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5 Things Your Patients Have a Right to Expect

Not long ago there was an online article where the author was talking about the need for an Internet Bill of Rights: in other words, an updated set of regulations and protocols that would help ensure consumer data security in the internet era. Given the number of high-profile data breaches we read about in the news these days, that actually might not be a bad idea.

It’s also easy to jump from there to start thinking about what sorts of things clients can expect when they come to you for dental work. Perhaps a “bill of rights” isn’t necessary, but there are a few things that anyone—first-timers or long-time patient—should be able to count on when they walk in:

  1. The right to feel confident

The average person is simply not comfortable in the dentist chair, so it is important to go out of your way to help patients feel safe and confident. Does your staff wear masks, gloves and appropriate eyewear? Are gloves and other such items disposed of between patients? Are all dental instruments sterilized and stored in sealed bags? Following procedures 99 percent of the time may feel like you’re doing a good job, but the one person who notices you skipping a step can do a lot of damage.

  1. The right to have questions answered

Both causing and exacerbating the discomfort mentioned above, patients may have a lot of questions going into a procedure. Your job: answer them. All of them, to the patient’s satisfaction. And do it politely, no matter how much of a hurry you’re in. Better yet, try to anticipate questions, explaining things clearly before you’re even asked. Do your best to put them at ease; it will make everything run smoother.

  1. The right to professional, courteous service

Sometimes, there is a fine line between creating an amicable atmosphere so that your patients can relax…and crossing that line into “too close for comfort” territory. Your patients expect you to be polite—even friendly—but they also want professionalism. They may talk to you, joke with you, even give you a friendly hug; but make no mistake, they still have the right to hold you to professional business standards. That means keeping on appointment schedules, being prepared, and being upfront about what they can expect.

  1. They have a right to a long-term plan

After every exam, you should be able to present a plan for ongoing treatment – whether it’s a schedule of regular checkups or timeline for more extensive dental work when necessary. This plan should include both the suggested steps as well as treatment alternatives, benefits, risks, and costs. All financial arrangements should be outlined prior to treatment, including how your office will handle insurance and billing.

  1. They have a right to say “No”

A lot goes in to a decision as significant as extensive dental work. Things that may seem obvious and important to you can seem foreign and overwhelming to the patient. You can tell them that work needs to be done, but they are wondering if it’s really necessary, or an upsell, or whether they should get a second opinion.

As dentists, we are supposed to make patients feel informed and acknowledged on the road to dental health—not threatened or intimidated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, but patients have every right in the world to ask about less expensive or less invasive options, seek a second opinion, or just plain say “No” to a procedure.

On top of all this, your patients have a right to have their personal information kept private and secure. This is getting to be a greater and greater challenge as our dependence of technology increases. Still it is your job to do everything in your power to protect personal info.

While it’s true that the dentist does the diagnosing and develops the treatment plan, the contemporary patient expects to know what the options are and to have a say in the decision-making process. You need to be guiding the patient every step, helping them find a solution that meets their unique criteria.

Much of it gets down to your own personal/professional credo. Dentists need to be committed to delivering both the best product and the best experience. That is seldom the easiest tack to take, but it will make a difference. Like they say: be the change you want to see in the world.

Or in the dental practice, as the case may be.

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Fewer Dentists, More Scams

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 5,000 communities in the US lack adequate access to professional dental care, which is defined as having fewer than one dentist per every 5,000 residents. According to the American Dental Association, about a third of American dentists are age 55 or over and thus close to retirement…meaning this shortage will most likely worsen over the next few decades.

This situation seems to have exacerbated a rise in dental scams, as well: with less competition, apparently a few unscrupulous practitioners feel they can treat patients shoddily without serious repercussions. While most dentists are caring and ethical, there remains a small (but still disturbing) number who are dishonest, abusing their positions of trust and authority to cheat patients and insurance companies out of an estimated $12.5 billion a year, according to the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association.

We’re not just talking about shabby work (although that is becoming more common in some circles, as well); the core of the problem is an increase in what can only be described as out-and-out fraud. The most common example of this would be performing treatment that is unnecessary or pointless.

It must be acknowledged, of course, that dental diagnoses can be extremely subjective: even honorable dentists may take a more aggressive approach to treatment than others in the field. Having said that, some deliberately and blatantly overdo it—doubling up on X-rays, drilling for nonexistent cavities or extracting perfectly good teeth—simply for financial gain.

