Cyber Solutions to Practice Problems

From online training to digital overhead control to collections that click, today’s thriving dental practices are using computers for far more than time management and status reports. While dentists have been urged for years to monitor computerized reports on key systems such as production, scheduling, and accounts receivable, as we charge further into the 21st century the opportunities to use computers as highly efficient and cost-effective practice control centers are exploding.

Many practices have the technological infrastructure in place to point and click their way to significantly improved productivity, with one exception: high-speed Internet. At prices below $20 per month in some areas, it is one of the most cost-effective steps a practice can take to maximize the strengths of the team, improve production, and in many respects electronically tackle some of your biggest practice management headaches. This isn’t the wave of the future. It’s the standard operating procedure in today’s successful businesses—most especially dental practices. Here’s why.

“CYBERTRAINING” STAFF MEMBERS—THEY DO THE MATH, YOU REAP THE SAVINGS

The issue of training continues to present huge challenges for dentists. Compound employee turnover with a general reticence to invest in training, and the results are nothing short of disastrous for too many practices. Our consultants commonly see poor training layered upon poor training. The typical scenario looks something like this: Sue, who was trained by Betty, taught Tom. Tom trained Jane. Sue was fired and Betty left, so Jane tried to teach Joe and Jill. Joe passed on what he thought he knew to Kathy. The end result is this: no one is fully trained to do much of anything except the bare minimum, and should something go wrong, the entire system could be virtually paralyzed for hours.

The burger joint down the street has a more effective training procedure than most dental practices. Consequently, the single biggest contributor to practice inefficiency and mismanagement is a poorly trained team, and the lack of instruction provided to dental business staff, in particular, borders on criminal neglect. Ironically, the one who suffers the most is the dentist. Still, many doctors are reluctant to invest in instruction.

What’s the problem? Money. Dentists commonly fear that if they must send an employee out of state or bring the experts in  it will cost a small fortune. Then that freshly trained employee will take her newly formed education and trot off to the practice down the street. Too often dentists can’t see past the fears and the dollar signs to realize that training is a significant contributor to employee loyalty, and the investment should pay for itself in improved staff efficiency. Today, however, in this technology-driven new economy, there is a solution: cybertraining.

As we are seeing in virtually every business sector, training no longer requires that employees be sent to faraway locales, nor does it necessarily require that trainers be brought on-site. Dentists can now join the ranks of thousands of other employers in the marketplace that are sending their employees to school in cyberspace, saving considerable time and reducing the cost of employee instruction by 70% to 80%.

Online training specifically designed for dental business employees, clinical staff, and the dentist is available. In roughly 30 minutes your front desk employee can point and click through a tutorial on the causes and remedies of broken appointments. He or she can review a course on reducing accounts receivable. Hygienists can click their way through a lesson on patient tracking, and the doctor can learn the latest on conducting salary and performance reviews. Online courses now available or entering the dental marketplace enable staff members, as well as dentists, to receive much-needed training at their own pace without ever leaving the office and without gutting the bottom line.

CYBER-MATCH YOUR STAFF

Clint Eastwood once said, “Marriages are made in heaven, so too are thunder and lightning.” The same sentiment often is felt when it comes to staff hiring. In some cases, it is unparalleled bliss. In many others, the split can’t come soon enough. As virtually every dentist has experienced, a seemingly rock-solid resume and practical experience offer no assurance that the person you hire will prove to be the excellent candidate you interviewed. After all, the closest anyone ever comes to perfection is on his or her resume. Then reality walks into your practice on Monday morning, and you want to know who this person is and what happened to your “perfect” hire.

Even for those dentists who believe they follow careful screening procedures, many new employees simply don’t work out. And not only do bad hires take a formidable toll on the bottom line (estimates range from 1.5 to 5 times annual salary), they also damage patient relations, staff morale, and overall effectiveness of the practice. 

