications within an office, consider an intercom system or instant messaging through practice management software. The more you take advantage of technology, the more efficient your practice will be.
You'll need to get your team on board with adopting new technology. Cross-training team members will also improve efficiency since it ensures that no single person is responsible for any part of the new system. If someone is out of work, another team member will be able to step in.
6. Take Advantage of Automated Billing
If you haven’t done so by now, you should adopt automated billing. Manual billing is time-consuming and increases the chance of human error. Automated billing can leave your team more time for other things and improve your access to insurance programs and payment options.
With paper billing systems, it can take several days or even weeks to receive payments. As paper billing systems are being phased out of many insurance companies, the processing of paper claims may take significantly longer than electronic claims. Upgrading to an electronic automated billing system means your office gets access to funds as quickly and securely as possible.
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 because some insurance providers may have preferences that you'll need to accommodate.
Automation makes life easier if you have the resources to invest in it. You may be surprised by how much money you can save when your team spends less time preparing paper claims. You will also save by spending less money on postage and other costs associated with paper billing.
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 instead of waiting days or weeks for a mailed response.
Typically, automation can reduce the need for several staff members who are 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. Automated billing systems can analyze Excel spreadsheets and PDF files to extract treatment codes. Automation can also populate claim forms and eliminate much of the data entry required for paper claims.
7. Conduct Workshops to Make Administrative Staff MS Office Experts
While many people have basic Microsoft (MS) Office skills, they may not know how to use these skills to improve productivity. As part of your commitment to your team, you will need to provide ongoing training and workshops to improve their skills. Doing so ensures that they have access to the latest information and concepts. This can help your team interact with patients more robustly and efficiently.
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. Ensuring that your team has the latest information related to the software used in your office is vital to productivity and profit.
However, one workshop or training session isn’t enough. Ongoing training is important to the success of any office. Making training a priority will ensure that your team stays up to date on software features and uses the tools you provide efficiently.
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 a 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.
8. Ensure that the Office is Designed for Enhanced Efficiency
The layout of a dental office should be both aesthetically pleasing and efficient. All operations within the office should 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.
Creating an open and welcoming registration area will ensure that patients approach your registration desk with confidence and know they are in the right place. Your waiting area should have ample room to accommodate patients. If it is constantly filling up, it could be an indication that your calendar is over-scheduled or the waiting room is not large enough for your growing practice.
When planning your office space, ensure that you have space for dentists to work and review patient files in privacy. Your team members will also need space to work, but space should be available and accessible to everyone. Creating the perfect practice might mean that you need to move walls or perform renovations. While it might mean some upfront costs, 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 that's the case, you may want to give careful consideration to finding a new space.
Designing your practice to encourage productivity will help you save time and increase your profits. We suggest consulting with your team 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. Also, each dentist will have their version of what they want their space to look like.
9. Invest in Effective Lights
When considering the layout and function of your dental office, don’t forget to consider the importance of lighting. Dentists need to work in an environment free of shadows 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. Moving lights is both 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 is 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 the lighting in the room or office that is important, it is also how you light the patient’s mouth.
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.
10. Incorporate Digital Employee Scheduling Systems
When it comes to running a successful dental practice, it is important to ensure that employee schedules are created and managed efficiently. 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 allow you to schedule employees into allotted working hours while also paying them and tracking their employee deductions, payroll, and taxes.
Employees can 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 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 team, 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 morale 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.
11. Improve your Practice by Paying Attention to Patient Complaints
Now and then, you will have to deal with complaints from patients regarding your staff or practice. It’s just part of running a business. You can improve productivity by getting ahead of the game and having a system in place for dealing with patient complaints. You may want to assign this task to a dedicated team member.
You can start by developing forms on your dental 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 follow up on the negative comments. Don’t just collect the information and ignore it.