Or instead of performing unnecessary work, a dentist may “upcode”: charge for a more expensive procedure than the one actually completed. For instance, a dubious practitioner might bill a basic cleaning as something much more complex and costly—such as an extraction—and pocket the extra cash. In worst-case scenarios, the dentist might even bill for doing nothing at all: when billing for services not rendered is simply a matter of adding an extra procedural code or two, shysters can view doing so as easy money at the insurance company’s expense.

These practitioners count on the fact that even patients who scrutinize their explanation of benefits (EOB) often miss upcoding or miscoding because names and codes for closely related treatments can be similar. Dentists should be warned, however, that the Dental Health Alliance publishes a list of the dental codes which are most frequently used in fraud. Access to this list can make it easier for sharp-eyed customers to see through the ruse, resulting in a credit card chargeback to the dentist…or worse, a report to the ADA.

Other tricks can be just as effective. Any modern dentist should know there is no evidence that amalgam fillings are hazardous to a patient’s health. But shady docs might suggest that those fillings—which DO contain mercury, but only at extremely low levels—are leaking and need to be replaced. This fear tactic makes the fillings seem like ticking time bombs, even though the US Food and Drug Administration says it’s not a problem.

Some dentists push the replacement anyway, glossing over the details and necessity of treatment and stressing the urgency. These dental “bullies” insist that such replacement is a routine—and in fact, it may be so in their practice. That doesn’t mean it’s correct…but that doesn’t stop them from applying pressure to have the procedure done, often implying that it will have to be done eventually, so why not now, while the patient is already in the chair?

Dentists who engage in these sorts of practices are a bane to those who deal fairly and honestly with patients. It can seem deceptively easy to cut a few corners here and there, fake a few codes, and gain a little extra income. In the long run, however, such tactics will only serve to give your office a bad name, and may even result in legal action under the False Claims Act. A better way to ensure success is to build a reputation for honest, quality patient care.

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The Importance of Recognition in Your Practice

Is your staff excited to be at work? Maybe not excited, but are they engaged? Do you sometimes feel like some of your people are just going through the motions? Well, it’s not just you: according to Gallup, only 34% of employees are engaged at work. And what’s worse, that’s an all-time high for this particular poll.

If this is actually indicative of today’s workforce, the numbers are staggering: essentially we’re saying that 2/3 of the US workforce is currently discontent … if not completely disengaged. How is that even possible?

A better question might be, what’s behind this rash of unhappiness? Here’s a clue: According to OC Tanner research:

  • In a global survey of what job seekers asked, the number-one attribute in a new job was “appreciation for my work.”

  • When employees are appreciated, they feel less stressed and feel more able to take on anything.

  • Employees who receive strong recognition generate twice as many ideas per month compared to those who aren’t recognized well.

And yet:

  • 65% of Americans claimed they weren’t even recognized one time last year.

It doesn’t matter how good a job your staff is doing: if they don’t know that YOU know, they are not going to be happy.

Are you recognizing your staff?

Giving recognition isn’t easy for some people, but as the head of your practice, one of your jobs is learning how to overcome those barriers. We’re not talking mindless or undeserved kudos: those tend to do more harm than good. Nobody wants to feel like you “recognized” them simply to fill a quota.

Making the effort to give your people the recognition they’ve earned, however, is powerful. Acknowledging the unique talents people bring to the game and demonstrating genuine appreciation can make some remarkable things happen. People start feeling more upbeat—a characteristic that will spread to others. You’ll see more energy, more enthusiasm, and more interest in the job.

It also carries with it a level of respect, which as one entrepreneur wrote, is an “essential teamwork skill.” Spending time and energy on developing a culture of recognition is one of the best investments you can make. Having said that …

It can be harder than it looks

“Give recognition” sounds easy enough, but there are all kinds of obstacles that keep it from being practiced on a regular basis. For one thing, like we said, recognition it has to be earned. But that means your people have to know how to earn it. Unfortunately, there’s no code book, no set legal precedent set-in-stone standard concerning what does or doesn’t receive praise.

Sometimes it’s obvious. Mostly, though, it isn’t … which means you’ll have to clearly define what you recognize. That can get especially tricky when you’re talking about, say, an office manager. Tricky, but even more important: in order to practice recognition, any manager has to know what to look for and how to provide it, and they can only learn that from YOU.

