More than just the 'girls up front'
By Theresa Sheppard

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A well-trained insurance administrator and treatment coordinator are valuable members of the dental team. They can usually assist the doctor with increasing monthly production by several hundred to several thousand dollars. Just think of what that would do for your practice.

Only the doctor can diagnose and determine a treatment plan. But once the treatment plan is complete, the insurance administrator can add valuable insight in respect to sequencing and timing of specific treatments. The key is open communication between doctor and team. By making a few little adjustments and using the correct code, you can get paid for the things you already do.


Does your dental team have a daily morning huddle?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

Patients are always looking to stretch their dollars. It is important that patients have an experience that exceeds their expectations and they have a greater perceived value of your services than they would at another office. Dentists have no control over most of their overhead. However, they do have control over their perceived value.

Clear communication with the patient is essential to the success of the practice. Not only should team members be able to effectively speak to a patient, they must also hear what the patient has to say. Most patients are less concerned with the type of treatment needed and more concerned about out-of-pocket expense, time off work, etc.

The team must be able to address the patient's concerns in a calm, understanding manner. There is a difference between listening and hearing. You must learn to hear what your patient is telling you. Here are a few things that patients place a high value on:
  • Being seated on time and seen on time
  • Seeing a caring, well-trained and knowledgeable team
  • Having benefits explained to them
  • Having simple financial policies
  • Building relationships
By exceeding a patient's expectations, you will build a base of desirable patients, you will have fewer missed appointments and better case acceptance, and your practice will benefit. Your patients will feel respected and appreciated, and will be happy. They become loyal to your office and will refer their family and friends.

It has been my experience over the last 30 years of working in and with dental offices that the ones who take the time to review the patient's charts, use route slips properly and have a morning huddle are more successful than those who don't.

It is easy to have tunnel vision and only deal with what the patient is coming in for that day, but when we do that we miss some significant items. The biggest culprit of lost opportunities to provide optimal care is the morning huddle. There are important questions to answer:
  • Does the patient have undone treatment?
  • Did the patient see the specialist that you referred him/her to?
  • When was the patient's last complete exam, perio evaluation and diagnostics?
  • Did the patient express an interest in teeth whitening that was never followed up on?
  • Do we have a patient on today's schedule with special needs that will require the use of a specific operatory or wants only a certain assistant?
  • Does this patient require antibiotic premed and have they been reminded to take it?
  • Will you run out of instruments if you have back-to-back procedures?
  • Does this patient only come in when he/she has a toothache?
  • Is there a balance we need to collect before the patient is seated?
By taking the time to prepare your charts for the next day and discuss the day's schedule, you will be more productive, better prepared and less stressed. You lose credibility when you appear unorganized. Nothing is worse than having patients stand at the counter after treatment is done and say they "didn't know they had to pay today" or "I don't have my wallet, can you bill me?" Would they go to the grocery store, a restaurant, hairdresser, etc., without expecting to pay? Could you image asking your car repair shop if they can bill you?

Patients are less receptive to accepting large treatment plans because of the out-of-pocket costs. It's not that they don't understand or disagree with the presentation; it's that they are usually budgeting their dollars very carefully. Most patients can't write a check for $1,000, but they could probably afford $30 per month.

This is where your financial administrator or office manager helps the patient find a payment plan that fits his/her budget. Most offices have a variety of long-term payment options available for those patients who need to stretch out their financial obligations. These can include obtaining an authorization from the patient to do a monthly auto-draw on the date the patient helps determine, from the account of their choice.

Positive changes like this start off small and must start with the doctor taking the lead. It can take some time to get everyone on the same page, but in the end you will have a smoother-running office — and a more profitable one.

Theresa Sheppard, RDA, is the owner of Optimal Dental Insights, which is dedicated to helping dental teams optimize the clinical and financial health of their practices.