I Confess I Was Doing It Wrong
My pathway into dentistry may not have been the same as most people. I had a friend who was a dentist and was looking for a dental assistant. He asked me if I knew anyone who would be interested in assisting him, so I asked how much education was needed. It turns out that in Missouri, dental assistants can be taught by the dentist employing them. Though I already had a college degree and no dental experience, I convinced my friend to let me do on-the-job training. He agreed. That was 15 years ago. While my friend and I eventually parted ways professionally, the training and opportunity he provided changed my career trajectory.
In the last 15 years, I have experienced a lot of successes, of which I am proud. But this isn’t about those things. This is about the many, many mistakes I have made. More importantly, I want to share those mistakes so others can benefit from my failures.
Confession #1: I didn’t hold a morning huddle
Nearly all dental consultants will tell you that’s a big mistake. The morning huddle is the first opportunity of the day to motivate the team. It gives everyone the information they need for a cohesive care approach. Information from the morning huddle can be the little differences between providing service to your patients and providing an optimal patient experience.
For example: for regular patients with an upcoming birthday, tell the team, “It’s Mrs. Smith’s birthday on Thursday.” That way, each person the patient sees can wish the patient a happy birthday. Have a patient with a balance? Tell the team, “Jack Jones is coming in today; we need to collect his balance or make arrangements before we do additional treatment.” Does your practice have goals? Share them and the progress during the morning huddle. Be sure you celebrate the wins! Remember, it’s not the morning complaint meeting. Keep it positive. Be prepared. I learned from this mistake. Today, I insist on a morning huddle at all our practices. We have a laminated “Huddle Guidance” form to help us be prepared and stay focused.
Confession #2: When we checked out a recare patient, we used to say, “You don’t owe anything today.”
I did this wrong for years. The problem is this statement is a lie. I was literally misleading people. Dental consultant Genevieve Poppe spoke on this at AADOM 2021; it was eye-opening. She recommended saying something like, “Your treatment today totaled $300. We anticipate your insurance to cover that 100%. If for some reason, they do not, I will send you a statement.”
Ms. Poppe set the expectation that if insurance doesn’t cover it, you are going to charge the patient. In addition to clear expectations, you are building an honest relationship with the patient. Misleading the patient about their bill will lead to patients not trusting the billing department or the practice.
Confession #3: I was terrible at training and onboarding new team members
I used to give my new hires a gigantic stack of new hire paperwork, an “office copy” of the employee manual, and a tour of the office. Then I would give them a “work buddy.” I seldom covered the policies in the employee handbook unless I was asked a specific question. The onboarding and training were so bad they were nearly nonexistent. It wasn’t until years later that I embraced the need for structured training and onboarding. New employees want to be welcomed. Set clear expectations by reviewing all the relevant policies and systems. Create an onboarding checklist and follow it. Incorporate as many team members into the training as possible. Have one teammate train the new hire on the practice management software you use. Have someone else train the new person on taking a panoramic X-ray. Have a third person cover understanding your scheduling system. This will prevent you from overwhelming one person as the trainer. It also gives each teammate some one-on-one time with the new hire. The scary truth is even the best managers make mistakes. It’s never too late to learn or teach something new. Don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made some mistakes as long as you work to correct them.
About the Author
Kari Hicks, MAADOM, is managing director of Access Dental Services, LP in Missouri, a growing company with five current locations. She has worked in dentistry for over 15 years, beginning with on-the-job training as a chairside dental assistant. She has worked as a practice manager for over a decade.