So how do you decide what is worthy of calling out? Think about the things YOU would like to be recognized for. Start with what you want to accomplish as a team. Identify goals and essential behaviors that will lead to those results, and then make sure your people know what’s on your radar.

Not everyone is good at giving praise; it doesn’t come naturally for some. Do it anyway: like most things, practice makes perfect. At first, it may feel forced, but the idea is for it to become the way things are done, as natural as breathing.

So build recognition into your daily routine. The more you recognize your staff’s good contributions, the more easily you’ll notice when it happens, and the more comfortable you’ll be mentioning it.

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Collections and Your Dental Practice

Seriously: Nobody likes collections. Shylock, maybe, but nobody else. It’s depressing, it’s time-consuming, and it’s embarrassing to everyone involved.

These days, collecting past-due monies is more challenging today than ever, especially in the medical arena. It’s hard enough to get people to pay at the time of service, despite what you tell them. You get all the excuses: I forgot my wallet … I never carry my checkbook … Can’t you just bill me? They walk away, and you never see the money.

Here’s the problem, though: the patients have learned that we don’t mean it. Oh, sure, we may send them a few “this time we really mean it” final notices…but so what? If we don’t follow that up with action, a “final notice” is apt to make the patient think “Great! Now I don’t have to listen to you whine!”

Even worse is what is termed “friendly fraud”: a patient hands you a credit card, the transaction is processed … then two weeks later the payment is rescinded because the patient called the bank and said the appointment never happened or some other excuse. Even if you fight back against this type of ploy, it will cost you revenue.

Prevention vs. Cure

The best collections plan in the world is still far less desirable than not having to collect at all. Obviously, the best thing you can do is collect fees at the time of service. To aid in this, you must first and foremost be absolutely sure you inform patients of your fees and your financial policy before you do dental treatment.

More importantly, you must make sure they understand the policies. The best way to do that is to make detailed financial arrangements before treatment even begins. It’s a good idea to make out a treatment plan in advance, using easy-to-understand language in lieu of technical dental terminology. Make sure the treatment plan encompasses the entire process, and make very sure the patient clearly knows what he or she is getting into.

Collections Will Be Necessary

Of course, there will always be patients who want to claim ignorance after the fact. That’s why it’s crucial to do whatever you can to ensure you can counter the claim…before treatment ever begins.

  • First, put EVERYTHING in writing: from a legal perspective, if it isn’t on a signed piece of paper, it doesn’t exist (usually). Your treatment plan should include a disclaimer statement that allows for necessary-but-unanticipated course corrections.
  • Always, always, ALWAYS have the patient sign a) a consent form agreeing to allow you perform the treatment outlined in the plan; and b) a truth-in-lending financial agreement with clear explanations of various fees and payment options. Transparency is your friend here.
  • Be sure to follow follow through with whatever you promise, positive or otherwise. If you say you’ll follow up on an insurance claim, do so. If you explain that after three attempts, the account will be turned over to a collections agency, do that. You can’t expect patients to take you at your word if you aren’t true to it.
  • Consistency is also important when tracking past-due payments. You’ll immediately lose credibility if repeated “final” notices never result in further action. Not only that, but it can land you in hot water with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which states that sending more than one final notice is considered harassment. The patient can actually take you to court over an unpaid bill.

Above and beyond anything else, make sure that whatever policies you have in your dental practice, they’re written down and consistently followed. You’ll always have people who try to beat the system … but you can do your best to ensure that you’ve covered yourself before they strike.

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Tips for Hiring an Office Manager

If your name is on the door, you’re more than just a dentist: you’re also head coach, recruiter, decision-maker, ruffled-feather-smoother, and more. The best ones are the glue that holds everything together and the oil that makes it run smoothly.

Efficient leaders must rely on an entire arsenal of skills and talents, but they also need to be able to rely on their second-in-command; in the case of running a practice, that person is almost always the office manager. From making sure the schedule is spaced and filled all the way to keeping work spaces decluttered to reduce stress, everything that happens in your practice can be helped or hurt by the effectiveness of your office manager.

But how does one go about recruiting top talent to ensure growth and stability? What’s the best way to find a future leader? We have some suggestions that may help.

Look Everywhere…but Start at Home.