There is a lot of value in exploring not only what is going right in your dental practice, but what is going wrong, as well. When you get a complaint, be sure to conduct interviews with the 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 fingers on the pulse of what is going on in their practice, so it is not uncommon to review the files and discuss situations with employees as they arise.
Remember that all feedback allows your practice to improve. Be open to receiving critiques and complaints from patients and don’t make the mistake of ignoring this negative feedback. By addressing issues and missed opportunities, you can prevent issues from occurring again. You will also provide your patients with a reason to trust 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 them until you achieve your goal. Be sure to keep the patient apprised of any developments that have arisen 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 to inform the patient about the changes that have resulted from the incident.
12. 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, or no sick days in a given time. Whatever it is that you decide to introduce, be sure to get feedback from your team.
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 chance. Get your staff involved! Your team 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 regularly. If the practice is doing well and employees are reaching their targets, provide a bonus incentive.
Staff achievements can also be promoted within the practice, on the website, and social media. This is great content for social media and shows that your office is improving productivity, efficiency, and growth over time.
13. Go Paperless
Is your dental office still using paper for things like patient charts and billing? If the answer is yes, then going paperless is an option that can help you and your team increase productivity. Making the move away from paper can help your practice in a variety of ways, including the following:
- Paperless workplaces are clean and organized and working in an organized space can improve focus and productivity.
- Paperless documents are easy to manage and less likely to be lost or misfiled.
- Once trained, it takes less time to create a digital patient chart than it would a paper one.
- In a paperless office, routine tasks can be automated for greater efficiency.
- Communication between team members is seamless and records are created automatically.
- There's a reduced risk of human error since many fields and forms will be populated automatically.
Dentists who work in paperless practices find that they can use digital tools for almost every aspect of patient care and practice management. X-rays and scans can be added instantly to patient charts. Using cloud-based software means that dentists and their employees can work from any location and have the same access to patient charts and essential documents. Collaboration is easy because more than one person can access a patient file at the same time.
While there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period as you and your employees get accustomed to working in a paperless environment, the long-term benefits in productivity, efficiency, and patient care make the investment of time and money worthwhile.
14. Harness the Power of the Daily Morning Huddle
In a busy dental practice, the tendency may be to avoid scheduling regular meetings because they take away from other responsibilities. But what if spending 15 or 30 minutes in a daily morning huddle could boost your productivity?
It turns out that the daily morning huddle may be one of the keys to running a successful dental practice. In the daily huddle, all team members gather to share relevant information about the coming day. The meeting should be scheduled and led by a designated meeting coordinator. The agenda could include the following things.
- An overview of the day's schedule, including cancellations, new patients, and a plan for scheduling emergency treatments as needed.
- A look ahead at the next few days. For example, if you have openings in your hygiene schedule, you can have a team member call patients who are waiting for an appointment to fill those spots.
- A review of necessary treatments that have not yet been scheduled to create a follow-up plan.
- A discussion of the day's patients who have any special needs. You might highlight patients who are fearful of the dentist or anybody that needs extra attention or specialized care.
- Identification of any patients who might have unfinished treatments or unpaid bills.
It can be difficult for employees to keep track of everything so the daily huddle is the ideal way to check-in, follow up, and give your employees positive reinforcement when they do a good job. By setting goals, you can book more appointments and increase your productivity and profits.
15. Add Indoor Plants
Do you have plants in your dental practice? If not, you might be interested to know that there is scientific research to support the idea that building a green workspace can help to improve employee satisfaction and boost productivity.
A study conducted in the UK and the Netherlands revealed that green workspaces that include plants are more productive than lean workspaces without plans.
- Enriching a "lean" office with plants can improve overall productivity by as much as 15%.
- Employees' perception of air quality and general working conditions are better when there are plants in the office.
- Employees reported better concentration and better workplace satisfaction when plants were present.
- Plants help workers feel more emotionally and intellectually invested in their work.
- Plants can decrease stress and anxiety.
