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Office Policies: Are They Really Needed?

Sandy Touchton, MAADOM with text, "Real-world insights from AADOM authors"

Office policies.

Do you really need them? Do they really help?

And who are they really for, the executive team, the staff, the patients, or all three?

When I started working at my dental practice, we had:

  • Two dental hygienists
  • Four dental assistants
  • Four front desk receptionists
  • Two doctors

We functioned well and didn’t have any official policies in place.

Fast forward 18 years, and we’re now a multi-specialist private practice with a total of 23 team members, full and part-time, with six doctors.

Now I get it—there’s a need for office policies!

Office policies are for everyone.

I wish we had started when our practice wasn’t so busy with all the extra things that go along with a larger office; it would have been easier.

I’m not saying a small office can’t be extremely busy.

But that business only increases as your office grows, so don’t do what I did.

Keep reading to learn tips on how to make your dental practice stronger with office policies.

Policies for team members

Whether you have three team members or 30, everyone needs to know what’s expected of them.

Team member policies should include basic items such as:

  • Office hours
  • Lunch breaks
  • Holidays
  • Vacations, such as no more than one team member per area out at the same time or vacations are limited to one to two weeks in length at a time
  • Payroll

If there are restrictions on personal appearances, such as tattoos, piercings, and hair coloring, team members need to know the policies.

The more informed your team is, the better they will meet your expectations.

Policies for doctor

Yes, associates need policies too!

For example:

Depending upon how your associates are paid, you may stipulate if it’s based on a daily rate instead of a percentage of collections.

Or, they won’t have any family in as patients unless the family member is prepared to pay the total treatment cost just as any other patient would.

Once a percentage of collections pays them, there’s a different formula for the family that allows them a nice discount.

There should be a policy for how they attend to the needs of a new patient, including:

  • Do you perform the exam and cleaning at the first visit if there aren’t any signs of gum disease, or are there restorations that need to be completed first?
  • Will the patient have the exam and always come back for the cleaning at a separate visit?

Every office will have a different policy on this; the associate needs to know what’s expected before you end up with unhappy patients.

Whatever your policy is, patient care should always come first.

Another example would be all doctors work to the end of the day; no moving patients to another day to go home early unless necessary, such as an emergency.

You get the idea.

Policies for financial arrangements for patients’ payments

Team members need to know:

  • What’s to be collected
  • How that portion is calculated
  • How to explain fees to a patient

Your policy might be that all patients’ portions are paid when scheduled or on the appointment date, and insurance is then filed on their behalf.

Other policies would include patient discounts or courtesies and how we should handle them.

If your owning doctor is as soft-hearted as ours, they might tend to give away dentistry. That’s their prerogative, but the team needs to know that percentage.

After having the team come to me weekly to ask about the percentage for various other doctors, office tenants, etc., we realized we need a policy that they can follow without asking each time.

That keeps it consistent and equitable across the board.

A policy example would be that all doctors in our building get a 15% professional courtesy off their out-of-pocket portion, or all tenants get a 10% discount/courtesy off their out-of-pocket portion.

Again, you get the idea!

Policies to keep in mind

Other areas in which policies are helpful are:

  • How new team members are trained
  • Each position in the office
  • How the team will maintain the office
  • And more

If you don’t have policies in your office or you only have a few, I would challenge you to write a new policy each week or once every other week until you have them all completed.

It will make everyone’s lives easier.

Keep in mind that your policies will need to be reviewed annually to ensure they are still appropriate.

You may even need to add, rewrite, or completely delete them.


Meet the Author

Sandy Touchton wearing glasses outsideSandy Touchton, MAADOM graduated from college in 1981 with a degree in engineering drafting technology. She spent over a decade working in the aerospace industry and IT recruiting before smoothly transitioning into the completely unrelated field of dental practice management! However, her years of administration and systems management experience gave her an advantage in leading a team.

For almost two decades, she has worked as practice manager at Dentistry 4 Children and Bay Area Dental Specialists… This text opens a new tab to the official website….

Sandy achieved her AADOM Fellowship designation in 2019, and most recently, she was inducted as an AADOM Master in 2021.

She and her husband have two sons. In her free time, she enjoys triathlon (she’s also an Ironman!).

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