When searching for a replacement for a successful office manager, there tend to be two camps: on the one hand is a tendency to seek out candidates that will serve as their predecessor’s clone. On the other hand are those who automatically jump to searching for candidates outside of the organization. Your best bet is to run simultaneous internal and external searches, judging all candidates against the same criteria.

Selective hiring, particularly in periods of growth, is essential for stability and sustainability. Hiring decisions may be influenced by what has worked in the past, but make sure you’re keeping the future needs of the business in mind. There’s something to be said for knowing the company well from Day One, but new ideas may be exactly what your organization needs.

Interview Professionally, Not Formally.

When it comes time to start the interviewing process, taking a more casual approach allows for a natural, free-flowing conversation…and that’s truly the best way to get to know an interviewee on a real-life basis. Going beyond the resume, as it were, provides a greater opportunity to tell whether the person will be a strong match with your practice’s needs … and with the office culture.

Although a strong work ethic is one of the most important traits you should look for in an office manager, being organized is also reflected in one’s ability to balance work and personal lives. Employees who can strike this balance are less likely to burn out, increasing the odds of them staying with the position for the long-haul.

Look for Organization.

We can’t really stress this enough: Organizational skills are essential for the office manager role:

  • Time-Management. Knowing how to manage time is critical when it comes to keeping everyone on task. The best OMs are keenly aware of the appointment schedule, striving to keep it full enough to maximize revenue but still retain flexibility. This allows everyone to stay busy but not overwhelmed.
  • Physical Skills. As we mentioned earlier, a cluttered workspace causes stress. Loose papers lying around, pens and markers without a proper place, personal items strewn about haphazardly: these not only lead to misplaced items, they can also pose a safety risk. Look for candidates that can present themselves and their work neatly and professionally.
  • Resource Handling. When it comes to smooth operations, knowing where and how to use resources is paramount. The organized office manager will have a history of knowing how to delegate tasks to others, rather than trying to handle everything solo. The best candidates will be able to demonstrate they know who to trust with what tasks, to take things off your plate and make sure that everything is handled in an efficient manner.

As a leader yourself, you should constantly be on the lookout for candidates who are adaptable and exhibit strong organizational skills. Such abilities are vital to an efficient and productive workforce, but they are absolutely critical when it comes to your office manager.

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Data Breaches and Dental Practices

As a practicing dentist, you understand the importance of taking care of your equipment. And it’s a no-brainer that you have to take care of your patients, and staff. But how much thought have you put into taking care of your data?

If you think your practice is too small to be a target for hackers, you’re fooling yourself: nearly two-thirds of all cyberattacks these days are directed at small businesses … and that includes yours.

And whether you realize it or not, you have a lot to lose: we keep important client information on our computers: names, addresses, phone numbers, and sometimes more. Can you imagine those clients’ faces if we had to say “Sorry, my computer was hacked, and your info is now on the Dark Net.”? It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

According to Lloyd’s of London, the estimated cost of cyberattacks is $400 billion annually … and that number is predicted to jump to nearly $2 TRILLION by the end of this year. One financial tech expert called the impending disaster an “ecommerce Armageddon.”

And that’s all for a typical retail business; as medical practitioners, we also have to consider the impact of HIPAA. A data breach of sensitive medical information can produce massive fines and possibly criminal penalties if you are found to be negligent. Even if you’re in the clear as far as blame, the average cost per compromised healthcare record is around $400. Multiply that number by the number of patients—even just one-time patients—in your practice, and it quickly become obvious that the final result could be devastating.

If knowing all this doesn’t cause you a little anxiety, you might want to re-read it. The question, of course, is whether there is anything you can do about it.

Of course there is.

In reality, there are multiple steps you can take, most of them fairly simple. First and foremost, you need to protect your practice and its computer systems using things like firewalls, virus protection, server monitoring, and data encryption. You should also perform regular security risk assessments to identify “weak links” where your data could be vulnerable.

Any cybersecurity software you install should run through the cloud (as opposed to a local server) and needs to go on all of your computers and any mobile devices such as tablets you might use in your practice.

Automated computer backups are a good thing, too. Again, whenever you do this, you should move data to the cloud—although it never hurts to have a back-up of the back-up on a portable drive you keep in a safety deposit box or somewhere else off the premises.

