Experience. It’s a word that conveys different meanings to different people. When seeking employment, applicants naturally want to convince their prospective bosses that they would bring necessary experience to the position. Meanwhile employers—dentists specifically—often are in the difficult position of trying to fill vacancies quickly. Many don’t typically need a lot of convincing that the applicant with the pleasant smile and friendly demeanor is the one for their office, particularly when the applicant asserts that he or she has what it takes to do the job.
Take Dr. Sharp, for example. His business employee of 12 years decided it was time for a change of scenery and accepted a position out of state. That left a frantic Dr. Sharp eagerly trying to fill the vacancy. In walks applicant Amanda. She has worked as a receptionist and as a clerk in the children’s department at a large retail store, which must mean that she’s good with people and well-organized—both very important qualities for someone responsible for the business operations of the practice, surmises a desperate Dr. Sharp.
During the interview, he dutifully covers the usual questions with Amanda, avoiding any probing inquiries and listening closely for those things he wants to hear. He asks, “Do you have experience with scheduling?”
Illustration by Nathan Zak
“Certainly,” Amanda says, thinking to herself, I have to get in the shower by 7 am to make the train by 8 am to be at work by 9 am. I also have to make sure that I’m at the gym by 5:30 pm so I can be home in time to eat dinner and watch my favorite show by 8 pm. “Yes, I am very good at scheduling.”
“Do you have computer training?”
“Of course,” the applicant says emphatically, ticking through a variety of point-and-click responsibilities in her mind: I know how to buy and sell on ebay, I have all the important Web sites organized in my favorites list, and I am a whiz at e-mail. “Yes, I have lots of computer experience.”
“How would you rate your experience in effectively communicating with others?” asks Dr. Sharp.
“Very high,” Amanda answers. You should see my thumbs go! I can text message while driving, applying make-up, even during a movie. “I consider myself to be an expert communicator.”
Amanda is hired, bringing all her “technical expertise” to the position.
While the scenario above may be somewhat exaggerated, the reality is that it is not uncommon for practices to hire new employees that bring “experience,” “knowledge,” and “training” in numerous areas, but often it’s not the experience, knowledge, or training that your practice needs or what the job really requires.
NEEDS AND EXPECTATIONS HAVE CHANGED
Managing a dental practice has always demanded excellent customer service skills as well as knowledge of dental business systems such as scheduling, financial arrangements, insurance processing, collection and billing, recall, etc. But the expectations are higher today, and the need for specific computer literacy is significantly greater. Even jobs that would not necessarily be described as “technical” commonly require computer experience or technical skills. Dental practice employees—both clinical and business—are often expected to understand and use spreadsheet, word-processing, and database software.
There’s simply no denying the fact that in these competitive times, computer system savvy has become essential to the success of the dental practice. And although an applicant may bring some computer experience, it doesn’t mean he or she has the compulsory knowledge to access and interpret necessary reports or compile spreadsheets. The challenge of finding people who are truly skilled at this technology remains an ongoing concern for dental practices across the country.
YESTERDAY’S EXPERT IS TODAY’S AMATEUR
Historically, a college degree in business was not a requirement to get a position in the dental business office, and many people employed at the front office were former dental assistants or people who were trained on the job in another practice. And although most of Generations X, Y, and Millennials (those coming of age in the new Millennium) have been exposed to computers virtually their entire lives, if they do not go on to college or receive specific training, the skills often remain elementary.
When hiring someone to manage the now million-dollar practice, formal business training and more than basic knowledge of computer software is essential. The practice management reports that can be generated by today’s sophisticated software will tell you virtually everything you must know about your practice: if it is growing or declining, what procedures are your “bread and butter,” what other services or products you need to market, how many new patients are coming in and how many patients are leaving, how many children you see and how many adults, what percentage of your practice is insurance and what is private pay, what percentage of the insurance base is Delta Dental or AETNA, and so on. The wealth of critical information is virtually boundless, provided that your team knows how to access and use it.
Here is the bottom line: hiring someone who is “experienced” does not have the same meaning that it did in the past unless this person has had formal business training and can demonstrate more than e-mail skills on the computer.
ASSESS RELEVANT EXPERIENCE
If the job requires the employee to compile spreadsheets using Excel, but the applicant only has superficial knowledge of the program, find out before he or she is on the job. If staff members are expected to compile letters to patients, doctors, insurance companies, and others using Microsoft Word, and the applicant has no idea how to use the formatting options within the program, it is better to learn that now than discover it in 6 weeks. Don’t allow yourself or your team to be surprised by what a new recruit doesn’t know. Test applicant skills before you ever offer him or her a front-row spot on your team.
For example, if you’re hiring a new office manager, this applicant’s skills should be evaluated in a number of areas. Consider this approach: first, make up a “dummy” patient on the computer, then ask the applicant to put together a treatment plan and schedule the patient for multiple appointments. Next, ask the candidate to post from the treatment plan. From there, the applicant should be asked to gather insurance information on the “dummy patient.” Finally, the applicant should be able to create a treatment proposal and a financial option sheet. These are the basics. You will be able to observe skill level and the need for additional computer training.
Will the investment necessary to bring this person up to speed be too great, or do his or her strengths outweigh the weaknesses? Can the shortfalls in the applicant’s skill levels be overcome with proper technical training? You’ll have clearer answers to those important questions if you carefully evaluate the applicant’s current skill level. If you choose to train, make the most of the teaching opportunities across the entire staff.
EFFECTIVE TRAINING PROTOCOLS FOR ALL EMPLOYEES
If you’re planning to train the new employee in-house, consider exactly who is going to take on that responsibility. If it’s you, the doctor, do you plan to see patients in the morning and clear your afternoons so that you can teach the new employee how to use the systems? Chances are great that you have neither the time nor the inclination to take on this responsibility. If it’s another staff member, do you plan to pay him or her extra to teach the new recruit after hours? What is the competency level of the person training the new employee? Is this person the “beneficiary” of layers of information that have been passed down from one worker to the next and still just trying to figure things out? Or is this staff member truly an expert on how to use the systems fully and effectively?
Certainly, well-trained staff can be helpful in familiarizing new employees with computer systems. But plan to budget for professional training and make the most of those dollars spent. Take specific steps to build a lineup of software superstars with an effective training system. Bring the software trainer in to teach the employee specific skills, and document each session, so that the new employee as well as others in the practice can review steps for completing specific tasks and check their level of mastery. Keep the documentation in your Dental Business Training Manual along with a checklist of computer system skills specific to your practice that each employee should have mastered.
Each time you integrate new technology or make use of a new tool in your computer software, add the training steps to your training manual. This will allow staff members to review procedures that they don’t use regularly and new staff to master new systems more quickly and efficiently.
Finally, remember the 3-month rule of thumb. In general, it takes 3 months of supervised training to get new hires up to speed. Don’t assume that they know the job because they say they do. Monitor the performance during the 90-day training period and have a senior team member check the accuracy of the work with the intention of coaching, not criticizing. Front office accuracy in new patients, collections, production, and retention can be checked by the daily and monthly computer reports. Instructions on reading these important reports are also incorporated into the curriculum no matter what system you are using.