While the focus of this post is on productivity, we would be remiss if we didn't note that plants can also help your patients. Greenery makes your office feel more welcoming and patients will experience the mental health benefits of their presence as much as your team members do.
16. Organize Team-Building Activities
When employees work together as a team, they work efficiently. The result is a harmonious workplace where both employees and patients feel comfortable. You can improve your team's performance by organizing team-building activities for your staff.
Team-building activities can benefit your practice in a variety of ways. They:
- Encourage employees to get to know one another and build rapport.
- They help new employees feel comfortable and welcome.
- They encourage collaboration among employees.
- They build trust because team members must work together to achieve their goals.
- They encourage creative problem-solving.
- They underscore the importance of effective communication.
Scheduling a day (or a half-day) of team-building activities will help your employees work together more productively and efficiently. If you don't want to schedule in-person activities, keep in mind that virtual team-building activities are an alternative.
17. Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Dental Office
The practice of mindfulness is one that may help your employees do better and more productive work. There are several research-backed benefits of mindfulness that you should know about.
- Mindfulness can improve employees' confidence and make them better at their jobs. It helps people feel more centered and in control of themselves and the result is increased productivity and better job performance.
- Mindfulness can reduce anxiety and stress. People who have a strong mind/body connection and who are aware of their emotions are less likely to let stress get in the way of doing their jobs. They're not going to take their anxiety out on people around them. As a bonus, an anxiety reduction can also help your patients feel comfortable.
- Mindfulness training increases feelings of general well-being and can make employees feel more loyal and happy in their jobs.
You can encourage mindfulness by modeling it for your employees. If you have a morning huddle, you might encourage your team to engage in some simple mindful breathing exercises. Multitasking is the enemy of mindfulness, so you might also let employees know that focusing on a single task is preferable to the alternative.
Another option is to provide a quiet space for employees to meditate before work or during their breaks. Research shows that even a short meditation can decrease conflicts and improve productivity.
18. Reduce Overtime
Paying your employees to work overtime might seem like a good thing. It allows them to earn a bit of extra money and ensures that necessary tasks are completed. However, overtime can be the enemy of productivity.
If your office employees are regularly working overtime, there is a risk that they will become exhausted and frustrated with their jobs. Employee burnout is a risk in any profession. When you push team members beyond their limits, they're likely to be tired, frustrated, and more likely to make mistakes.
The good news is that improving your team's productivity should make it less likely that you need to schedule overtime. If you find that you have work that requires extra hours, you should consider outsourcing it. Hiring a virtual assistant or part-time help may be a better choice than asking too much of your employees. Which can lead to burnout.
19. Keep a Close Eye on Your Inventory
Inventory control isn't something you immediately think of when considering what can increase productivity in a dental office. However, controlling your inventory can help with patient scheduling, employee efficiency, and profitability.
Start by creating a written inventory manual for your employees to use. It should include information about necessary supplies, preferred vendors, and ordering protocol. At the same time, make sure that you create a schedule to review your inventory regularly and make note of any needs that may have changed.
Your inventory should never be left to chance. If it is, there's a risk that you'll be unable to provide necessary care because you lack the necessary supplies.
20. Reduce No-Shows with a Dental Scheduling and Recall System
Patient scheduling and recalls are an area where most practices can use improvement. Your front desk staff should be following up with patients regularly to schedule dental care and improve patient experience and satisfaction.
Using a scheduling platform can help your employees keep track of appointments and follow up as needed. Ideally, you should give your patients the ability to schedule their appointments online. Choose scheduling software that generates automatic reminder emails or texts.
You also should have a system for recalls. For example, say a prospective patient comes in for a consultation and you give them a quote for dental implants or veneers. If they ask for time to think about it, you will need to follow up with them to see if they want to book an appointment. Training staff to call will increase the likelihood that the person in question will make an appointment and choose you instead of one of your competitors.
Catapult Your Dental Practice Productivity To The Next Level
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.