One thing you have to be especially vigilant about is credit card data. It’s great to have the ability to integrate credit card payments with your practice management systems, such as Dentrix. But keeping credit card data on-site is just asking for trouble, either from hackers or HIPAA. Again: thieves can’t steal it if you don’t have it.

Other proactive steps you can take:

  • Invest in cyber liability insurance
  • Train staff to spot the warning signs of “phishy” emails
  • Enable two-factor authentication

Some 60% of smaller businesses go out of business after of a cyberattack. Don’t become a statistic: take steps now to insure your data’s security.

In a future post, I’ll talk more about HIPAA and credit card processing.

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Marrying Denistry with Business

Your dental practice is more than the sum of its parts. This is your livelihood, so you want to treat it as well as you can. Sure, dental care is what you offer, but you’re also a business. Successful dental offices run on efficiency, co-operation, and an enhanced workflow that synchronizes management, systems, and product offerings. Does that describe your practice? If not, read on as we offer some hints to running the most effective office.

Take Care of Communication

It’s a given that you need to take of patients in your chair … but that is really only a tiny speck of their time. If you wait until you have a patient in the chair to start responding to him or her, you’re in trouble.

For starters, the patient will most likely talk to your staff members long before talking to you. The first interaction between your patient and your practice is usually by phone. That means it is crucial to train your staff on answering and returning phone calls in a professional manner.

Your staff also functions as a de facto sales force, as well, so it’s a good idea to train them on basic sales techniques. We’re not suggesting “used car salesman” techniques, but it’s easy enough to create a sense of urgency, especially when we’re talking about the importance of oral hygiene. Your office staff should feel comfortable suggesting callers make an appointment now, “… as our calendar fills up fast.” If callers seem concerned about finances, make sure staff lists out both payment options and how stalling can lead to even greater expense down the road.

Take Care of Your Staff

Make sure your people have the tools they need to do the job you’re asking of them. The latest customer service management software programs help track patient visits, insurance issues, and more. Better yet, most of these systems are designed to be accessed from anywhere in the office, ensuring that the latest, most accurate information is available to everyone.

Beyond technology, think in terms of your staff’s comfort. They spend a lot of time in your office: do what you can to make it as pleasant as possible. One dentist we know, after having is office completely renovated, overheard his staff members complaining about “the chairs from hell.” He immediately went out and purchased five completely different office chairs. Over the next two weeks, everyone was instructed to try out every new chair for two full days and decide which was preferred.

In the end, three people chose one style, one chose another style, and yet another decided she was happiest with her original chair. His chairs no long match his office, but his team members are happier.

Take Care of Your Numbers

Traditional billing methods are time intensive and susceptible to human error. If you haven’t done so by now, it’s time to consider switching to automated billing. Not only does automated billing save you time during the day, it also provides your staff with more access to insurance programs and payment options.

Paper billing systems can take days or even weeks to go through the payments system. And since paper billing systems are being phased out of many insurance companies, printed claims processing will take significantly longer in the future. Upgrading to an automated billing system means your office sees revenue in the fastest, easiest, and most secure way possible.

This is especially important as more practices are accepting credit cards for payment. The longer the time period between payment and processing, the more opportunities for criminal fraud … and the greater the risk of chargebacks. There is also a greater risk of so-called “friendly fraud,” which one chargeback expert labeled the “enemy of small business.”

And that’s what a dental practice is: a small business. Some dentists can become fixated on the patient care or most recent techniques—both good things. But anything that causes you to lose site of the fact that you are operating a business is a sure recipe for disaster.

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Building Teamwork in Your Dental Practice

For your dental practice to be profitable and sustainable, you need returning patients. But patients can be amazingly fickle, and their loyalty easily swayed. That’s why it’s so important for practices of all sizes to function as a team with the patient’s best interests at heart.

One bad apple may not spoil the whole barrel, but it might make you leery of sampling a second one from the same batch. By the same token, the actions of one individual might not reflect your core philosophies, but it could mean the difference between success and failure for your practice.

Think about it: have you ever decided not to return to a business because you received terrible service from an employee? The stakes are even hiring when you’re talking about something as personal as dental care. Like it or not, any employee who has contact with patients represents your practice as a whole, as far as outsiders are concerned.

