The Secret Sauce: Patient Flow Coordinator and Team Dynamics

Real World Insights from AADOM Authors - Nicole Hartshorn

We knew the day had been coming for a long time. The lease on our building was due, and they wanted to triple our rent.

As a practice that serves a large Medicaid population, tripling our rent was not a financial burden we could sustain. We searched for other spaces, but the rent and real estate in Colorado had risen substantially.

That left us with a tough decision: Do we merge the practice with one of our nearby locations or close the doors for good?

We decided merging was best. But would our patients drive further away to see us, or would they choose a provider closer to home?

One year into the merger, we managed to retain 98% of our original patient base while also seeing a 13% growth in new patients! The “Secret Sauce” of our team is what made it possible.

From What Is the “Secret Sauce” Made?

Like Rome, our team was not built in a day! We vet everyone assigned to work at this office very thoroughly. It is a highly selective process to work at this location due to the patient population, volume, and overall flow of the practice.

The team members that are selected are the ones that have shown the ability to hustle, remain drama free, and read a room with one quick glance. Sometimes it takes time to see these qualities in your employees. They can be hard to find.

Characteristics of a Secret Sauce Team

Our “Secret Sauce” team truly enjoys each other’s time. Do they always get along perfectly all the time? No, they’re human! But they do resolve conflict maturely, quickly, and while only involving the necessary parties – never others unless it is necessary.

Kindness is the main key to communicating with this team, as they evaluate their feelings to see why they may be upset and if it’s something within themselves before moving forward to conflict resolution. They are meticulously kind in their approach to one another, making all communications welcome and safe in our office.

I’ve never met a team that acts more like true family members. They eat lunch together every day, and they potluck or cook for the group weekly. They celebrate every birthday, anniversary, accomplishment, and family success with one another.

They succeed together, they fail together, and they are true partners. When they hug each other, they hug for at least 12 seconds to make sure their hearts and brains get all the health benefits. They are more intentional with their words and affection than most humans I know.

This can only happen through the strong communication skills they’ve developed and the love and respect they show for one another.

The Key Ingredient: A Patient Flow Coordinator (PFC)

The key ingredient to Secret Sauce? A long-term office manager who cares about the business as if it’s her own.

The office manager at this particular practice is also a patient flow coordinator (PFC). If you aren’t familiar with the role, a PFC is the person who walks all patients back to the treatment area, communicates to each team member about the needs of the appointment, discusses any updates about the patient’s health history, and asks about each patient’s personal life and keeps notes about the details so that she knows what to ask about when they return.

She makes it appear as though she remembers all these details when in reality, yes, she has notes that spark her memory to give our patients that one-in-a-million experience!

After walking patients back to their rooms, she stays present in the treatment areas and listens to the doctor and dental assistants complete exams and plan treatment. Then she walks each patient back out to the waiting room to their parent/guardian.

Since we are a pediatric office, this system has led to a great deal of trust in the office manager/PFC to send patients back on their own while the parent waits in the waiting room. Our PFC walks the child back to the parents and explains the exam and services provided that day, reviews any post-appointment instructions, and meets and greets the family.

Their main responsibility is to connect with families; they must be the “Vanna White” of your office.

Why It’s Important

Having our office manager act as the patient flow coordinator is the main thing that led to the success of merging our offices.

These patients followed the practice because of the relationships they’ve built with our PFC and team. Having the PFC allows our doctors and team the time they need to do other things, stay organized, and see the volume of patients in an underserved area without making anyone feel rushed. In turn, it provides assistants time to properly reset for the next patient and allows the doctor to focus on dentistry.

It ensures ultimate success for our practice.

How to Make it Work

None of the successes of this team could be possible without that perfect person in each role, especially the PFC. We hear it all the time but rarely actually heed the advice: Take your time hiring and find that right fit.

It works to our advantage that we have several locations, all differently paced and servicing different types of communities. This allows us to see our teams grow and identify their strengths and weaknesses to put them in the right places and build the perfect team at each location.

Get to know your team, their personal life, their families, their successes, and their failures. Embrace it all because these things have made them who they are today and brought them on the path to you! Encourage your team to get to know your patients and their families, build that bond, and build that trust; it will carry your practice for years to come.

You, too, can build your own Secret Sauce!

About the Author

Headshot of Nicole Hartshorn

Nicole Hartshorn, MAADOM is a seasoned Dental Practice Manager with 19 years of experience in the industry. She started out as an assistant in high school and has worked just about every position in the office over the years. Her success is rooted in building quality relationships with team members. She is currently specializing in managing multi-site teams and fostering leadership training opportunities.

Nicole is a Lifetime AADOM member and earned her Fellowship (FAADOM) designation in 2018. In September of 2022, she received her AADOM Mastership (MAADOM) designation and now serves as the President of the Denver area AADOM Chapter.

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