Hiring and personnel issues are a recurring nightmare for almost every office, and dentists find themselves burdened by seemingly perpetual staffing headaches. What if you could use your computer to identify the applicant who would be the ideal match for your practice? Many businesses already are. Employers, including dentists, are now using Internet testing tools to prescreen applicants, and these are making a huge difference in the quality of new hires.

Like staff training, the broader marketplace is driving this technological hiring revolution, as employers snap up tools to help them make more reliable and less expensive hiring decisions. Statistically valid and scientifically based hiring assessment tools are available online for dentists; computerized testing can help identify the best applicants for positions. Based on formative data drawn specifically from the dental industry, one such computerized assessment measures job applicants against a profile of the “ideal” dental practice employee for each position. What’s more, this carefully tested and thoroughly researched hiring tool is fully compliant with legal requirements associated with employee testing. 

The procedure is simple: applicants being considered answer a list of questions online. Just minutes later, the dentist receives a statistically reliable report enabling him or her to determine clearly if the candidate under consideration would be a good match for the position being filled. The online test, which is based on 50 years of research and data, is like a human resources version of DNA sampling. The accuracy of the match is virtually unrivaled.  Couple an excellent employee match with downloaded forms de-signed to walk you step-by-step through how to determine mathematically the level of employee raises and how to establish performance measurement standards, and you have fast remedies to some of your biggest practice headaches. 

CYBER-TIME IS MONEY—BIG MONEY

You may shudder at the price of gas these days, but I suspect you would find yourself on the brink of convulsions if you knew how much basic business inefficiency was costing your practice. Picture this: new-patient Mary calls to schedule an appointment for Thursday morning at 10 AM. Business assistant Diane, well-intentioned employee that she is, calls the new patient’s insurance company to confirm Mary’s eligibility. By the time Diane looks up the phone number for the insurance company, calls the firm, sits on hold, provides necessary details and information to a company representative, and sits on hold a while longer, it’s been a good 20 minutes just to check insurance eligibility on this patient. Come 10 AM Thurs-day, new-patient Mary is a last-minute cancellation because something came up at work. She’ll call back when she can reschedule. Twenty minutes lost here, 15 minutes wasted there…how much time is frittered away every day without even a second thought?

In the time that it took to confirm eligibility via phone on that no-show patient, how many confirmation calls could have been made? How many collection calls could have been completed? How many unscheduled treatment plans could have been followed up? That same eligibility check could have been completed online in a fraction of the time.

Many dentists are hesitant to install high-speed Internet connections in their practices.  They have difficulty understand-ing how that $20 a month could be a wise investment. Even if all it was used for was electronic confirmation of insurance eligibility, the connection would pay for itself in probably less than a day. Then there’s the potential for thousands of dollars in increased treatment acceptance. Surprisingly, many practitioners can scarcely comprehend the link between treatment acceptance and the Internet. Yet, software is available that allows you to determine in seconds via the Internet if a patient is eligible for treatment financing, virtually eliminating the single biggest obstacle patients must overcome to accept your recommended care.

CONCLUSION

Certainly, the Internet isn’t the solution to every practice issue. But in the current dental practice economy, thriving teams are maximizing those technology resources that are readily available to seize today’s opportunities and prepare for tomorrow’s challenges. What are you waiting for?



Ms. McKenzie, certified management consultant, is a nationally known lecturer, author, and consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. She is CEO of The McKenzie Company, which has provided through McKenzie Management, its consulting division, on-site analysis of the business and hygiene departments of dental practices nationwide for more than 25 years. McKenzie Management also offers a full line of educational products through mckenziemgmt.com. She is also founder of The Center for Dental Career Development, which provides advanced dental education to front office business employees, dentists/office managers, and hygienists, and team-building programs in La Jolla, Calif, or on-site. The Center also offers online training courses through dentalcareerdevelop.com. To receive Ms. McKenzie's free e-management newsletter, e-mail sally- This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit mckenziemgmt.com or dentalcareerdevelop.com.