Teamwork—or lack of it—also affects your internal productivity. Negativity spreads quickly. In a tight, efficient practice, you must be able to rely on each person doing the tasks assigned to him or her. When one individual is taking twice as long to complete work, only putting in half the effort, or constantly complaining about the workload, it affects the entire office. Quality and efficiency take a major hit and other team members become unnecessary stressed.

Why Teamwork Matters

While running a large practice can be stressful, operating a smaller office presents its own set of challenges. Obviously, all your employees are aware of each other. On the other hand, the smaller your operation is, the more likely your staff will be isolated within the office: in other words, yes, they know their co-workers, but co-workers are the ONLY peers they ever deal with.

Again, a positive atmosphere is key and teamwork is essential. The smaller the group, the more you feel the effects of one person who isn’t pulling his or her weight. There is much truth in the old adage that we’re only as strong as our weakest link: as the highest authority in your practice, it’s your responsibility to create a team dynamic where everyone contributes, and everyone understands their contribution.

Building a Tighter Team

So what can you do to help turn your practice into a smooth-running machine? The most important factors in building teamwork often happen behind the scenes. Forget clichéd games and so-called team outings: research has shown these seldom work. True teamwork is based on shared accomplishments, not forced participation in events that often lead people to feel even more isolated

Here are some real ways YOU, as a leader, can create a stronger team:

  • Due diligence in hiring – Avoid making bad hires from the start: A simple background check can quickly uncover things like a falsified resume or a negative employment history.
  • Delegate – It’s important that employees are very clear on their job responsibilities, any measurable metrics, and exactly what is expected of them.
  • Share the load – To ensure your business runs smoothly even with an absence, train all employees on the responsibilities of their fellow team members.
  • Conduct 360 reviews – Employee reviews aren’t just for giving feedback: they’re also an excellent time to identify weak spots ranging from employee behavior to process inefficiencies.
  • Be inclusive – This is more than an open-door policy; give your team a stake in the company’s future. Consult them on strategies and plans…you might be surprised how much they know.

One other factor to consider is how to KEEP a good team once you have it established. Today’s workforce today is extremely dynamic. On the one hand this means employees expect more options; on the other hand, it also means they’re more comfortable than previous generations in leaving jobs that don’t mesh with their lifestyles.

Part-time? Full-time? Regular business hours? More and more, these terms are losing relevance in a world of flexible schedules, time sharing, remote work, and the like. Of course, in a dental practice, many of these things are not an option, due to the nature of the work. This makes strategic workforce planning all the more important as a way of keeping your staff happy in their positions. Even in a small practice, some of these various styles of work can…but it may require you to rethink traditional policies.

The bottom line is, teamwork isn’t just people working in the same place. It’s people working together for the same goal, where the total is greater than the sum of the parts. For that, all you really need are people who are willing to learn.

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5 Steps for Leading Your Practice

By default, most dentists are the leaders of their respective dental practices: if your name is on the door, well, the buck stops with you.

Having said that, many of these same dentists are uncertain about exactly what that role entails. What can they do to provide the best leadership for their staff? Many of the best qualities of a leader are common sense: following the Golden Rule, for example. But even the subtler things matter … which is why we’ve compiled this easy-to-read list of five leadership tips for your dental practice.

  1. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Being a leader does not mean doing the work yourself. If you feel the need to go in behind your people and finish tasks they should be doing, you either don’t have the right people, or you don’t have faith in them to do their jobs. Your job is to be the DENTIST–in dental practices, 3/4 or more of total income should be generated by the dentist. The more you let your people do their jobs, the more time you have with patients … and that helps drive your success.
  1. Make the hard choices. This is a follow-up to the first suggestion. What if you discover you DON’T have the best person for a position? Do you let that person go? Find him or her another place in your practice? Just let it go and hope it works itself out? Effective leaders learn to make firm decisions, quickly and confidently. This decisive manner sends a strong, positive message to team members and makes them feel that things are under control. While we’re on the subject, feel free to encourage your managers to make decisions themselves in their areas of responsibility. 
  1. Be ready and willing to adapt. The ability to make decisions sometimes means stepping out of your comfort zone. Our culture is ever evolving, and technological breakthroughs change the way we operate, sometimes seemingly on a daily basis: flexibility and adaptability are keys to survival. As business conditions change–in the dental field, in your local market, and even right in your practice–wise leaders know when to move away from the status quo and seek out new strategies for success. 
  1. Spell out your expectations. From running the office to making the morning coffee: no matter what the job is, the person (or people) doing should understand what’s expected–and the most efficient way of doing it. Sometimes that’s as simple as walking through the process or bringing it up at a staff meeting. Other situations may call for online training videos or off-site continuing education courses. Be willing to provide whatever’s necessary.
  1. Show, don’t tell. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is wisdom in that advice, and it’s just as relevant for your practice as it is for your community. Leaders should strive to become the epitome of the type of employees they hope to attract. They may not say it, but your people are watching you: everything you do–even if it’s just saying “Good morning”–has a strong influence on the behavior of your staff. Rather than simply telling people what you expect, the best practice leaders demonstrate it every day.

Even dentists with no formal business training can go a long way toward becoming more effective leaders if they take the five steps discussed here. By inspiring their staff members with a clear vision, empowering them with responsibilities and targets, and exhibiting the right qualities day by day and over time, dentists can lead their practices to great success.

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How Revenue Leakage Is Hurting Your Practice

From a financial perspective, these are tough times for dental practices. Sure, you may be seeing a greater number of patients, but at the same time, the amount insurance actually reimburses seems to get lower every year, while expenses continue to skyrocket. Adding insult to injury, dentists are also expected to keep up with continually evolving compliance issues and mountains of paperwork to get the reimbursements they are entitled to.

There is still hope, however: even with these rising pressures, there are almost always ways to save money in your practice. Think of it in terms of revenue leaks: common areas of waste and inefficiency that could be draining thousands of dollars from your business. These leaks need to be plugged to ensure the sustainability of your practice while you focus on patient care.

Some typical areas of leakage:

Downcoding

Many dentists can be overly cautious in the area of coding, often using a lower billing code in case they get audited: better safe than sorry. According to studies, this so-called downcoding can cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue each year.

Undercoding a procedure is like a mechanic charging $500 for $1,000 worth of services. Practitioners claim to do this so as not to attract the scrutiny of insurance company auditors, but the practice could actually backfire: undercoding itself can also trigger an audit. Insurers and the government look at any suspicious payments, which means both underpayments and overpayments.

To plug this leak, dentists should bill at the appropriate level while keeping comprehensive and accurate documentation to support each submission. Always include the patient’s name and relevant medical history, reason for the visit, your diagnosis or assessment, and action plans. That sounds like a lot of work, but using electronic health records can simplify this process while simultaneously guarding against downcoding; an EHR system can also be used during an audit to show that the coding was correct.

Inefficient Billing

Billing can seem like a pain, especially for “smaller” amounts. The fact is, however, that it doesn’t take many small invoices to equal one large invoice. If you’re not diligent about billing patients and collecting outstanding balances, you could be leaking thousands every year.

The best way to plug this leak is to have established accounts receivable procedures so every person on your staff knows how things are supposed to work. Having procedures in place not only ensures that everything runs in a streamlined, consistent manner, it can also protect you against unintentional legal violations and keep you up-to-date on exactly how much money is owed to you–an important piece of information when making financial decisions.

Chargebacks

Most dentists these days accept credit cards. It seems like a great way to get payment at the time of service, without having to worry about bounced checks. But hold on: just because a transaction has cleared doesn’t mean you for certain have the funds. Patients can file a chargeback against you for up to six months after the payment.

Why would patients do this? Perhaps they were unhappy with the service. Perhaps they felt like you didn’t solve their problem. Or–in a frighteningly increasing number of cases–they may have just discovered that by calling the bank and complaining, they may receive something for free. Industry insiders term this “friendly fraud.”

It isn’t very friendly for you, however: not only can the transaction amount be transferred back to the patient’s account, both the cardholder’s bank and your own bank may hit you with fines or administration fees. If you use a third-party card processor, you may get fees from them, as well.

To plug this leak, go over all documentation associated with your credit card processing. Make sure you are adhering to their mandates (which often change, unfortunately). Then make sure your entire staff understands the importance of making each patient touch point a positive experience: a patient who feels slighted by the receptionist is every bit as likely to file a chargeback as one who feels uncared for by the dentist.

Finally, again, thorough records of each visit are crucial: with the proper records, you may even be able to challenge a chargeback and win. Having said that…such cases are time-consuming and hard to win…and what’s worse, you’ll still have to pay any fines or fees. Prevention is a much better plan here.